Project Personnel: Robert Boessenecker
Like most children, Robert became interested in dinosaurs at a very young age, although he never quite outgrew his fascination with extinct organisms. In high school, began collecting fossils as an amateur and learned just how abundant fossils can be. Some of his first fossil collecting forays  included visits to Miocene (10-16 million years ago) localities in Central California, where he screened sediment for shark teeth, which helped foster his interest in fossil marine vertebrates. In 2003, he began studying paleontology at Montana State University, where he received a B.S. in Earth Sciences in 2008.
While still an undergraduate, he obtained a California State Parks permit and several grants to begin a project collecting marine vertebrate fossils from a new locality of the of the Purisima Formation (7-2.5 million years old) of coastal California. Robert was fortunate to work with Dr. David J. Varricchio, a well-known dinosaur paleontologist at Montana State University, who helped to foster, promote, and guide Robert's research.

This project catapulted Robert into the study of fossil marine vertebrates, and in particular, fossil marine mammals. Due to much of the field work and excavations that have taken place as a part of this research, Based largely on his fieldwork, Robert is currently working several concurrent research projects, including:

  • A comprehensive phylogenetic analysis of the Pinnipedia (seals, sea lions, and walruses), with Morgan Churchill (U. Wyoming)
  • Study of fossil marine birds (auks and giant bony toothed birds) from California, with N. Adam Smith (U. Texas, Austin)
  • Description and phylogenetic analysis of a large collection of the bizarre mysticete Herpetocetus, with Jonathan Geisler (New York College of Osteopathic Medicine)
  • Description of new rare marine mammal (pinniped, mysticete, and sea otter) fossils from Pleistocene and Miocene marine sediments of Northernmost California and southwestern Oregon
  • Description of new records of marine mammals from the Miocene-Pliocene Purisima Formation of central California, with Frank Perry (Santa Cruz Museum of Natural History).

In Fall of 2008, Robert began master's thesis research on marine vertebrate taphonomy within the Purisima Formation near Santa Cruz, California. Taphonomy is the study of fossil preservation, and focuses on what can happen to an organism's skeleton after death and decay. This research examines the relationship between the preservation of shark, fish, bird, and marine mammal skeletal remains and the environment in which they were deposited in. Different environments of the continental shelf have different water depths, which generally control the frequency of storms and storm erosion, and the rate at which sediment is deposited or eroded. These processes exert a strong control on the preservation of fossils on the continental shelf.  While a master’s student, he helped teach an intensive six week field course 'Geology Field Camp' in rugged southwestern Montana, and he taught a lab for human anatomy.

Most recently, Robert's first research article regarding mammalian bite marks on fossilized bones of fur seal pups was published in the journal Palaios.


Role in the "Evolution of Dolphins and Whales Project

Robert has been collaborating with Jonathan Geisler on several research projects on fossil cetaceans from the Purisima Formation since 2008. Robert was brought on to the project to write a series of articles on modern and fossil cetaceans, cetacean phylogeny, and morphological evolution within the group. Additionally, research on a recently discovered skull of a large pilot whale-like cetacean from the Pliocene Purisima Formation falls under this project.


Representative Publications

Boessenecker, R.W. and F.A. Perry. 2011. Mammalian bite marks on juvenile fur seal
bones from the late Neogene Purisima Formation of Central California. Palaios 26:2:115-120.

Boessenecker, R.W. 2011. New records of the fur seal Callorhinus (Carnivora:Otariidae) from the Plio-Pleistocene Rio Dell Formation of Northern California and comments on otariid dental evolution. Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology 31:2.

Boessenecker, R.W. 2010. Herpetocetine (Cetacea: Mysticeti) dentaries from the Upper Miocene Santa Margarita Sandstone of Central California. PaleoBios 30:1:1-12.

Full Curriculum Vitae/Resume