Spirit Whales and Sloth Tales: Fossils of Washington State


Co-authored with Dr. Elizabeth Nesbitt, Emeritus Curator of Invertebrate Paleontology at the Burke Museum, our book is deep dive into the 500-milllion-year record of fossils in the state.

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No matter where you wander in Washington, you are never very far from the past and the fossil evidence of those that came before. You can find trilobites near the Idaho border, primitive horses on the Columbia Plateau, exquisite flowers in Republic, giant bird tracks near Bellingham, and curious bear-like beasts on the Olympic Peninsula. With abundant and well-exposed rock layers, Washington has fossils dating from Ice Age mammals only 12,000 years old back to marine invertebrates more than 500 million years old.

The goal of Spirit Whales and Sloth Tales is to share the paleontological stories, to provide insights into ancient natural history, and to help people understand the dynamic ecosystems of extinct plants and animals. This book also aims to highlight those who found the fossils. Many were discovered by paleontologists but, as happened with the Seattle mammoth, numerous fossils have been found by nonprofessionals, people who were simply observant and paying attention to the natural world around them. Including their names in Spirit Whales and Sloth Tales acknowledges and honors their contributions to the story of paleontology in the state, for without them, the stories of our past would be far less interesting.

With more than a half billion years of history, Washington State has an enviable diversity of fossils. Each is unique. Each interesting. Each tells a story of natural and human history. You don’t have to travel to exotic locations to find exciting fossils and do exciting science; it is all right here.

Chapter One. The Quaternary Period
Profile 1. Charismatic Megafauna: Mammoths
Profile 2. Charismatic Megafauna: Mastodons
Profile 3. The Sea-Tac Sloth
Profile 4. What We Learn from Pollen
Profile 5. A Million-Year-Old Migration: Salmon
Chapter Two. The Late Cenozoic Era
Profile 6. Washington’s First Deer
Profile 7. The Stone Rhino
Profile 8. Washington’s Most Beautiful Forests: Petrified Wood
Chapter Three. The Early Cenozoic Era
Profile 9. Tracking the Terrifying Birds: Gastronis
Profile 10. Fueling the Economy with Fossil Flora
Profile 11. Stonerose
Profile 12. The Last Nautiloids
Profile 13. Clams and Bacteria
Profile 14. Helmet Shells and Whale Gases
Profile 15. Spirit Whales
Profile 16. Whale Teeth and Jaws
Profile 17. A Curious Beast: Kolponumus
Profile 18. Big Birds
Profile 19. The Terror of the Docks
Profile 20. Global Hothouse: The Marine Environment
Chapter Four. The Cretaceous Period
Profile 21. Coiled Denizens of the Sea: Ammonites
Profile 22. Dinosaur Island
Chapter Five. The Paleozoic Era
Profile 23. The Earliest Animal Fossils: Trilobites
Profile 24. Washington’s First Reef Builders