Sep 14

Fossil Hunting by Kayak

Category: Uncategorized

The south-western shore of the Chesapeake bay is home to the calvert formation, a bed of compacted sand containing fossils.  The formation is visible as fragile, weathered cliffs that in most places create a sheer drop into the bay, although in some places there are small beaches.  Here are some quotes from Wikipedia:

The park is known for the abundance of mainly Middle Miocene sub-epoch fossils, which can be found on the shoreline… These rocks are the sediment from a coastal ocean that covered the area during that time. The age of the formation is <19-14> million years…

In addition, rocks of the younger Choptank and the St. Marys Formations are exposed. This makes Calvert Cliffs State Park highly interesting for paleoclimatology and paleontology, because the accessible strata provide a good record of the Middle Miocene Climate Transition and documents a minor mass extinction event, the Middle Miocene disruption.

This formation is notable for the plentiful fossil shark teeth found therein. Especially popular among “rockhounds” are those from giants such as Carcharocles and the famous Megalodon (which is often included in Carcharocles).

I’ve been to Calvert Cliffs State Park a couple of times, but the accessible areas there are quite small or over visited.  So when we saw that the state parks system was hosting a kayak trip to find fossils, we jumped on it.  As with most state park activities, it was a bargain!

We shoved off from Bay Front park, just south of the city of Chesapeake Beach.  The park has a very nice beach, but is so heavily visited that it isn’t a great place to hunt for fossils.  We kayaked to a tiny ridge of a beach 2 miles south of bay front.  Because all of the property here is private, the beach is inaccessible from land, (unless you live in the house overhead).  However, all of the Chesapeake up to the high-water mark is public property, so landing on the beach is allowed.  You just can’t go up the stairs which lead up the cliff!

We brought shovels and small screens which we used to sift out the smaller particles, leaving (hopefully) only the items of interest – pebbles, fossil shells, and sometimes a shark tooth.  Even without tools, if you search carefully, you can find teeth just by walking along the shoreline.  The cliffs are clay-like sand that erodes easily and constantly into the bay.  I bet the best time to come is after a storm or a heavy rain.

First, place a load of sediment into the screen:

Sift the material in the water:

Can you find the shark tooth in the picture below?

When you’ve picked out all the good stuff, you can toss the pebbles on the sand.

More images from this expedition are available here.

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