Imagine that you're just enjoying a nice underwater dive when you come across the skull of a whale. If you're not a paleontologist, you might freak out and wonder what kind of massive, bloodthirsty beast in the water with you is able to skin and eat such a large creature.
If you are a paleontologist or at least have a natural scientific curiosity, you might start thinking of ways to get this massive specimen out of the water so other scientists can study it. That's probably what went through one amateur paleontologist's mind when he first came across a 5 million-year-old whale skull in a Virginia swamp over two years ago.
Recently, he and a team of scientists were able to remove the skull from the swamp, and National Geographic documented their efforts in a video posted to the publication's YouTube page on Monday.
Jason Osborne, an avocational paleontologist and co-founder of the nonprofit fossil collection group Paleo Quest, told National Geographic in a report accompanying the video that he discovered the 6- to 7-foot-long skull while fossil hunting in the swamp in June of 2013. He wanted to take it out so he could donate it to a museum for further study but the skull was just too massive.
According to the video, the skull weighs around 300-500 pounds (136-227 kilograms) and required a delicate touch to carefully extricate it from the river. You can't just take a crowbar down there and pry the thing off the bottom of the swamp like it's a stubborn lock on a door, after all.
It took two years for Osborne to come up with a plan to remove the skull and a sponsor to fund all the necessary materials he needed for his project. He used body bags to retrieve the skull because the bags' mesh interior could collect any pieces of sediment or parts of the skull that might fall off during its transfer to the surface. If they find the rest of the whale that's believed to be 20 to 25 feet (6 to 7.6 meters) long from nose to tail, they could also put a toe tag on its fin and film the most epic "CSI" episode ever.
Osborne also brought a camera crew to document his retrieval of the massive skull that paleontologists believe belonged to this massive 5 to 6 million-year-old baleen whale. Check out the video below that shows scenes from Osborne's project and what he and his team found once they got the skull out of the swamp.