RIDGEVILLE, S.C. (WCBD)- Researchers have confirmed the discovery of fossils belonging to a 24-million-year-old whale in Dorchester County.

The newly discovered bones belonged to Eomysticetus, an extinct ancestor of baleen whales, according to experts. A team from Palmetto Fossil Excursions unearthed the fossils earlier this month along the Chandler Bridge formation near Ridgeville.

“It was extremely exciting knowing how rare Eomysticetes are and knowing that’s what we were pulling out of the ground,” Founder Skye Basak said.

Credit: Palmetto Fossil Excursions

Basak and Thomas Gilpin first located the posterior end of the Eomysticete’s skull around 6:00 p.m. on March 29.

The following day, Basak and Gilpin were joined by Joshua Basak, Elizabeth Keen, David Ryan, Ken Pullen, Mike Bona, and Dr. Robert Boessenecker to continue the excavation process.

By nightfall, the team had expanded the hole to nearly 25 feet wide and 10 feet deep and discovered several more bones—one lower mandible, the sternum, 10 vertebrae, including the atlas, multiple ribs, a flipper bone, and multiple throat bones.

“That’s all that we were able to locate in the bottom of the hole as of last week, but the hole needs to be expanded…so we can look for the rest of the animal,” Basak said.

The lower mandible was finally freed from the hole by about 9:30 p.m. on March 31 and a few hours later the 6-foot-long, 2,000-pound block containing the skull was also freed, according to Basak.

Dr. Boessenecker, a research fellow at the College of Charleston’s Mace Brown Museum of Natural History and one of the world’s leading experts on Eomysticetes, called the specimen a rare find as less than 20 complete skulls exist worldwide.

“It is likely to be more complete than the original specimen of Eomysticetus that was discovered in the 1970s,” he explained. “The more complete a fossil is, the more you can tell about its functional anatomy and how it may have behaved in life.”

Eomysticetes were the largest living whales during the Oligocene Epoch which dates back about 33.9 million to 23 million years ago, according to the American Museum of Natural History. They are believed to have been between 25 and 35 feet long, which is much smaller than modern baleen whales.

Researchers also believe that while the whales may have already had baleen, a filter-feeding system, which allowed them to eat zooplankton. There is also evidence to suggest that Eomysticetes may have also had a few residual teeth, according to experts.

Remains of the extinct whales have primarily been found in South Carolina, New Zealand, Japan, Washington, and Oregon. But, Dr. Boessenecker said the first named specimen of Eomysticetus was discovered in Ladson.

“There’s some isotopic evidence that they perhaps underwent seasonal migration,” he said.

After experiencing machinery-related setbacks, Basak said she hopes the team will continue the excavation efforts in the coming weeks.

“Knowing what this specimen will do for science is kind of mind-blowing, especially if we’re able to locate the rest of the animal and bring it to a point where it’s the most complete specimen of its kind,” she continued.

If you find a fossil in the ground or on the beach in the Charleston area, you can reach out to the Mace Brown Museum for identification.