Personal Perspectives

At STRI, No Whales Yet, But There Are Fossil Sea Cows...

Smithsonian researchers eat a meal in preparation for a fossil excavation
Before heading out to the fossil locality in PiƱa, Panama on the Caribbean coast, the team of researchers have a full breakfast at a cantina by the side of the road: roasted chicken, plantains, and some coffee. (Jorge Velez-Juarbe)

Jorge and I arrived in Panama City around 3 pm this afternoon, and took a taxi to the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI)'s headquarters in the Gorgas neighborhood of downtown Panama City. The temperature's about like it would be in D.C. on a hot day, but, much to our amazement, there are giant, beautiful avocados and mangos hanging from the trees, along with monkeys and toucans. (Apparently they pass for the Central American counterparts of rats and pigeons). Pretty neat though!

We're getting a quick tour of the buildings from our host, Aaron, who works for the Center for Tropical Paleoecology and Archaeology, before packing up the field vehicles. I'm sitting in a lovely office of the historic Ancon building, overlooking a rainy downtown while typing out this email. We leave for the field tonight.

One surprise already: Aaron pointed out a fossil vertebra that his mother found while prospecting in the Gatun Formation nearby. It's not just any vertebra, it belongs to a fossil sea cow! According to Jorge, an expert on fossil sea cows and manatees, it would be among the youngest records of this group from Central America. Jorge holds the exciting museum find in his hands, amidst geologic maps of Panama.

June 2011