Wednesday, February 26, 2014

More Vertebrate Fossils in Santa Barbara

I have found so many new vertebrate fossil specimens in the last two weeks that I have stopped photographing them all. My curiosity is truly piqued and I look forward to a day when I can gain confirmation about the animals I am seeing here. These specimens are from Mesa Lane in Santa Barbara, moving east. The sand covers and then reveals them based on swells and tides. They are absolutely everywhere.  If nothing else, I feel so honored to be able to bear witness to their existence and touch the fossilized remains of creatures from SO long ago.

For scale, I have been placing my feet in the shots. Sorry about my mangled right foot. It will tell a great story as a fossil someday.

The fossil beds are SO rich during a low tide. They are beautiful, mysterious and highly inviting.

Compression adds to the mystery of what these bones are.

Beautiful fossil exposed through erosion.

An interesting cross section of a vertebrae perhaps?

This is possible teeth or stomach contents. The dark spots were dense like teeth might be.

This specimen is interesting in that the joint tissue has fossilized differently.

These are either teeth or small bones like ribs.

Possible teeth 

This and the following two are the same specimen

The side view offers a view of a very large bone

This and the following three pictures represent the same specimen.

This specimen may have been captured previously but is now partially buried.

As always, Thank you for reading and sharing my finds with me. I believe this bed of fossil pieces would make a great PhD thesis project for some eager vertebrate paleontology student. There are so many questions that can be answered here. I would love to partake in such a study! Until then, I will keep photographing the specimens I find and continue to learn about the morphology of large miocene vertebrates from the Pacific Coast of North America.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Shark Wisdom

When I was 11, I saw JAWS. I had nightmares for years. Great White Sharks became a fascination, as great fears often do. I began to study them in my 20's and have followed them in research for the last 20 years. They are magnificent and I consider them one of my totem animals, guiding me in this lifetime in dreams and with their behavior.

After reading The Devil's Teeth, by Susan Casey, I was directed to the Shark Research Committee website through a friend. This website allows people to report encounters, sightings and evidence of presence and feeding behavior of sharks, specifically, Great White Sharks. I began to check the sight daily.

When my daughter entered 8th grade and faced the Science Fair, I suggested that we use the multitudes of data collected on Great White Shark/Human interaction from the SRC website. We created parameters of study;  how often did a reporter state that they "got out of the water" after seeing a Great White Shark and how often did they "stay in" (usually, that looked like: "and then we surfed for 2 more hours".) We figured that this measurement told much about the person's comfort in knowingly sharing the water with a Great White Shark.

We analyzed eleven years of data collected from 2003 to 2013. There were over 500 reports submitted of people knowingly sharing the water with Great White Sharks. We excluded all data that included contact of any kind, including attacks. We counted over 150 reports where people, mostly surfers, remained in the water after seeing a Great White Shark. About 30% of encounters ended this way.

We found that most of the encounters were with local juvenile great whites in San Onofre, Sunset Beach, Encinitas and Manhattan Beach, California, all known birthing spots for Great White Sharks due to their abundance of small fishes like grunion and other sandy bottom-dwelling fish and rays. New born Great White sharks need to start feeding right away to ensure survival.  The local babies tend to stay local for at least a year or two and seem to like looking at or swimming near surfers.

The Great White Shark is a highly intelligent, apex predator that has not changed much in the last 200 million years.  Their eyesight is similar to ours. They see as well above water as they do below. They have been documented "spy hopping" by raising their head out of the water or turning their body to "eyeball" a Stand up paddle boarder or surfer on many occasions.

In the 1990's it was absolutely unheard of to even consider swimming alongside a Great White Shark without a cage to protect the diver. Jean Michel Cousteau and Mose Richards published a beautiful book about the Great White Shark in 1993. During their studies, they created a plexiglass tube cage for a diver to get close to the sharks without the interference of a metal cage (which scientists were beginning to assume stimulates the sharks 6th sense, the ampullae of lorenzini).  The photos of great whites with the plexiglass cage show a gentle curiosity.  The shark "gently hugs" the long cylinder with the diver inside. It doesn't try to bite or mouth the diver. To my knowledge, this was the first book about Great White Sharks that approached them with curiosity and awe instead of fear.

These days, in 2014, we have images like this:

And this:

This beautiful creature, it is smart. It is curious. 

It swims with us. It has the ability to hurt us but doesn't most of the time. 

This is an animal that deserves respect and protection. It has MUCH to teach us about survival and adaptation. 

Mark my words, I will knowingly swim with a Great White Shark some day.  I will be SO lucky!!!!

Saturday, February 08, 2014

SO Many Vertebrate Fossils!

There have been so many exposed vertebrate fossils on the beach lately that I stopped photographing them all. I believe it would make an excellent thesis question for someone to look at all of these specimens and attempt to answer some questions about them.

What type of animals are these? Marine or terrestrial? Mammalian, ichthioid, amphibioid or reptilian? Of what geologic era? Miocene? What were the conditions of their demise that led to their fossil preservation?

Here are some of the specimens I have collected photographically:

This is my first "tooth" specimen. Unconfirmed. I have this one at home. 

This was the first specimen of this type I have seen but the next day, I found two more that were  very similar.

The next three are the same big bony specimen.

This is a fairly "common" configuration. 

Exposed vertebra

Skull cross section with fossil tissue differentiation in the brain case

a grouping of smaller bones

Perhaps another skull cross section

This was the third specimen of this type I have found.

Possible vertebral segments.

If there is a vertebrate paleontology student who wishes to help answer the questions I have posed here, please comment below.  I will guide you to these and many more specimens.