Tag Archives: smithsonian

Forensic Friday

Forensic Fridays, phot by the author

I stopped by the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History for Forensic Friday, where I talked to paleobiologist David Bohaska. He showed me 6 million year old fossilized vertebra from whales and dolphins. Last Friday’s theme was “Marine debris & ocean life”, and the scientists brought in a few marine mammals (whale, dolphin and manatee) bones, used to speculate the animal’s cause of death. I photographed the bones and injury sites, but I’m not sure yet if I  am allowed to publish the images. The fossils are part of off-the-shelf collections, not available to the general public, so I will need to clear it with the Smithsonian first. Regardless of publishing the photos, I can’t wait to share the stories I heard about those animals lives…

A few cheetah-speed* notes

It is now  ~three weeks since I started this blog, and I thought I could give you some quick notes and some insights on what is to come:

  • This week I decided to skip the Terra Nova review. Apparently the dinosaur budget ran out and the last episode was all about littlegirlsaurus. For those still eager, the Bad Astronomer posted his Terra Nova review. In this case the focus is, obviously, on the astronomy depicted by the show (specifically the size of the moon and position of the stars).

  • This came in via James: Terra Nova drinking game. Take a drink when:

Someone leaves compound when they are not supposed to,
Blood and guts in the infirmary,
Teen boy acts put out,
Sixers face off with Novans,
Dinosaurs don’t die when shot with heavy weaponry,
Legless man shows up and says something pithy.

Die of alcohol poisoning.

(I am a health professional so I don’t endorse drinking a shot at each Terra Nova cliche. How about.. eating a vegetable instead?)

Iguana at the National Zoo, photo by the author

  • The Iguana above is not a dinosaur, but after I went to the Smithsonian National Zoo last Sunday, I have a lot to report. Coming up in future posts.

House episode - Transplant

  • This screen shot is a teaser for the review I am preparing of last week’s episode of House, named “Transplant”. I got so caught on the research that I decided to make into a larger post and interview a thoracic surgeon. My sister (the other, actually the first, Dr. Russo in the family) is also collaborating on this post.

  • I am compiling a list of Science, geek and sci-fi Halloween costumes. (Pixar lamp via Marina). It is growing a bit large and I might divide it into two parts. It might help whoever still lacks in ideas..

That’s it for now, coming back tomorrow with more.

*the cheetah is the fastest land animal and can run up to 75 mph!

Megalodon – the Dinosaur of Sharks

(Cris and Megalodon at the San Diego Natural History Museum - 2006)

Sharks do not have a bony skeleton. The only trace of shark that survives a fossil to tell its story, is the shark’s teeth.

A shark’s skeleton is made of cartilage, the same material that forms our nose and ears. All of that soft material disintegrates with time, leaving not much to be fossilized. The only bone in a shark’s body is its teeth. Fossilized teeth have been found and constitute evidence of sharks existence for as far as 400 million years ago.

One type of tooth, as large as the palm of your hand, is a fossil of Carcharodon megalodon, sometimes dubbed the white shark of the pre-historic oceans. Because there is no other trace of Megalodon’s body, many museums assemble a model jaw, based on the size of the tooth.

(Megalodon jaw, North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, 2005)

For scale, you can see how it measures up near the Smithsonian guide on the Highlight tour last week.

(Another Megalodon jaw, Smithsonian, 2011)

Considering the jaw size, the entire animal should measure up to one of our modern whales, perhaps 50 feet long and weighing 50 tons (the equivalent of ten elephants stacked, imagine that). Models have been created in several museums, including the one I photographed at the San Diego Natural History Museum a while ago.

(Megalodon at San Diego Natural History Museum - 2006)

My favorite prop, while volunteering at the Seattle Aquarium, was a replica of a Megalodon tooth. I used it to bait (no pun intended) the children, who in turn would be fascinated by these enormous sea creatures. The kids named it “the dinosaur shark”, even though the Megalodon is much younger than dinosaurs: they swam our oceans 20 million years ago. Luckily to our surfers, they are extinct.. but they teeth persist to enthrall children and adults alike.

(Megalodon at San Diego Natural History Museum - 2006)

Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History: Highlight Tour

Ammonite at the National Museum of Natural History

One of the perks of living in the DC area is the free access to the Smithsonians, the National Museum of Natural History (NMNH) being one of my favorites. I am obsessed with Natural History museums, aquarium and zoos anywhere. While I lived in Florida, I visited the Georgia Aquarium at the neighboring state no less than three times and I still miss my weekly volunteering at the Seattle Aquarium. So last week I decided to take advantage of events offered by the NMNH, so I stopped by for a Highlight Tour.

Experiencing the museum on a Friday feels completely different  – I’ve been there a few times already, during the summer and always on weekends. This time there was no crowds (perhaps only the occasional tourist). There was plenty of room to walk and photograph, and silence to take it all in.

Highlight Tour at the Sant Ocean Hall

I got there a little earlier, so I decide to go to the Sant Ocean Hall exhibit and photograph ammonites (crazy pre-historic shelled invertebrates!) while I waited. Suddenly I see a gathering of about ten people, guided by a museum volunteer, entering the Hall. She was a very energetic lady (wearing red in the pictures), so I  immediately abandoned the ammonite and tagged along.

The first part of the tour focused on the new Sant Ocean Hall, which is their largest exhibit, and was created in a partnership with NOAA (National Oceanic and atmospheric administration) and a must see, according to my supervisor at the Seattle Aquarium. We were shown to an ammonite fossil; megalodon teeth (the dinosaur equivalent of a shark); an Architeuthis, or, giant squid, specimen; and a model of a Right Whale. I plan to talk about all of those in future posts. In the second part of the tour, we were taken to the Dinosaur Hall, where our guide talked to us about their Triceratops fossil and how to assemble dinosaurs for display. The last part of the tour was upstairs, in the geology section, specifically about the Hope Diamond.

Sant Ocean Hall and the Right Whale model

It was about two hours that flew by, and barely covered half of the museum. I am definitely coming back for more tours. I hope I can catch the one on Human Origins and on Ice Age Mammals.

Highlight Tour