ABACO’S MUSEUM OF NATURAL HISTORY, MARSH HARBOUR


Prehistoric crocodile skull fossil, Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen / Abaco Field Office AMMC)

ABACO’S MUSEUM OF NATURAL HISTORY, MARSH HARBOUR

The Abaco Field Office of the AMMC is located at Friends of the Environment in Marsh Harbour. Primarily geared toward the study and research of the natural history and prehistory of The Bahamas, the expanding collection makes a huge contribution to the knowledge and understanding of the environment from both before and after the arrival of people to the archipelago.

Turtle shells & Prehistoric crocodile skull fossils, Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen / Abaco Field Office AMMC)

The cases shown below hold carefully labelled exhibits, against a background showing the structure of the cave systems and blue holes of the island. Prehistoric fossils and turtle shells, early lucayan human skulls, a HUTIA (extirpated from Abaco in times past), a deceased parrot, bats, butterflies, and a whole lot more are on display.

Exhibit cases in the Museum of Natural History, Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen / Abaco Field Office AMMC)

There is even a small reminder of Abaco’s once-thriving logging industry, in the shape of two circular blades from the area around the Sawmill Sink blue hole. For more of the ‘industrial archeology’ at the site (with photos,) check out what was revealed by a still-smouldering forest fire HERECircular saw blades from Sawmill Sink, Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen / Abaco Field Office AMMC)The activities conducted through the office include site surveys, excavation and documentation, collection, the conservation and curation of artifacts and fossil material, and public outreach. .  Fossil / ancient turtle shells, natural history museum Abaco (Keith Salvesen / Abaco Field Office AMMC)

Specialised scientific activities include researching the blue holes and cave systems of Abaco. The explorations have discovered the prehistoric remains of now-extinct vertebrate species; geologic anomalies; evidence of prehistoric storm and fluctuating sea levels; and valuable data about the biodiversity of cave-adapted fauna and vegetation.

Cased butterflies, Natural History Museum Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen / Abaco Field Office AMMC)

Dry caves and blue holes also provide evidence the arrival of the first humans that migrated to the Bahamas, beginning with the early Lucayan Amerindians, as well as the plant and animal communities during their initial occupation more than 1000 years ago. One skull (r) demonstrates graphically the effect of the Lucayan practice of (deliberate) cranial deformation.

Human Skulls, Lucayan - Cased butterflies, Natural History Museum Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen / Abaco Field Office AMMC)

The Field Office’s collaborative research involves a number of scientific organisations; and the educative outreach includes schools, universities, scientific conferences and public forums. As importantly, the valuable community resource of a first-rate small museum that contains many fascinating exhibits it right there in Marsh Harbour. And it is free to all.

Crocodile skull, Natural History Museum Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen / Abaco Field Office AMMC)   Hutia, Natural History Museum Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen / Abaco Field Office AMMC)

Display cases, Natural History Museum Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen / Abaco Field Office AMMC)

Some of the cave bats of Abaco. In Ralph’s Cave, to this day there’s a fossilised bat entombed forever on the floor of the cave.

Display of bats, Natural History Museum Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen / Abaco Field Office AMMC)

Fossilised bat, Natural History Museum Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen / Abaco Field Office AMMC)

The museum is located at the Abaco offices of the AMMC and Friends of the Environment. It is open for viewing during 9am to 5pm, Monday through Friday. There is no admission fee, but donations for exhibit development are gratefully accepted. School groups should call in advance to arrange a tour. LOCATION: just drive up the hill past Maxwell’s, to the junction at the top and turn left. If you want to know about Abaco’s past in the broadest sense, this should be your first stop. You can even ‘get the t-shirt’ to complete the experience and support the institution…

Display cases, Natural History Museum Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen / Abaco Field Office AMMC)

This strange, ill-clad male is either (a) trying to give an authentic traditional Lucayan greeting or (b) trying to high-five Nancy Albury (who is ignoring it) or (c) just behaving bizarrely. I go for (c).

Rolling Harbour Abaco...

Credits: first and foremost, curator Nancy Albury and her team; Friends of the Environment; AMMC. All photos are mine (with plenty of excuses for poor indoor colour, display glass reflections etc), except the tragically entombed cave-bat in the bat-cave from well-known diving and cave-system exploration expert Brian Kakuk / Bahamas Cave Research Foundation; and the wonderful photo below of a Barn Owl flying out of a dry cave on Abaco, by kind permission of Nan Woodbury.

Barn Owl flying out of a cave on Abaco (Nan Woodbury / Rolling Harbour)

HUTIAS: ABACO’S EXTINCT RODENTS LIVE ON… ELSEWHERE


Bahamian Hutia (Cole Fiechter)

HUTIAS: ABACO’S EXTINCT RODENTS LIVE ON… ELSEWHERE  

The Bahama hutia (Geocapromys ingrahami) has the distinction of being the only indigenous land mammal in the Bahamas. Historically found on a number of islands, the species is now confined to very limited locations. Abaco is, sadly, no longer one of them; they are officially shown as extirpated here from about 1600. Hutias had been recorded on Great Abaco by early explorers from Europe, but their survival was already threatened by hunting and land clearance as the human population expanded.

Bahamian Hutia (Cole Fiechter)

Further evidence of their long-term existence on Abaco – prehistoric, even – comes from research carried out by divers in the land-based Blues Holes. SAWMILL SINK has been a particularly rich source of the remnants of early creatures, including well-preserved skeletons, carapaces or other remains of crocodiles, turtles, birds, bats – and hutias. These date from the Pleistocene epoch of the Quartenary period, spanning roughly 2.5m years and ending some 12,000 years ago. You can see some of these treasures in the wonderful Natural History Museum at Friends of the Environment in Marsh Harbour.

A c20 hutia from the Exumas on display in the museumBahama Hutia Museum Exhibit (FOTE, Abaco)

Exhibits in the museum – there’s even a dead parrot for Monty Python fansMuseum of Natural History, Abaco Bahamas

The population of the extant Bahama hutia species Geocapromys ingrahami became so depleted that by the 1960s they were considered to be extinct. Then in 1966 a colony was discovered on East Plana Cay. Some have since been relocated (see below) and the overall population is now confined to a handful of locations, for which reason the Bahama hutia is IUCN listed as vulnerable. All the usual man-caused threats to their survival apply, as well as predation by dogs and feral cats. One place to find them is in the Exumas, but because they are mainly nocturnal creatures and there are few of them, a sighting is a rare event, let alone getting a decent photo op. 

A ‘Demarest’s Hutia’ – not the Bahamian species, but very similarDemarest's Hutia (Yomangani, wiki)

The terrific header image and the second image were taken by teenager Cole Fiechter while on a sailing trip with his parents and brother in the excellently named ‘Truansea’. On the beach of the Exumas Land and Sea Park at Warderick Wells, they encountered “a guinea pig with a rat’s tail”: a hutia. Cole’s photograph will hopefully grace the forthcoming Field Guide to the Natural History of the Bahamas, now in the late stages of production, and with which I am peripherally involved.

MARK CATESBY‘s take on the hutia in the c18, where he describes it as a rabbitHutia by Mark Catesby (c18)

The BAHAMAS NATIONAL TRUST notes that “Bahama hutias occur naturally only on East Plana Cay (located between Acklins and Mayaguana). Historically however, they were found on ten Bahamian islands. In a move to protect the species, a small Bahama hutia population was transplanted to two locations – Little Wax Cay and Warderick Wells (Exumas). These three locations now host the only known populations of this particular species in the whole world”

It looks as though Warderick Wells might be your best bet to see a Bahama hutia if you are visiting the Bahamas. Don’t be too confident of coming across one – but if you do see one, you will have had the pleasure of seeing a very rare creature.

Bahamian Hutia Drawing (Princeton UP)

A HUTIA’S TAIL (very different from a rat…)

IMG_7500

Credits: Cole Fiechter (1, 2); Keith Salvesen / FOTE (3, 4); ‘Yomangani’ wiki (5); OS (6); Princeton UP (7). Research credits PNAS, BNT, FOTE