Background study and site assessment
This past March, at the invitation of Bob Ernst, a local landowner and benefactor of the Buena Vista Museum of Natural History in Bakersfield, UCMP graduate students Nick Pyenson and Randall Irmis opened a new chapter of UCMP field research at Sharktooth Hill. First, the two spent some time at the Buena Vista Museum to augment their prior studies of UCMP’s Sharktooth Hill collection. Since Nick’s dissertation work is on the paleoecology of Miocene whales, he collected specimen locality, size, and relative abundance data on the numerous fossil cetaceans, while Randy concentrated on the taphonomy of vertebrate specimens and some enigmatic crocodyliform teeth. During their visit, they were encouraged by the strong turnout of local collectors and museum collaborators, and they learned a lot about the history of collecting at Sharktooth Hill.
Nick and Randall then camped out “on the Hill,” and met Bob early the following morning for a tour of Sharktooth Hill and the surrounding area. They spent the rest of the day with Bob, driving around, inspecting the major outcrops and quarries of the Sharktooth Hill bonebed. Nick and Randall took sediment samples, GPS coordinates, and detailed descriptions of the bonebed, hoping to eventually collate their data with locality information
Randall Irmis pointing to the precise horizon of the Sharktooth Hill bonebed. (photo by Nick Pyenson)
from known UCMP and LACM (Los Angeles County Museum) localities. As a first-time visitor, Randall adds, “What amazed me was the sheer abundance of the place. Everywhere we looked, we found fossils, many fragmentary, but some complete.” By the end of the day, they had collected sea turtle material, two partial sperm whale skulls (Aulophyseter morricei), and a nearly complete juvenile sea lion skull (Allodesmus sp.), which Bob kindly donated to the UCMP collections.
So many questions
This trip was a first step in gathering data to answer a number of questions that still remain after decades of study: how many different kinds of fossil marine vertebrates are present at Sharktooth Hill? In what