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Geology Students Find Prehistoric Seal Remains

Jake McAdoo and his fellow students were collecting mud samples at the site of the old Plattsburgh Air Force Base on Lake Champlain when McAdoo's shovel hit something hard.

"Jake said that he thought he hit a railroad spike. Then, he dug further down and said, 'No, I think it's a bone,'" said Dr. David Franzi, SUNY distinguished teaching professor of earth and environmental science, who had accompanied his students to the site as part of a landslide study for his environmental geology class.

"I told him, 'No, it's not a bone,'" said Franzi. "You almost never find bones."

But Franzi was wrong. It was a bone, and a very special bone at that.

A 'Significant' Find

Dr. Robert Feranec, curator of vertebrate paleontology at the New York State Museum has verified that the fossilized bones actually belong to a seal and quite probably a harbor seal. The bones date back to the existence of the Champlain Sea, during the end of the last glacial cycle about 10,000 to 12,000 years ago.

According to Feranec, the bones that have now been uncovered at the site include fibula, tibia, four vertebrae, a jaw bone and what may be ankle and foot bones.

"Seal fossils are a pretty rare find for New York," said Feranec. "We only have two single fossil specimens in the State Museum collections now, so this find of about 15 bones including the jaw is significant."

According to Feranec, the next steps are to carbon date the fossils and to conserve them so that they last. Then, they will be placed in the New York State Museum's permanent collections.

"It's been great to collaborate with Dr. Franzi on this," said Feranec. "It was great that the students in Dr. Franzi's class were knowledgeable enough to let him know they found some bones and not just toss them into the lake," he added.

Bringing Lessons to Life

According to Franzi, his students were very excited about the find, which relates peripherally to what they are learning in the classroom. For students in his sedimentology and geomorphology classes, however, there is a direct connection, and, according to Franzi, the find helps bring his subject to life.

The other students on the field trip with McAdoo and Franzi were Brian Gamache, Zachary Irwin, Katherine Bazan, Jacob Barnhart, Jason Klein and Gregory Colucci.

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