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Million years old whalebones spark debate of future

Date Posted: 2003-07-24

A set of fossilized whalebones located on an island off Nishizaki landfill area in Itoman City has sparked a debate on what to do about the more than one million year old relic. The existence of the fossil has been known for more than 100 years, but a serious study of the site has been completed only recently. The man behind the study is Ichiro Oshiro, a geologist and biologist who has studied the fossil for more than 30 years.

The fossil is visible only during low tide, and becomes submerged during the high tide. The site is on Okaba Island, about one kilometer offshore, and the location recently caused a minor stir between Itoman and Tomishiro Cities as both wanted to claim the ownership of the relic.

Although the bickering has not stopped completely, officials from both sides have agreed that the more urgent task is to ensure that the relic is preserved to the future. “In my opinion this fossil belongs to all people of Okinawa, not only to Itoman or Tomishiro. The important task is to prevent this fossil from disappearing,” a member of Tomishiro City Culture Preservation Council said.

An investigation by Oshiro concludes that the relic is slowly disappearing, damaged by waves and sea life in the area. “There are at least 28 vertebra and many rib bones. One can also clearly identify shoulder and other bones of the fossil,” Oshiro explains. The fossilized bones are on an area that is 9.3 meters long and 6.2 meters wide, but according to Oshiro, the whale has been about 14 to 15 meters long. Based on its location inside Ryukyu limestone, he estimates that it is at least a million years old.

Although the fossil is nearly complete, bones of its head are missing. “It looks like someone dug up the head sometime. When and who we don’t know, but there’s only a big hole left,” Oshiro said.

He also says that if the relic is left where it is, it will eventually disappear. “If this fossil is just left here, the ocean waves will eventually break it. Sea urchins and shellfish will also eat the fossilized bones little by little, and sometime in the future there will be nothing left. If we want to preserve this important relic to the future, we need to dig it out and preserve it properly,” Oshiro concluded.

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