Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Summer Adventures Part 4: Paleo-themed tourist traps

Towards the tail-end of the summer my girlfriend flew out to California, and we took a road trip through the Pacific Northwest. Of course, we saw the typical roadside attractions in Northern California such as the "Legend of Bigfoot", "Confusion Hill" (home of the "Chipalope" - Oh yes, half chipmunk, half antelope[fixed really stupid typo!]), "One log house", "Tree House", and the big grand daddy of them all, the "Trees of mystery" - home of a 70' tall Paul Bunyan statue.

In Oregon, we stopped at a weird place called "Prehistoric Gardens" - basically, a bunch of outdated extinct reptile sculptures in the forest. Well, let's just say that it was only worth our money because of how funky some of the models looked and how bad/off the wall/totally insane some of the information was.
The tyrant king himself welcomes weary drivers in from the road.

The second weirdest depiction of Triceratops I've ever seen.

Pretty standard Ankylosaurus model.

Oh, no! A killer Elasmosaurus (w/ lens flare!) in the middle of the... forest?

This one really screwed with me. OK, I've heard this (obviously) for Oviraptor, but ornithomimids?

My brave companion facing the evil Pteranodon.

Cold blooded? Cretaceaus?
I don't want to know how an Ichthyosaurus made its way into the forest.
In Newport, Oregon, we found the trashiest tourist souvenir shops I've ever seen, which says a lot because I've been to Disneyland, Pier 39, and Fisherman's Wharf. What's worse, these were built right next to the Oregon Coast Aquarium, and named "Aquarium Square Shops" - completely misleading. Anyway, this was literally the first thing we saw when we made it to Newport - a big blue pliosaur.

They didn't even try with this one. They call it "Nessie", the "Yaquina Bay Sea Monster", and "Kronosaurus" all within 4 feet. What?! First off, Nessie is the Loch Ness Monster. Second, I've never heard of a Yaquina Bay Sea Monster (wouldn't be a bay monster?), and it is obviously a sick marketing ploy just like Tahoe Tessie (rhymes with nessie, but at least they bothered to put a 'T' on the beginning). They didn't even bother coming up with an original name (seriously, it doesn't take more than half a second to think of a name other than one used by an already established fake sea monster), AND they go ahead and call it Kronosaurus at the same time.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Summer Adventures Part 3: Dolphin excavation

This story actually begins last winter, on a foul foggy day in Santa Cruz. Actually, the weather was quite nice. Anyway, I had been out prospecting, looking for new fossils, and I wasn't finding much. I was right near where a whale skeleton would be collected several months in the future (see Santa Cruz Whale Excavation). On a small ledge of Purisima sandstone, I found a set of articulated cetacean vertebrae (formerly featured on a quiz). I just about died inside, because part of me knew that short of a miracle, fluke, or a construction project, this skeleton would never get excavated (and I wouldn't dare hack out half of a skeleton).

Dave Haasl, Dave Maloney, and Karl Heiman (from left to right), who found and reported the other skeleton.

Well, you guessed it, I don't really believe in miracles, and I guess it doesn't count as a fluke, so that leaves a construction project. Yes, construction of a seawall has been occurring all summer, and Paleoresource Consultants have had an onsite paleontologist (for once; I believe this is one of the first times a seawall project in Santa Cruz has had any sort of paleo mitigation). I was originally under the impression that the city/county wasn't going to bother.

The fantastic folks from PaleoResource Consultants after the plaster jacket is emplaced.

Luckily for me, they did, and on top of that, footed the bill for the excavation. So, after I checked it out, it was pretty obvious that the vertebral column included the last 3-4 cervicals, all thoracics, and anteriormost lumbar vertebrae all articulated. There were several ribs, and a random mysticete bone (who knows?).

Onsite paleontologists trenching under the monolithic, refrigerator-sized jacket. Ok, squashed washing machine-size.

After the onsite guys did a little more excavating, they found some oddly shaped bones which I identified as the ventral portion of the vomer and the maxilla or frontal. It is possible that the posterior braincase has disarticulated from the skull; the skull (in relation to the vertebral column) is upside down, facing backwards, and separated by about 50cm. The presence of the anterior skull also (most importantly) allowed me to identify it as a medium sized odontocete, rather than a juvenile or small mysticete.

I take absolutely no credit for excavating this (as I didn't, which makes this photograph totally misleading). I simply thought I (at the very least) deserved this photo op since I found it.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Summer Adventures Part 2: Clastic Dike

Late during the summer I revisited a classic and bizarre geologic site - the Santa Cruz Mudstone west of Santa Cruz, California. This spot in particular is called Shark's Cove, and is near Bonny Doon State Beach. This place looks like it is right out of a pirate story. Robert Louis Stevenson could have based a whole pirate story after this place.

Yar, here there be clastic dikes.

The Late Miocene (7-9 Ma) Santa Cruz Mudstone overlies the early Late Miocene Santa Margarita Sandstone. The Santa Margarita Sandstone is famous for large scale cross-strata formed by huge mega-bedforms (i.e. eolian dune size), as well as one of the most well preserved (and still under-studied, aside from sea cows and walruses) Tortonian/Serravalian marine vertebrate assemblages on the planet. The Santa Cruz Mudstone is known for a few marine verts (Parabalaenoptera baulinensis, from further north) but most famously for two things: methane cold seep-related carbonate pipes (a later post) and (arguably more famous) for its extensive clastic injections, dikes, and sills.A neat sea cave! But what else is it?

Fluidized sand (the Santa Margarita Sandstone is barely cemented; it looks like a holocene beach deposit, and is very easily sifted through for finding shark teeth) was injected into the overlying siliceous mud of the future Santa Cruz Mudstone (after a huge local transgression), typically as sills (parallel with bedding) and vertical dikes, as well as blobs. Above is a photo of me in a natural arch, with the dike above. The below photo shows the Santa Margarita Ss. derived dike (Tsm) and the Santa Cruz Mudstone (Tsc).
More of the dike, and idiots in the background who almost got stranded here at high tide.

EDIT: I failed to mention that this is the largest clastic dike system on the planet. For more pictures of weird fluidized clastic injections, visit the Injected Sands Group (University of Aberdeen), and read:

Scott et al, 2009. The Process of Sand Injection: Internal Structures and Relationships with Host Strata (Yellowbank Creek Injectite Complex, California, U.S.A.). Journal of Sedimentary Research 79:568-583

Boehm and Moore, 2002.
Fluidized sandstone intrusions as an indicator of Paleostress orientation, Santa Cruz, California. Geofluids 2:147-161

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Summer Adventures Part 1: Sea Lion Rescue

Aside from the random post about Chupacabras, I've been pretty silent the rest of the summer, for a few reasons. First and foremost, I was trying to catch up on thesis fieldwork, and also kept on finding some really great fossils (more on that later). I also went on a 5 day field trip with Dick Hilton of Sierra College to Plio-Pleistocene strata of southeastern Oregon and Northern California (part of my so-called North Coast Project). In addition to this, I also took a 5 day trip back up here to Montana for my girlfriend's older sister's wedding. Then, a week and a half at Lake Tahoe, and then more fieldwork. Oh, and a week long road trip back to Montana via Northern California and Oregon.

So, during my field work in the Santa Cruz region, I decided to head over to Pt. Santa Cruz and try out my new Canon EOS Rebel XS with a 300mm lens and photograph some of my favorite flippered friends: Zalophus californianus, the California Sea Lion. Now, last summer I spotted a couple Steller Sea Lion males (Eumetopias jubatus); it was obvious that they were Eumetopias and not Zalophus because of their lighter, hairier pelage, humongous size (nearly twice the size of obvious Zalophus males) and bearlike heads without a sagittal 'bump'.Zalophus yearlings at Point Santa Cruz, California

Anyway, I got a bunch of great photos of some of these guys. There were several dozen hauled out on the Point itselft as well as the rock offshore, mostly yearlings and the occasional subadult male, and a few pups (and lots of dead pups, in various states of decay; presumably starved to death). I saw a guy with a marine mammal center sweatshirt on, and I stroke up a conversation. Afterward, he asked me if I could help him capture a sea lion with an eye tumor. He pointed out the individual to me, and sure as hell, its left eye was in pretty bad shape.

Juvenile sea lion with eye infection.

So I naturally agreed, and he returned with a huge net and a dog crate built for a great dane. I was to bring the crate to him after he had netted the poor little guy; apparently the crate scares the sea lions away, and he suspects they may remember every time it appears, one of them gets abducted (yes, by aliens, just like in Happy Feet).

Marine mammal center 'Doug' capturing a juvenile sea lion with a very big net.

Well, let me tell you - I've had my fair share of vicious dog encounters, and I've seen big cats roar at the zoo, and seen pissed off bulls, and none of these were remotely as intimidating as this 80lb sea lion. This thing was biting at the net and shaking its head after it clamped down, all the while emitting the scariest growl/snarl I've heard from a vertebrate. Doug finally dragged it over to where I had placed the crate, and wrestled the sea lion into the opening. When it was nearly inside, a sea lion head with mouth agape and a beautiful set of (very sharp, unworn) homodont teeth with moderately developed lingual cingula and accessory cusps on the postcanines (yes, I had that much time to remark upon the dental morphology) found its way out of the crack between the net and the crate, and took a swipe at me, narrowly missing my hand by a couple of inches (I distinctly heard the teeth 'snap' just like when a dog shuts its mouth quickly).
The sea lion looks 'ok' from the right side...

...not so well from this side.

After we got 'her' in the crate, Doug informed me that California Sea Lions can easily bite through 1" thick plywood sheets with ease (and that their bites hurt like a *****). Based on canine size, it looked to be a 'she' - very skinny, narrow, canines are typical of otariid females. Doug informed me that Northern Fur Seals (Callorhinus ursinus, my favorite pinniped) are by far more aggressive and ferocious than any sea lion. This news warmed my heart, as Callorhinus actually has a pre-Pleistocene fossil record (and if you include its ancestor, Thalassoleon, the Callorhinus-Thalassoleon lineage is the best preserved otariid lineage in the fossil record).

The eye injury, according to Doug, was most likely an infection, as tumors are more typical of old adults. In this case, the eye had gotten infected, and the lids had more or less rotted away (very technical, I know), leaving the actual eye to prolapse (it was actually hanging out of the orbit a little bit). I can only assume that the marine mammal center will amputate the eye, and cauterize the orbit shut.
The female sea lion just before removing the crate from the Point.

In any event, a look at the last photo shows something interesting: this individual was pretty plump, and showed no signs of emaciation (most of the other yearlings looked pretty starved), and was slightly larger than the other yearlings in the vicinity. This eye infection was obviously more than a few days old, but it apparently didn't affect her ability to survive and forage. So, a happy ending - she will most likely survive to raise many pups.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

The chupacabra strikes again...

Totally off topic, but I saw this this morning and it made me angry:


Spoiler: if you know anything about mammals, animals, pets, or have been exposed to knowledge of any sort, the above will make you want to slam your open hand against your skull. Or someone else's.

If you watch the video, you'll see the texan taxidermist explain that no wildlife in texas looks like this animal; it has leathery dark grey skin, it is hairless, and its legs look longer and skinnier than anything he's seen. Oh my!

Fear not, reader, for I have elightenment. Here is an image of the animal's mouth:
Well, anyone who has ever had a dog realizes pretty fast that this is a pretty classic grin of a canid. But what kind of canid exactly?
Huh, well that really looks like a canid. Wait a sec, this critter looks pretty familiar all of a sudden - in fact, I'm pretty certain I've seen these guys in the world's ugliest dog competition (on CNN, no less).

I'm talking of course about the Mexican Hairless, or the Xoloitzcuintle. Along with the chinese crested, these are very popular entries into the world's ugliest dog competition. If you want to learn more about these guys, go here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mexican_Hairless_Dog

For comparison, here's a photo:
Someone living in texas has no excuse not recognizing one of these at the drop of a hat, given the proximity of the state to Mexico. Very much so given that he knew what a chupacabras wasOr, at the very least, recognizing it as a dog.

Now, another possibility is that it is a coyote with mange (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elmendorf_Beast). Either way, what we have is a canid, not a mythical goat sucking monster.

I will get back to regular posting in a few days. There is much to talk about.