An extended article on the strange marine mammals uncovered
by a University of Otago research student in San Francisco
has appeared in the latest edition of a French scientific
Geology PhD student and United States citizen Robert
Boessenecker said he discovered and excavated fossilised
bones and teeth from the Purisima Formation in San Francisco
Bay between 2004 and 2011.
He started his research when a Californian surfer told him
about the fossil site.
''There were hundreds of bones sticking out of the cliffs.''
Mr Boessenecker's findings were published in a 140-page
article in the latest edition of the French journal
During his fieldwork Mr Boessenecker unearthed 21 marine
mammal species including dwarf baleen whales, double-tusked
walruses, a porpoise with a severe underbite and a dolphin
closely related to the extinct Chinese river dolphin.
He also uncovered the bones of new species of whale - a close
relative of minke, fin and blue whales.
Mr Boessenecker named the whale Balaenoptera bertae in honour
of San Diego State University Professor Annalisa Berta, who
had mentored students and studied fossil marine mammals.
The whale would have been about 6m long, slightly smaller
than modern minke whales, Mr Boessenecker estimated.
The marine mammal fossils differed from North Pacific mammals
today, with species geographically and climatically removed
from their modern Arctic relatives, such as beluga-like
whales and tusked walruses, he said.
Funding for Mr Boessenecker's research included a University
of Otago doctoral scholarship and a Montana State University
undergraduate scholar's research grant.