Ancient Whale Fossil Discovered In Santa Cruz Can Provide Insight Into Whale Evolution

Posted: Sep 21 2015, 3:52am CDT | by , Updated: Sep 21 2015, 9:26pm CDT, in News | Latest Science News

Ancient Whale Fossil Discovered in Santa Cruz Can Unveil Evolution of Whales

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The fossil skeleton dates back to 4 million years. It is rare to find a relatively intact skeleton instead of pieces.

Scientists unearthed a huge fossilized skeleton at a construction site in Santa Cruz County, California. The fossil reportedly belongs to mysticete whale or whalebone whale, an ancestor of modern Baleen whale, which lived around 4 million years ago .The deposit is measured 25 feet long and is not in the form of fragments. Most of the parts are relatively intact including skull, much of the jaw, shoulder blades and arm bones.

The fossil bones were excavated from the hills in the small city of Scott Valley. Scientists suggest that bones have been pushed towards hillside due to earthquakes and shifting of tectonic plates over the years. Scott Armstrong, a scientist from Paleo Solutions' archeological consultancy service, was overseeing the project.

“Most places where you see a hill, somewhere there is a fault line nearby pushing it up,” he said. “They’re relatively inactive faults. But, it’s from lifting thousands, maybe billions of years ago.”

The ancient remains were found on September 4 and were taken to Paleo Solutions office in Monrovia after being taken out. Currently, fossil bones are embedded in a rock. So it can be a difficult task to separate them from the rock without any damage.

“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.” Armstrong said.

Local paleontologists are calling such recoveries a rarity and useful in terms of getting some insight into the evolution of whales.

Matthew Clapham, a paleontologist at University of California, Santa Cruz, 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 it’s a very impressive find.”

“A lot of whales were starting to evolve from their early ancestral group so this specimen, deepening on how complete it is, could say a lot of interesting things about the evolution of whales.”

Source: San Jose Mercury News

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