Students recover ancient whale skeleton from the banks of Georgia's Flint River

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POSTED: Wednesday, August 15, 2012 - 6:30pm

UPDATED: Wednesday, August 15, 2012 - 6:34pm

A Georgia Southern University team of professors and students started excavating the fossil of a whale on the shore of the Flint River Monday.

The geology dig has been in the works for two years, and the team calls it a stunningly significant find.

"It turns out we have a nice part of a probably this ancient fossil whale called a bassilosaurus," said Dr. Katy Smith of Georgia Southern University

The ancient whale was between 50 to 70 feet long, and swam freely in what was then the ocean.

The student volunteers spent most of the day carefully uncovering the vertebrae.

"This vertebrae is upturned and not in its place. So we are just kind of cleaning the area and finding new things," said Georgia Southern junior Shawna Felkel.

The work is hot, and slow, but they are already learning a lot.

"We can see which way the head is. And which way the tail is. But that's about it right now," said senior Zach Ansley.

"To be able to find this much of a whale intact is pretty amazing for us," said junior Kelly Simpson.

Most of the fossil is buried deep in limestone, so the team will have to break the rock around it, and take it back as much in one piece as they can.

"As it is encased in a lot of rock, and we are not going to be able to get all of the rock out of it while it's in here. We're going to take it out in blocks of rock, take it back to Statesboro, and then prepare it there," said Smith.

After study and cleaning, the fossil will be displayed at Georgia Southern University's museum, and looks like it will be their oldest whale fossil.

Georgia Department of Natural Resources rangers told the professor about the fossil and are helping the dig.

They say there are many more ocean fossils like this around south Georgia, but this is the biggest they have found.

The Georgia Southern geology team will continue their fossil dig tomorrow, until they have it excavated and removed.

Georgia Department of Resources officers are guarding the dig site.  

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