Michael Williamson (
Fri, 11 Oct 1996 13:46:36 -0400 (EDT)

Date: 09 Oct 96 10:19 EST
To: "CLAPHAM,PHIL"@SIMNH.SI.EDU, "G.ask [Private Mail Group]"@SIMNH.SI.EDU,
    "G.q [Private Mail Group]"@SIMNH.SI.EDU, "LEIF@KUDONET.COM"@SIVM.SI.EDU
Subject: Copy of: WHALE FLIPPER BONES?

Original message: "WHALE FLIPPER BONES?"
From: <<>>

While on the beach the other day, on the San Francisco Penninsula about 30
miles south of the city, I came across a set of large bones with some flesh
still attached. The bones resembled part of a giant (~200cm long) hand.

I assume the bones were from the flipper of a whale, but wonder if they
could come from the flukes.

 Five-boned "fingers" seemed to join at a "wrist" bone. There were three
"fingers" on this fragment.
The largest pieces of a "finger" were larger than a hand-span across,
probably 30 cm, and were nearly twice that in length, approximately two
hand-spans. In depth they were probably ~15 cm. The tips of the fingers
were "small", about a hand span in length, and quite flat, with a simple
profile of the broad side that was similar to a pair of backwardly oriented
paranthese: )(. The larger bones had a more tapering profile. In the joints
was a tough brown cartiledge, about 5 cm thick.  The "fingers" were all
held closely together by softer meat, tendons?

I took pictures, but don't have a scanner.

So... Do you think it was a piece of a whale flipper? Or an
extra-terrestrial that met a bad fate? Or what?


  What follows comes largely from my good friend Dr Jim Mead here at
Smithsonian (I'm not an anatomist, and Jim's one of the best).  First
of all, you sound like a great observer, and we appreciate the detailed
description you gave of this alien mass.

  What you found is definitely a cetacean flipper, the question is
what species.  Assuming that you correctly counted five sets of finger
bones, this rules out many of the baleen whales.  Balaenopterids
(blue, fin, minke, sei, Bryde's and humpback whales) have only four,
as do gray whales.  The other baleen whale possibilities - right or
bowhead - seem extremely unlikely given the location.  Bowheads are
never seen outside the Arctic or subarctic.  Right whales are so rare
in the eastern North Pacific that a sighting of a single animal today
merits publication.

  The other possibilities are also a bit unlikely, but not impossible.
The size of the flipper (200 cm) restricts it to a large male killer
whale or a Baird's beaked whale.  Anything else is really too small.
Both orcas (killer whales) and Baird's beaked whales are found off
California, but not commonly.

  If you somehow confused the number of fingers and it was actually
four not five, then it is very likely to be a baleen whale.  A gray
whale is the most likely candidate because grays are common in
the region during migration.  It is unlikely to be a humpback because
the humpback (though common there) has huge flippers, and 200 cm (six
feet) would be a very small whale.  Furthermore, humpbacks have two
very long sets of finger bones that stand out from the others.

  So the bottom line is: don't know, but regrettably it isn't an alien
(no, not even in California).  If you send photos we might get a better
idea; will be happy to look at them, and will of course return them
to you.  (Address: Phil Clapham, Smithsonian Institution, NHB 390
MRC 108, Washington DC 20560).