whale02When it comes to a glimpse into the long lost “Golden Age” of fossil whales and dolphins, it doesn’t get any better than this.

The Mace Brown Museum of Natural History at the College of Charleston will officially open a new exhibit “Evolution of Whales” on November 15, 2014. The exhibit takes visitors on a 50 million-year odyssey, starting with their land-dwelling ancestors and ending with species that swim today in Charleston harbor and adjacent coastal waters.

Many of the fossils on exhibit are 31 to 26 million years old, and date from a fascinating period in whale evolution nicknamed the “Golden Age of Whales.” Over this six million-year period, the ancient seas were filled with a motley mix of whales and dolphins; primitive and odd species coexisted with early relatives of dolphin families still thriving today.

“Ancient deposits surrounding Charleston, S.C. are the richest source for these fossil whales in the world, and superbly preserved fossils of at least six new species of whales, many of which have never been seen by the scientific community, are now on permanent display in the new exhibit,” says Jonathan Geisler, New York Institute of Technology anatomy and chief scientific advisor for the exhibit.

Displays in the exhibit are arranged to focus on the evolutionary transformation of bodies adapted to life on land all the way to bodies adapted to finding, chasing and catching prey in the water. Particularly striking are a series of fossils that demonstrate how the nose moved back from the snout to becoming the blowhole, and how front legs transformed into flippers.

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“The exhibit is a fantastic addition to the Mace Brown Natural History Museum, highlighting a particularly fascinating evolutionary history,” says Mike Auerbach, dean of the School of Sciences and Mathematics at the College of Charleston. “The new specimens are striking in appearance – large and intimidating – qualities sure to appeal to local school children, as well as other visitors.”

whale03The exhibit likely contains the highest density of fossil cetaceans on display anywhere in the world.

“This is a remarkable addition to the already incredible Mace Brown Museum of Natural History,” said College of Charleston President Glenn McConnell.  “I am delighted the new exhibit will be enjoyed by our campus and Charleston communities and visitors from around the country and the world.”

The exhibit will be open to the public starting on November 15, 2014. The Mace Brown Museum of Natural History at the College of Charleston is open from 11 a.m. until 4 p.m. daily except on Wednesdays when the museum is closed.