Whale fossils found in the mountains of California by construction workers earlier this month are the second major discovery of this kind in recent months. On Sept. 22, Science Recorder reported on this latest find in the Santa Cruz Mountains. A construction crew working on a housing development in Scott Valley found an intact whale fossil earlier this month. The fossil contained “pieces of the skull, jaw, shoulder blades, arm bones, and vertebrae.”
This find excited scientists, but it was suspected that construction in the area might lead to a discovery. , Matthew Clapham, a paleontologist at the University of California-Santa Cruz, spoke with the media about the discovery. He said, “I think of the fossils you get along the coastline, it’s more common to get a piece of the skull or the brain case or some bones. So this sounds like a very impressive find.”
Last week, work began to excavate the whale fossil, but there needed to be extreme care taken. According to the Christian Science Monitor, the excavators wanted to keep the whale fossil intact for further study. Scott Armstrong, a paleontologist with the archaeological consulting group Paleo Service, spoke about the dangers of doing the excavation work too fast. He said, “If the bone is softer than the rock, it makes it very difficult because it’s hard to chip through the rock without breaking the softer bones, but we’ll get it.”
During the process, the workers dug around the whale fossil. Once the fossil was exposed, they encased it in plaster for transport. The plan is to study the fossil further at the Paleo Solutions’ office in Monrovia, California.
With this discovery, some people are wondering how the whale fossils made their way to the mountains of Santa Cruz. The fault lines in California are to blame for this movement of the fossils to their current location.
Armstrong explained the reasons behind that to the media. He said, “Most places where you see a hill, somewhere there’s a fault line nearby pushing it up. They’re relatively inactive faults. But yeah, it’s from lifting thousands, maybe millions of years ago.”
There is still work to be done on this fossil sample, but there is some information already known about it. Researchers believe this whale fossil belongs to a species of “mysticete whale, an ancient ancestor of the baleen whale.” The fossils are approximately four million years old. In our time, the baleen whales are the largest animals on this planet.
Armstrong expressed his excitement about the fossils. He shared that four million years ago was “an interesting time in whale evolution,” explains Clapham. “A lot of whales were starting to evolve from their early ancestral group so this specimen, depending on how complete it is, could say a lot of interesting things about the evolution of whales.”
This is not the first time this year that construction workers found fossils during their work. The Tech Times reported earlier this month that construction workers working at a site called Quarry Creek in Carlsbad, north of San Diego, discovered several fossils that dated back to the Ice Age. The fossils included “prehistoric bison, ancient mammoths, horses and turtles.”
Tom Deméré, the San Diego Natural History Museum’s curator of paleontology, spoke about the fossil discovery. He said, “It’s really an exciting project in terms of the geology and paleontology. The fossils have the potential to tell us a great deal about the climate, the environment, (and) the ecology of that time when they were living.”
There is no way to know where workers or others digging up the earth will find fossils that date back millions of years. Each find gives researches a better look at Earth’s ancient history.
What do you think of this whale fossil discovery?