Over 5 million years ago, a mass stranding of whales created what is now a whale graveyard in modern day Chile. Just why those whales died was a mystery — until now. Nick Pyenson, the paleontologist who led the team that cracked the case, is here to answer your questions!
He will be joining us here from 11:30 - 12:30 (Pacific time), so start asking him questions now.
Top image: The Smithsonian's digitization team scans a whale fossil / Smithsonian Institution; Bottom image: A 3-D interactive graphic of a whale fossil that they brought back with them / Smithsonian Institution
The culprit in the case turned out to be a toxic algae that killed off the whales in four separate events over the span of 10,000 to 16,000 years, leaving more than 40 fossilized whales at the site known as Cerro Ballena in Chile's Atacama Desert.
But, the graveyard at Cerro Ballena was actually exposed because of road construction in the area, which was destroying the fossil site. So, researchers tried an experiment: Using the Smithsonian's new 3-d modeling tools, they digitized the entire site rapidly in under a week, and took it back with them as files to analyze.