By David Fleet
Two Brandon Township sisters recently discovered whale bones in an on old river deposit in the Atlas Township area.
Sadie, 13 and Kalin, 14 Benson were exploring recently and found two rather unique bones about 24 inches across in a rural area of the township.
“I actually stubbed my toe on the bone,” said Kalin. “At first I thought it was a boat propeller under about two feet of water. However, when I pulled it up I recognized it was a vertebrae. I remembered that from my biology class. We also thought it could have been a mastodon bones.”
Sadie pulled up a similar second vertebrae in the water.
“I started looking in the same area as Kalin and found a second similar bone,” she said.
The bones were then taken to Cranbrook Institute of Science who sent a sample from one of the bones for radiocarbon dating to learn the ages of the specimens.
Radiocarbon dating is a technique for measuring the age of organic remains based on the rate of decay of carbon 14
Last week the results of study found the township bones were baleen whale vertebrae and radiocarbon dated the age at 220 +/- 30 BP (Before Present), as such, it is similar to a previous date of 190 years old for a sperm whale bone found in Michigan. The baleen whales have baleen instead of teeth which they use to collect shrimp-like krill, plankton and small fish from the sea. The report also included that all the dated whale bones found to date from Michigan are far too young for whales to have entered the Great Lakes. Bones of a sperm whale, finback whale, and a right whale where reported found in Michigan were dated between 190 and 810 years old,
John Zawiskie, the Curator of Earth and Life Sciences at Cranbrook Institute of Science commented on the results of the whale bone discovery.
“Whales could only have entered the Great Lakes when the sea level was higher during glacial and post-glacial times more than 10,000 years ago,” said Zawiskie. “The whales are all too young – the oldest are only 800 years old.”
Why the bones were found in the township is uncertain, however one suggestion is that the bones may have been brought to Michigan by Hopewell culture people from the Atlantic coast, or maybe even a long running elaborate hoax, where someone else placed the whale bones on the landscape.
“The Hopewell people lived on the Atlantic Coast and they may have brought the whale bones to Michigan as they brought many shells and other marine items with them,” added Zawiskie. “It is unlikely that the Hopewell people scattered whale bones across Michigan and of course the recent find is only 220 years old – the other whale ages range from 190 to 800 years old.”