On Friday I gave you this cranium to identify:
Jake got in early with the suggestion of a seal of some kind (based on his experiences at the University of Dundee), which Manabu Sakamoto agreed with. Dave Godfrey developed the seal suggestion and arrived at a correct identification, which was supported by Carlos Grau, David Craven, cromercrox, Neil, Jamie Revell and Zigg. This is the cranium of the Hook-nosed Sea-pig, more commonly known as a Grey Seal Halichoerus grypus (Fabricius, 1791).
I’m pleased that so many of you were able to work out what this cranium belonged to, since some other people may have mistaken it for being from a big cat – at least if they found it washed up on a beach anywhere near Exmoor… it must be the Beast!
I find it rather entertaining when myths and wishful thinking take over from common sense when it comes to identifying skulls – as if proximity to a good story justifies the suspension of logical interpretation of the facts. In fact I’ve given a talk on this sort of thing before for the London Skeptics in the Pub (I’ll be doing it again in Winchester this November) and I am still amazed by the persistence of some misidentifications – the Montauk Monster is a prime example.
As many of you spotted, Grey Seals have a very characteristic large and upward-angled nasal opening. They also have a very squared off cranium and they lack a postorbital process. So totally unlike a big cat or a dog. They do have similarities to mustelids like Otters and Mink, which also have the very flattened and squared skull, which is an adaptation to a watery habitat.
Other seals have a somewhat different nasal area and for comparison I can recommend the Marine Species Identification Portal, which has diagrams of skulls in the multimedia tab for the various species covered.
So all that remains is for me to offer a hearty congratulations and suggest that you keep your eyes peeled next time you’re at the seaside – you may be able to spot one of these impressive animals just offshore.