Friday mystery object #390 answer


Last week I gave you this specimen from the Dead Zoo to have a go at identifying:

It came from a cabinet of cave bones, but Nigel Monaghan (Keeper of the Dead Zoo) wasn’t convinced that this specimen was actually found in a cave.

Partly that’s because it’s a fairly fragile specimen with poorly fused sutures – these don’t usually stay connected in cave deposits, but also because it’s from a species that you wouldn’t expect to find in the kind of caves that the rest of these collections came from. So what is the species?

I don’t think this is a very difficult one since I’ve done very similar specimens before (regular visitors should have had an advantage), so I was looking for cryptic or entertaining answers – and I was not disappointed. Tony Irwin got a great clue in, with a pun that reflected the genus:

I think we need to focus (did I spell that right?) on the shape.

It is of course the skull of a seal in the genus Phoca – and the blunt shape of the anterior portion of the auditory bulla suggests to me that it’s a Harbour Seal Phoca vitulina Linnaeus, 1758 rather than the very similar Spotted Seal, which has a slightly more accute angle on the anterior auditory bulla.

So well done to everyone who figured it out! Now we just need to figure out how it either got into a cave or (possibly more likely) got put into the wrong cabinet.

5 thoughts on “Friday mystery object #390 answer

  1. We see sea lions and harbor seals hauled out on beaches of sea caves all around the Santa Barbara Channel Islands. It’s not too phar phetched a notion.

  2. Changes in sea level in the recent past could mean what is now a cave some way from the shore could have been adjacent to it.

  3. In the process I at least learned that the bulbous lump of chewing gum is the auditory bull, or hearing bit. Took awhile to realise the eye socket was further forward than I first thought. I will try harder next Friday.

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