RALEIGH - Lake Waccamaw State Park will dedicate a new exhibit Aug. 24 created to display a rare, 2.75 million-year-old whale fossil discovered in the park's bay lake in 2008.
The public is invited to the 1 p.m. ceremony in the park's visitor center.
The fossil, which was pulled from a limestone outcropping in the lake bed, is the skull of a Balaenula whale. A member of the baleen family – a class of whales that includes today's humpback and right whale species – the animal measured approximately 20 feet long and lived during the late Pliocene or early Pleistocene eras. The skull is the most complete Balaenula fossil known in the world and one of the first discovered in North America.
In early 2008, a lake resident and supporter of the state park found the seven-foot-long fossil near the shoreline in waist-deep water. Park rangers, divers of the Underwater Archaeology Branch of the N.C. Department of Cultural Resources and researchers from the N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences collaborated to recover the pieces of skull and jaw. Paleontologists from the Virginia Museum of Natural History assisted in separating the skull from the limestone in which it was encased and in assembling the components. The project was also supported by Friends of Lake Waccamaw State Park and the North Carolina Museum of Forestry.
The limestone deposit that runs through the Lake Waccamaw area has yielded fossils in the past, including those of prehistoric horses and giant sloths. Until a few thousand years ago, much of the area surrounding the bay lake in southeastern North Carolina was covered by the ocean.
The exhibit has been mounted in the lobby of the visitor center near the entrance to the park's exhibit hall. The exhibit hall also features an array of displays on the state park's natural resources and cultural history.