Two students from the Capital District were among SUNY Plattsburgh geology students who recently discovered the rare bones of an ancient harbor seal that have now been donated to the geology collections of the New York State Museum
Jason Klein of Cohoes and Zachary Irwin of Burnt Hills were with Jake McAdoo and other students collecting mud samples at the site of the old Plattsburgh Air Force Base on Lake Champlain when McAdoos shovel hit something hard.
Jake said that he thought he hit a railroad spike. Then, he dug further down and said, No, I think its a bone, said Dr. David Franzi, SUNY distinguished teaching professor of earth and environmental science, who had gone to the site with his students to lead them in a landslide study for his environmental geology class. I told him, No, its not a bone, said Franzi. You almost never find bones.
But Franzi was wrong. It was a bone, and a very special bone at that.
Dr. Robert Feranec, curator of vertebrate paleontology at the State Museum, verified that the fossilized bones belong to a harbor seal. He believes they date back to the existence of the Champlain Sea, during the end of the last glacial cycle about 10,000 to 12,000 years ago.
According to Feranec, the bones that have now been uncovered at the site include fibula, tibia, four vertebrae, a jaw bone and what may be ankle and foot bones.
Seal fossils are a pretty rare find for New York, said Feranec. We only have two single fossil specimens in the State Museum collections now, so this find of about 15 bones, including the jaw, is significant.
Feranec said the next steps are to carbon date the fossils and conserve them before placing them in the New York State Museums permanent collections. They then will be available for research, as well as for exhibits and education.
Franzi said his students were very excited about the find, which relates peripherally to what they are learning in the classroom. For students in his sedimentology and geomorphology classes, however, there is a direct connection, and, according to Franzi, the find helps bring his subject to life.
The other students on the field trip were Brian Gamache of Plattsburgh, Jacob Barnhart of Unadilla, Gregory Colucci of Ithaca and Katherine Bazan of Poland, N.Y.