Lindsey Stallworth, a high school student from Monroe County, and her biology teacher recently discovered a 30-million-year-old fossil whale skeleton on a farm owned by her family in Monroe County.
The whale, which could be 20 feet long, will take at least three to four years to excavate and could be a first-of-its-kind find in Alabama.
Stallworth, now a junior at the Alabama School of Math and Science (ASMS) in Mobile, is the daughter of Tom and Kelley Stallworth of Beatrice. A former Monroe Academy student, Lindsey Stallworth has been collecting fossils on her family’s land for as long as she can remember.
“We would go out and pick up shark teeth and fossil shells, but we never knew anyone that could tell us anything about them,” she said. “We just thought they were cool.”
Fortunately, one of the biology faculty members at ASMS, Dr. Andrew Gentry, is a paleontologist who has studied Alabama fossils since childhood. He is part of a distinguished three-member department at the school, and just last year, Gentry made headlines for leading the research into a previously unknown species of giant freshwater turtle that inhabited the state during the time of the dinosaurs.
After learning of Gentry’s research interests, Lindsey Stallworth brought a few of the fossils she had collected to class to see if her professor could tell her more about them.
“I immediately recognized one of the fossil shark teeth Lindsey showed me,” Gentry said. “And I wanted to know more about where she found it.”
Once school ended for the summer, Gentry traveled to the Stallworth’s farm and was amazed by the quantity and variety of fossils on the property.
“I’ve been collecting fossils in Alabama for more than 30 years, and this was easily one of the best fossil sites I’ve seen anywhere in the state,” Gentry said.
After only a few hours of searching, Gentry says he noticed tiny pieces of fossilized bone scattered over a small hillside.
“I followed the trail of bone fragments up the hill, and it led right to several large bones eroding out of the soil,” he said.
Gentry, Stallworth and a few helpers spent most of June and July carefully excavating the fossilized remains and transporting them back to ASMS’s newly renovated Makerspace, where students and faculty collaborate on projects while sharing ideas, equipment, and knowledge. The ASMS Makerspace houses a robotics studio, a paleontology lab and a classroom for STEM research.
Due to the whale’s size, the team has only recovered the skull so far but plans to return next summer to excavate more of the skeleton.
“If the complete skeleton is there, it could take several years before we have the entire animal back in the lab,” Gentry said.
Thanks to a unique Research Fellows Program available to high-achieving students at ASMS, Stallworth can now work alongside Gentry cleaning, repairing and studying the fossil whale.
“The Research Fellows Program allows Lindsey to gain real-world experience in scientific research and even present that research at professional conferences,” Gentry said. “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for a high school student to stand out when applying to college and maybe even discover a new career path.”
The Alabama School of Mathematics and Science is the state’s only fully public and residential high school for sophomores, juniors, and seniors pursuing advanced studies in math, science, computer science, and the humanities. ASMS is a research-focused learning community committed to innovation, interdisciplinary collaboration, and diversity with a mission to empower motivated Alabama students to improve their community, state, and nation. Tuition, room and board are free. Learn more at asms.net