Fossils

Marine fossils come in many shapes and sizes. They range from early whale and dolphin bones to megaladon teeth that help us learn about the first sharks, and even small single-celled foraminifera.

LATEST POSTS

A rendering of an underwater marine scene from the Cambrian Period, featuring an arthropod, annelids, and other animals.

DIVE DEEPER

A Collection of Cambrian Fossils

When you're standing in a museum surrounded by fossils, you can almost imagine drifting through time to when long-extinct...
Photograph of the model of a Giant Megatooth Shark, taken from the front..

Shark Ancestors

Long before great white sharks appeared, much larger ancestors roamed the ocean. This giant ancient shark -- the Giant Megatooth ( Carcharodon megalodon ) -- was probably big enough to eat a whale.

Foraminifera on the Seafloor

Dr. Karen Bice studies the foraminifera in ocean sediment to better understand climate change. More about scientists studying world climate change can be found in our Climate Change featured story .
Smithsonian Scientists Dig a Trench Around a squalodontid Skull

Expedition to Excavate a Fossil Whale

The first thing the researchers did when they arrived on site was outline the general excavation area and take careful measurements of exposed fossils. Next, they applied acrylic glue to any exposed bone to...
Smithsonian researchers eat a meal in preparation for a fossil excavation

A Squalodontid Success

On a beach in Piña, Panama the tide is rolling out. Faint outlines of skeletal remains rise above the sand. Smithsonian scientists Nicholas Pyenson and Aaron O'Dea along with a team of students descend...
Smithsonian scientists race the tide the excavate an ancient whale fossil entombed in rock

Fossil Whale Found, Excavated, Jacketed, and Returned to STRI!

A time-lapse video of the excavation of an extinct toothed whale on a Panamanian beach. Jorge and I packed up the night we arrived in Panama with Aaron O'Dea and his team from STRI...
two men each hold a ceramic vessel at the archaeological ex

Archaeologists Study Early Whaling Community in Quebec, Canada

For over a decade, Smithsonian's Arctic Studies Center archaeologist, William Fitzhugh, has been investigating an early European whaling site at Hare Harbor in Québec, Canada . The site has revealed important contact and trading...
Offshore Peru, during the Eocene (~56-34 million years ago), showing two archaeocetes (ancient whales): Ocucajea picklingi and Supayacetus muizon.

New Archaeocetes from Peru Are the Oldest Fossil Whales from South America

Offshore Peru, during the Eocene (~56-34 million years ago), showing two archaeocetes (ancient whales): Ocucajea picklingi (above) and Supayacetus muizoni (below). Credit: Carl Buell, http://carlbuell.com The evolution of whales represents one of the great...
An illustration of a recently discovered species of Monodontid, Bohaskaia monodontoides, and its beluga and narwhale relatives

Smithsonian Scientists Describe a 'New' Fossil Whale

A reconstruction of a new fossil beluga relative, Bohaskaia monodontoides , described by Smithsonian scientists, is pictured in the foreground. Its living relatives, the beluga and narwhal, are illustrated left to right in the...
Nick Pyenson points to a skull and skeleton of a fossil whale.

Excavating a "toothed" baleen whale from Vancouver Island

Nick Pyenson, the Smithsonian's curator of fossil marine mammals, points to the skull and skeleton of a 23-25 million year old fossil "toothed" mysticete whale. Credit: NDP and J. A. Goldbogen/SI The whales that...
A researcher holds an arm bone from a "toothed" mysticete whale from Vancouver Island.

Dispatches from the Field: Treacherous stream crossings and a new fossil find

Nick Pyenson, curator of fossil marine mammals at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History, holds an arm bone from a "toothed" mysticete from Vancouver Island. Credit: J. A. Goldbogen Editor's note: Read Nick's...

Whale fossils on the mainland, and into a CT scanner

Gabor Szathmary secures one of the plaster jackets containing a fossil "toothed" mysticete that was excavated on Vancouver Island. After a few long days of hard work on the island, we were finally able...

Shark Teeth Tell Great White Shark Evolution Story

This fossil jaw of Carcharodon hubbelli , a possible great white shark ancestor, contains 222 teeth, some in rows up to six teeth deep. Credit: Jeff Gage/Florida Museum of Natural History For the last...
A rendering of an underwater marine scene from the Cambrian Period, featuring an arthropod, annelids, and other animals.

A Collection of Cambrian Fossils

When you're standing in a museum surrounded by fossils, you can almost imagine drifting through time to when long-extinct creatures swam the ocean. Found all over the world, these fossils can be read by...
Fossil Whale Digsite at Cerro Ballena, Chile

The Whale Graveyard Whodunit

Chilean and Smithsonian paleontologists study several fossil whale skeletons at Cerro Ballena, next to the Pan-American Highway in Atacama Region, Chile, in 2011. Credit: Adam Metallo / Smithsonian Institution One of the ocean's tiniest...
Duria Antiquior – A More Ancient Dorset, 1830

Unearthing History: Mary Anning's Hunt for Prehistoric Ocean Giants

Although in reality an ichthyosaur and plesiosaur would have likely never battled, this widely shared lithograph by artist, geologist and paleontologist Henry De la Beche even inspired author Jules Verne to pen a similar...

When Did Today’s Whales Get So Big?

More recently than you might think, say scientists who scoured the fossil record Two skulls belonging to extinct marine mammal herbivores used in the new study, both from the Smithsonian’s collections. Credit: A. Boersma...
A hippopotamus-like creature swims underwater

Flippers or Feet? An Extinct Mammal May Have Been Replaced By Today's Sea Cows

In the seagrass beds and kelp forests of the Oligocene-Miocene transition, nearly 32.5 to 10.5 million years ago, a four-legged, gnarly-toothed mammal roamed the Northern Pacific shores of what is now Japan, Canada and...

The Smithsonian Marine Collections

A behind the scenes look at the NMNH ocean-related collections and their importance to research and discovery.