Tuesday, April 06, 2021

Geology and Paleontology in Pop Culture - The Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium

 Back in August of 2019, I was able to go visit my mother in Florida without the threat of doom and on the trip we visited the local Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium in Sarasota. The Mote is broken up into several buildings over a nice campus with some great animal displays within it. But, as always, my focus tends to be drawn to geology and paleontology of the place. 


The Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium sits on the Lido Key, off the western coast of Florida within the Gulf of Mexico. The most notable geological thing that I found was the building stone that was surrounding one of the larger shark tanks. 

Here is a little bit of a zoomed out shot of the building stone. A closer look below will reveal what type of building stone we are looking at.

As we can see by the clearly coral fossils in this part of the rock, this is a limestone. Brain coral in particular here. There are many types of limestones based on what they are made up of. The term limestone just means that the rock is primarily composed of the calcium carbonate, typically in the form of the mineral calcite. Calcite can form in a few different ways, but the most common way is through the processes of marine organisms like the making of clam shells or coral skeletons. 

The different building blocks within the shark tank enclosure have some variety with what types of fossils are visible. Within this block we can see some shells, which are mostly up of some gastropods (snail) and bivales (like clams). 

A close up of some more coral.

And more coral. This piece is interesting because the upper left piece of coral and the lower right piece of coral are the same type of coral, just cut at different angles.

When identifying limestones, there a couple of different classifications that are used. Since this is clearly a reef rock, based on the presence of so much corals, that is what we want to focus on. 

Limestone classification of reef rocks. Image courtesy of SEPM.

My knowledge of limestone classifications is definitely limited, however based on the structure of the corals within the rock, they appear to be "autochthonous", which means that they had not been transported before they were turned into a rock. All of the above limestone pictures also probably don't fit into the same category, however I would say the majority of the blocks likely fall into the Framestone or Bafflestone category of limestone. 

On the coastal islands, there isn't much, if any, building stone localities so these must have been trucked in from somewhere, however I can't find any mention of specifically where they came from. They did likely originate locally due to the large abundance of coral reef limestones within the state of Florida. 


There are a few paleontological themed areas of the aquarium as well. This includes the "Fossil Creek" area, where people can get bags of sand filled with fossilized shark teeth. This area is highlighted by one of the most famous fossil sharks, the Otodus megalodon, more commonly just called the Megalodon.

A full sized rendering of what the Megalodon jaw would have looked like. However, only teeth of the Megalodon have ever been found so the entire jaw reconstruction is just that, a theorized reconstruction.

I love that in this version of the reconstruction they didn't even bother to hide the painterly strokes along the cartilage jaw.

Next to the Megalodon jaw there is also a couple of display cases with other fossil shark teeth including tiger, hammerhead, great white, mako, and of course the Megalodon. 

There are also some fossilized vertebrae, as well as other animal bits scattered throughout the cases.

I didn't take a picture of the identification sign, however I don't know if there even was one. But what interests me here, is that mixed among the mostly marine fossils are the teeth of a mammoth. Although there have been some mammoth discoveries in Florida (they aren't unheard of), just unexpected in a marine museum. 

These teeth, and other bones, may actually belong to a discovery of a nearby mammoth from Salt Creek, near Warm Mineral Springs, Florida back in 1987. 

Newspaper image of a pair of mammoth teeth found in 1987 from Salt Creek, Florida. Image courtesy of Warm Mineral Springs.

The newspaper listing of the find state an unknown age at the time of discovery, but that the fossils will likely be stored at the Mote Aquarium. 

And the last fossil I saw at the Mote is a vertebrae of whale tail found in southwestern Florida. 

Of course they also have modern skeletons on display. Here is the skeleton of a manatee.

And the skeleton of a giant sea turtle. 

Underside view of the sea turtle.

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