Earth & Marine Sciences

Geology, Paleontology, and Marine Science of the Santa Barbara region.

Ongoing

The Earth and Marine Sciences are permanent neighboring halls beginning in the Museum's courtyard. Walk down into the Marine Sciences featuring a model of a giant squid, Architeuthis, the largest invertebrate animal in the world and the most elusive. Learn about the local marine animals and their presence in habitats such as kelp forests and intertidal environments and then visit the Sea Center to see and touch a live tide pool touch tank.

In our Earth Sciences hall step back into a time of the formation and history of our region. Described and highlighted with examples of living things that occurred here in the past. Among the unique and important fossils exhibited here are a 19,000-year-old toothed bird, a Miocene giant toothed whale, and the Channel Islands pygmy mammoths.

The most complete Pygmy Mammoth skeleton ever found inspired the centerpiece of the Earth Sciences Hall detailing the process of excavation and contains a full replica of the Pygmy Mammoth skeleton "in situ" as unearthed on Santa Rosa in 1994. Adjacent to this is an exhibit with an articulated Pygmy Mammoth skeleton and a painting of a full-sized Columbian Mammoth and American Mastodon. Columbian Mammoths swam to Santarosae, a large island off our coast during Pleistocene times. As sea levels rose and Santarosae became several smaller islands, the mammoths evolved into a pygmy form better suited to survival in the limited habitat.

Channel Islands Pygmy Mammoth (Mammuthus exilis)
A fantastic new discovery has been brought to the forefront of science with the recent discovery of the most complete skeleton to date of a Channel Islands Pygmy Mammoth (Mammuthus exilis). The skeleton was excavated on Santa Rosa Island in August of 1994 by a team of National Park Service researchers led by Dr. Larry Agenbroad, a Museum Research Associate. Pygmy Mammoth excavation exhibit

This is the only full-sized skeleton of the species anywhere in the world and the first to be dated. Scientists estimate the age at 12,840 years old. The pony-sized species, a distant relative of the modern elephant, is believed to have lived only on San Miguel, Santa Rosa, and Santa Cruz islands.

Mammoth fossil hunting on the Channel Islands is not a new pastime. Museum collections house Pygmy Mammoth remains from 27 localities previously documented by Phil Orr, a researcher at the museum during the 1940s and 50s. Recent excavations by Dr. Agenbroad have added an additional 66 sites that better define the Pygmy Mammoth's range.

Decades ago, Orr hypothesized that Pygmy Mammoths were driven to extinction through hunting by Chumash Indians. There is new anthropological research that indicates an overlap of humans and mammoths on the islands. The oldest human remains have recently been traced to within 500 years of the skeletal remains of the Pygmy Mammoth. Other researchers believe the extinction is the result of global warming. Dr. Agenbroad believes pygmy mammoth extinction resulted from a combination of the two factors.