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April 27, 2008

Press Release: Martinsville Bulletin

From: Caroline County Board of Supervisors
Re: Miocene Whale Display/ Dr. Alton Dooley, Virginia Museum of Natural History presentation on the science and significance of Whale Project
Date: April 23 2008
Percy Ashcraft, County Administrator

At a regular meeting of the Caroline County Board of Supervisors, Dr. Alton Dooley of the Virginia Museum of Natural History presented the science and significance of a proposed ancient twenty-eight foot Gray Whale fossil to be housed in the Caroline Visitor Center on Rt. 207 by late summer.

Dr. Dooley, a paleontologist with the Museum who has been working at the Caroline Quarry site in Carmel Church, detailed a number of finds made in Caroline including the bus sized gray whale, Eobalaenoptera. Dr. Dooley characterized the Carmel Church site as the most important paleontological site in North America east of the Mississippi.

Board of Supervisors Chairman, Floyd Thomas, invited Dr. Dooley to speak to the Board about the finds in Caroline to explain their significance and how Caroline could benefit from this unique opportunity.

The Virginia Museum of Natural History has since the 1990s been working to extract a rare combination of land and ocean animal fossils dated between 12 and 14 million years ago. Another rare find is the most intact example of an early horse discovered in America known by its scientific name, Calippus regulus. Dr. Dooley pointed out that Caroline's historic association with horses extends further back than Secretariat. Caroline's first horses are 14 million years old.

The Gray Whale, Eobalaenoptera, is only on display in Martinsville at the Virginia Museum of Natural History. The Smithsonian Institute in Washington, DC also has a specimen, but it is not on display. When the whale project is funded, Caroline County will have the only other display in America.

The project is anticipated to cost $125,000 and will be paid for by gifts, grants and private revenue stream not from the County General Fund. Staff pointed out that none of the cost of the Whale Project was to impact the General Fund in any way. A donation already has been pledged from the Litt and Kath Thompson Foundation for $25,000. The Thompsons are land owners in Caroline County and Mr. Thompson is a leading businessman in Virginia.

Most of the cost of the project ($100,000) is for casting the bones in a light and durable material and attaching them to a metal armature for display. The actual bones are too rare to display as they would deteriorate under normal building conditions. The $100,000 includes the hanging of the Whale from the tower section of the new Visitor Center by a Canadian firm that specializes in prehistoric animal displays. The work will be overseen by the Virginia Museum of Natural History which controls the ownership of the skeleton. The remaining cost covers the expense of display structures and information panels that interpret the discoveries from the Carmel Church site.

A cast of the limited horse remains, Calippus regulus, will be included in the project.

The Whale display will be a permanent fixture while there may be a rotating display of other items continually found in the Carmel Church dig site.

Chairman Thomas suggested rotating displays of the smaller finds in a proposed County museum to be located in Bowling Green as well as at the Visitor Center.

Dr. Dooley made his presentation into a movie that will is available to the public and can be found here. Dr. Dooley will repeat the presentation in the future and specifically when Eobalaenoptera is displayed in the Visitor Center.

Donations to the display will go to the Virginia Museum of Natural History and be tax deductible as the Museum foundation is a 501 (c)(3) non profit corporation. The Department of Economic Development and Tourism will forward donations to the museum and staff is available to brief potential donors about the project. Donors are encouraged to give as early as possible to allow for Eobalaenoptera to appear at the opening of the Visitor Center.

In a Commonwealth proud of being the first English colony in North America 401 years old, Caroline can boast of being the most Pre-historic County in Virginia-14 Million Years Old.

Eobalaenoptera offers Interstate travelers and Caroline residents a perspective almost never encountered in a similar venue, not one of miles, but of deep time and geological change that shapes the planet and its life. That perspective will be possible because of the support of the Board of Supervisors and Caroline community of the whale display project.

Contact Information:
Gary Wilson
Director, Caroline County
Department of Economic Development & Tourism

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