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Skidaway aquarium launches whale exhibit
whale bone
The exhibit includes information about the fossils that were discovered off the Georgia coast, as well as a painted cast of one of the fossils the mandible or lower jawbone. - photo by Photo provided.

The fossilized remains of an extinct Atlantic gray whale are the focal point of a new exhibit at the University of Georgia Aquarium on Skidaway Island.

In 2006, divers from the University of Georgia discovered the 36,000-year-old fossils while diving near Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary. The whalebone turned out to be that of an Atlantic gray whale, which became extinct in the 1700s.

Gray whales were hunted to extinction during the height of the whaling industry. They were easy targets because they swam close to shore and yielded a lot of oil.

Scott Noakes of the UGA Center for Applied Isotope Studies was one of the divers, along with fellow UGA scientists Ervan Garrison and Alexander Cherkinsky, and Greg McFall of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

“There have been a few gray whale remains found on beaches in New York, South Carolina and Florida, but none other offshore,” Noakes said. “The Georgia find is also considerably older than any other found along the U.S. coastline.”

The new exhibit looks at the entire gray whale project from the discovery to making casts of the bones for display. Noakes, UGA Marine Extension, Georgia Sea Grant, Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary, Emory University, the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History and the Scientific Illustration Group at UGA’s Lamar Dodd School of Art and Design all collaborated in its creation.

Open Mondays-Saturdays, the aquarium provides a hands-on experience, providing its 25,000 annual visitors a peek under water.

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