Baleen whales to ancient fossil
You are looking at the fossilised bones of an ancient baleen whale. Baleen whales are filter feeders, they use their hair-fringed baleen plates on their upper jaw to sieve sea water. In this way they collect animals only a few centimetres long for food. This specimen died millions of years ago. Pieces of the whale’s skeleton sank to the sea floor and were buried.
From the sea to the land
This area was once about 100 metres under the sea. Creatures living in this prehistoric sea died and came to rest on the sea floor. Over a few million years, shell fragments from these creatures compacted to become limestone, while bones from vertebrates such as whales, dolphins and penguins became preserved within the limestone.
The limestone here was formed around 25 million years ago. Then, Te Riu-a-Māui/Zealandia (the continent New Zealand is part of) was largely submerged under the ocean. Since that time the limestone has been uplifted and eroded – exposing this baleen whale and other fossils.
The baleen whale may have looked like this. Original art by C. Gaskin - Geology Museum, University of Otago
Impressive honeycomb like lattices can be seen on some surfaces of the limestone - the result of weathering by wind.
Many fossils, including the baleen whale fossil found here, have had only parts of the original skeleton preserved. Paleontologists are scientists who study past life. Usually, they dig out fossils and take them away to study. However, this fossil was preserved in the rock so you can view it where it was found. Paleontologists identified that this skeleton is a fossil whale based on the distinct shape of the jaw bones. The size of the jaw suggests that this whale was 5 to 6 metres long.
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This fossil whale is distantly related to modern baleen whales like the minke whale.
When this limestone was formed, only a series of small islands of Zealandia remained above sea level.
This site was used for filming ‘Aslan’s Camp’ for the Narnia movie: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
To learn more you can listen to the Sasha Say’s podcasts on Anatini here.
Please be aware the following hazards include: narrow pathway, steep drop-off by fossil site, slippery surface when wet, uneven surface and steps, pipe at the bottom of the gate leading to fossil, falling debris / rocks/ blocks from above, and farming activities.
Latitude: -44:53:36.131 Longitude: 170:39:22.355
Scenic views & Photo opportunities
The field is part of a private farm and sheep or cattle may be present. Please respect the land and the animals. Public access is permitted via a 5-minute walk down a stepped walkway and across the farmland from opposite a parking bay on the west side of the Island Cliff-Duntroon Road. The Alps to Ocean Cycle Trail passes this site.
Anatini is signposted as part of the Vanished World trail.
Protection and guardianship are at the heart of the Geopark philosophy. We ask you to treat this site with respect, do not remove anything from this site and preserve it for our future generations.
Check out the Anatini Facebook page, run by the proud landowners.