Researchers diving off the coast of Georgia have found the fossils of an Atlantic Grey Whale. Carbon dating shows the remains to be at least 36,000 years old.
The Atlantic Grey whale was hunted to extinction in the 18 century, though the remains found show that this particular creature did not die because of whaling.
A left Jaw bone of the whale was discovered along with two badly eroded vertebrae near Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary about 20 miles (32 kilometers) off southeast Georgia in 2008. It took the researchers two years to pull out the entire fossil embedded in layers of shell and sand 70 feet (21 meters) below the surface. The jaw bone was finally recovered in sections measuring 5 feet.
From the bones, the researchers say it can be clearly noted to be that of a baleen whale. These whales use baleen plates in their mouths to filter meals of tiny organisms out of seawater. They look very similar to grey whales Eschrichtius robustus. The species is only locally extinct and can be found in the Pacific Ocean at present.
When the whaling industry was prevalent even the present generation of these whales were at risk of extinction.
Scientists had earlier believed that the extinct Atlantic gray whale is a distinct species, but it has been confirmed through various studies that those past whales and the ones now found in the Pacific Ocean are the same.
“The California grays looked exactly like the bones that were dug up in Scandinavia back in the 19th century,” Ervan Garrison, a geoarchaeology professor at the University of Georgia, said in a statement, describing it as “one of the first instances where a living species was named based on the fossil evidence.”
The Huffington Post reported that the researchers also add that the new specimen’s age of approximately 36,570 years old makes it one of the oldest fossil finds in the western Atlantic basin.
The research was published last month in the journal Paleontologica Electronica.
If the find indeed represent a Pleistocene-age gray whale, its oldest counterpart is a specimen found on the southern North Sea dating to 42,800 years ago.