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Fossil survey to begin at Lucy Vincent Beach
Greg Whitmore made his first authentic fossil discovery on the grounds of his campsite at Woodstock '99. Now Mr. Whitmore is initiating a fossil survey at two decidedly different locations: the cliffs at Lucy Vincent Beach and Aquinnah. He hopes to find specimens dating from before the last ice age.
Greg Whitmore displays a handful of fossils he found surprisingly swiftly by sifting through the sand on Lucy Vincent Beach. Photo by Aubrey Gibavic
"They are pretty unique in New England in that they're pretty much the only record of a couple of different ages," he said of both cliffs faces. "It just kind of lucked out that these two sections were kind of at the end of the glacial advance so they really weren't touched or affected that much by the glaciers; so there's some really nice material there."
Infatuated by toy dinosaurs as a child, Mr. Whitmore went on to receive an undergraduate degree in biology and archeology, and a master's in zoology from the University of New Hampshire (UNH). He will earn his doctorate from the university upon the completion of the Island fossil survey. He will submit a dissertation, and his findings will be displayed at a university or museum for viewing and research.
"They're very fragile environments and everybody I'm sure is well aware of the extreme erosion that's going on there, especially Lucy Vincent Beach," he said. "If a real proper survey isn't done at this point it's just going to be gone pretty soon."
(Left) A fossil of a whale's jawbone, found at the Gay Head Cliffs.
Mr. Whitmore, the regional ecologist for the Trustees of Reservations, has been tossing around the idea of researching the cliffs for the past six months, and recently received backing from a UNH professor and went ahead with the permitting process.
The fossil survey will entail little digging, but mostly picking, sweeping and sifting. Mr. Whitmore said on a good day he could leave Lucy Vincent with 20 pounds of fossils.
"Everything just kind of falls down from the cliffs because the erosion is so rapid," Mr. Whitmore said. "A lot of the material is exposed. If I were to collect, I would just go and pick it right off. It's not like you take a pick-ax to it."
Shark teeth found at Lucy Vincent Beach in Chilmark. Photos courtesy of Greg Whitmore
He pointed to a large gash in the cliff face. A couple recently spent time and energy extracting a large megalodon tooth from the edifice, he said. A megalodon was a giant prehistoric shark that is estimated to have lived between 1.6 and 16 million years ago, and is considered to be the largest predatory fish ever to have lived.
"Obviously it's a public beach and if I were to do this study properly, I would have to have some type of restricted access...and that may or may not fly with the town and the public," he said.
Fossils like these are plentiful at Lucy Vincent Beach, where Greg Whitmore, above, is sifting through the sand. Photo by Aubrey Gibavic
Mr. Whitmore has consulted the Chilmark beach committee, which will allow him to enter the exclusive shoreline in the summer months, even though he is a West Tisbury resident.