This is a fossil vertebra from a juvenile prehistoric toothed whale. Being discovered in an ancient inland waterway indicates it was not a baleen whale but an odontocete (toothed whale) since there would not have been the environment a baleen whale would have needed for straining food found more suitably in open oceans. This fossil vertebra was found in association with Megalodon teeth indicating its final moments in life were spent as a meal of the giant Megalodon shark. The not fully fused centrum faces show this was from a still growing, juvenile cetacean. Whales were the primary food source of the Megalodon shark, as well as prehistoric Great White sharks and the giant Mako shark, Isurus hastalis. Fossil shark teeth collections would be greatly enhanced by the inclusion in their display, of whale fossils such as this, as the two co-existed in the ancient seas.
We cleaned this specimen in our lab with microblasters, revealing the detail of the surface. Aside from its discovery with fossil shark teeth, its heavy weight from prehistoric mineralization, as well as deep brown hue that runs through the bone, is a testament to its prehistoric origin. Fossil whale vertebrae are rather scarce when found in this level of completeness. Unlike fossil teeth that are shed by the hundreds over the life of the whale, fossil bones are fragile and considerably more scarce and limited in numbers, rarely surviving the ravages of time.
Whales, dolphins and porpoises make up the group of air-breathing marine mammals called CETACEANS. This group is comprised of three sub-groups - the extinct ARCHAEOCETI, and two living types, the ODONTOCETI (toothed whales) and MYSTICETI (baleen whales). All have a body structure that is highly adapted for their marine environment. These features include paddle-like forelimbs, lack of external hind limbs, large tail for propulsion underwater, dorsally located nostrils for breathing just above the surface of the water, specialized ears for underwater hearing and a streamlined body profile for efficient hydrodynamic locomotion. Odontocetes are more prevalent and varied than Mysticetes. All of the smaller current living whales (porpoises, orcas, narwhals, pilots, etc.) and a few of the larger ones (Sperm Whale) are toothed (Odontocetes). Mysticetes include the largest animal that ever lived on the earth, the Blue Whale.
All cetaceans are carnivorous with a main diet consisting of fish, invertebrates and other marine mammals. Many cetacean fossils are found in sediments alongside fossil shark teeth and other marine vertebrates but whale fossils are much less common compared to other marine vertebrate fossils of the same period and region and whale fossils are often found in fragments or show evidence of predation by prehistoric sharks, no doubt, cetaceans most feared enemy in their prehistoric past.