How Whale Fossils Ended Up In California’s Mountains

Paleontologists have excavated the 4-million-year-old fossilized skeleton of whale discovered at a construction site in the Santa Cruz Mountains.

The fossil was found Sept. 4 at a housing development under construction in Scotts Valley.

Paleontologist Scott Armstrong says the remains are estimated to be 25 feet long, and the fossil is relatively intact – with pieces of the skull, much of the jaw, shoulder blades, arm bones and vertebrae found.

“On some project sites, if a rock unit is known to have a high potential to produce it, then it’s typically outlined in the planning process and environmental impact report,” said Armstrong in a report by the Santa Cruz Sentinel.

The excavation process began Thursday, as workers using hoes, shovels, brooms and smaller tools slowly unearthed the ancient artifact.

This project site is not the only one in California with fossils, Matthew Clapham, a paleontologist at the University of California-Santa Cruz, told the Santa Cruz Sentinel.

A four-million-year-old fossil of the baleen whale's ancestor was unearthed in Santa Cruz County, California. The remains of the ancient mysticete whale could provide insights on the evolution of whales. (Photo : Gregory "Slobirdr" Smith | Flickr)

A four-million-year-old fossil of the baleen whale’s ancestor was unearthed in Santa Cruz County, California. The remains of the ancient mysticete whale could provide insights on the evolution of whales.
(Photo : Gregory “Slobirdr” Smith | Flickr)

Today, baleen whales are the largest animals on Earth. They strain sea water using their characteristic strong and flexible baleen plates to capture tiny krill, zooplankton, crustaceans, and small fish.

‘Toothed’ baleen whales swam the oceans some 20 to 30 million years ago, but these died out so that only filter-feeders remained.

The fossil will travel to the Southern California offices of Paleo Solutions, the archaeological consulting service assigned to the construction project.