NatGeo’s “AMERICA’S LOST TREASURES” Unearths Fossilized Dolphin Skull

by Robyn Hawk on October 21, 2012


Extraordinary Scientific Discovery Confirmed at Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County.  A fossilized dolphin skull approximately 15.5 million years old, found in an ocean-laid deposit near Bakersfield, Calif., by an amateur paleontologist, has been identified as likely belonging to a new dolphin species. 

The discovery was made during an episode of National Geographic Channel’s series "America’s Lost Treasures" and confirmed by Dr. Lawrence G. Barnes, a renowned curator emeritus of vertebrate paleontology at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County.

“I have never before seen a dolphin skull like this.” 
– Paleontologist Lawrence Barnes

Unlike most dolphins we are familiar with today, this new species had relatively small eyes that were angled somewhat forward and small nostrils. 

The species was discovered in the Sharktooth Hill Bonebed near Bakersfield, Calif.,—one of the most prolific deposits of its age and kind in the North Pacific realm, making it the standard of comparison for other similar age fossil deposits from a time in Earth History called the Miocene. The area also includes the scientifically and culturally important Sharktooth Hill National Natural Landmark.

“This animal is globally significant to science,” says Barnes. He stressed that discovery of the new dolphin can help us to understand the relationships among other extinct and living dolphins in its group, to determine how many species of animals were living in the North Pacific when the Sharktooth Hill Bonebed formed, and has implications for modern species diversity and conservation.
In the series, hosts Curt Doussett and Kinga Philipps travel to 10 U.S. cities and invite locals to bring in their relics to find out what they’re really worth. 

Working with top museum curators, appraisers and other experts, Curt and Kinga each trace the history of three chosen items. When the investigation is complete, owners and their families learn the true story—and value—of their treasured objects. 

At the end of each one-hour episode, it’s down to two finalists, and a winner is awarded $10,000 as special recognition for the importance of the item in American history. 

Winning objects will be featured in a special exhibition at the National Geographic Museum in Washington, D.C.

The species was found by amateur paleontologist Lisa Tohill prior to a taping of an episode for America’s Lost Treasures at the Autry National Center and the Natural History Museum, both in Los Angeles. The episode aired on August 22 at 9:00 p.m. ET/PT on the National Geographic Channel. 

Tohill’s dolphin skull fossil is currently housed at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, and it will be featured in the special exhibition at the National Geographic Museum in Washington, D.C.

America’s Lost Treasures is produced by Original Productions, a FremantleMedia company, for the National Geographic Channel. 

National Geographic Channel
Based at the National Geographic Society headquarters in Washington, D.C., the National Geographic Channels US are a joint venture between National Geographic and Fox Cable Networks. The Channels contribute to the National Geographic Society’s commitment to exploration, conservation and education with smart, innovative programming and profits that directly support its mission. Launched in January 2001, National Geographic Channel (NGC) celebrated its fifth anniversary with the debut of NGC HD. In 2010, the wildlife and natural history cable channel Nat Geo WILD was launched, and in 2011, the Spanish-language network Nat Geo Mundo was unveiled. The Channels have carriage with all of the nation’s major cable, telco and satellite television providers, with NGC currently available in 84 million U.S. homes. Globally, National Geographic Channel is available in 440 million homes in 171 countries and 38 languages. 
For more information, visit

Original Productions 
...a FremantleMedia Company
Founded by Thom Beers, Original Productions produces authentic nonfiction programming featuring everyday heroes in extraordinary situations, including the Emmy® Award-winning “Deadliest Catch,” “Bering Sea Gold,” “Ice Road Truckers,” “Ax Men,” “Wild Justice,” “Storage Wars,” “Storage Wars: Texas” and “Black Gold.” Beers’ steadfast focus on top-notch storytelling with engaging personalities in high-risk circumstances has produced more than 1,400 hours of original programming. 

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