Alabama is one of the prime sites in the world for massive fossils of whales or zeuglodons.
These large creatures concentrated in shallow sea areas of what is now Clarke, Choctaw and Washington counties at what is believed to be the end of the Eocene Epoch around 40 million years ago.
They averaged from 55 to 70 feet long and had tails up to40 feet long.
The “Father of British Geology” Sir Charles Lyell was attracted to the area in the mid 1840s and spent time in Alabama examining the fossil outcrops.
Zeuglodons are classified as primitive whalelike mammals and are characterized by a long-snouted skull with heavily cusped cheek teeth. It
was a snakelike creature that occurs in shallow marine sediments of the late Eocene age on three continents.
The zeuglodon is very distinctive and short-lived in the geologic record and has been used to mark the end of the Eocene Epoch.
The two families of the specimens range from 15-20 ft long to 50-70 feet long with a thoracic vertebrae getting as large as a five-gallon can.
Experts believe the whales were limited to the continental shelves of the world, in water depths of less than six hundred feet. They are believed to have searched for food among masses of seaweed within a dozen miles or so of the shoreline.
According to the Alabama Department of Archives and History, a complete fossil skeleton of a basilosaur or “king of the lizards” was found on a plantation located in the southwestern portion of the state.
After analysis by staff of the Philadelphia Academy of Natural Sciences, the skeleton was determined to not be that of a lizard but rather of a meat-eating member of the whale family – a zeuglodon.
That particular fossil was estimated to be over 45 million years old back to the Eocene period.
Alabama is the most abundant location for the fossils, the most latest of which was found in 1982 near Washington County and is now displayed in the McWane Center in Birmingham.
In 1984 the Alabama Legislature made the zeuglodon the state fossil.