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Workers Find Fossil of Prehistoric Whale Close to Dana Point

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Times Staff Writer

The largely intact fossil remains of a whale from 6 million to 9 million years old have been uncovered during construction of a residential development near Dana Point.

Steve Goolian, a spokesman for H.R. Remington Properties, said the “remarkably complete” skeleton of the 30-foot baleen whale includes the head, which is nearly seven feet long, a fin, shoulder blades, blowhole and vertebrae.

The fossil of the baleen whale--which feeds through a kind of filter in its mouth rather than with teeth--was first spotted last Wednesday by Charles Reeves, an employee of Scientific Resource Surveys Inc. of Huntington Beach. The firm was monitoring work at the site near Stonehill Road and Monarch Beach Drive.

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Goolian said Bill Rafton, Southern California divisional president for the Oakland-based Remington firm, ordered work on the project halted until the fossil could be packed in plaster and removed to the Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History, possibly by Thursday. The developer is paying the estimated $10,000 recovery costs, according to Goolian.

Estimate of Age

He added that the estimate of the whale’s age is based on that of a similar fossil found at a nearby site two years ago.

The find is the latest in a series of such discoveries in a fossil-rich area stretching from San Clemente northward into Mission Viejo and Laguna Hills.

According to Goolian, Dr. Lawrence Barnes, curator of the Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History, said the find is unique because of the completeness of the skeleton and the orderly way in which the bones were found, rather than being scattered about.

Last week’s discovery, along with numerous other similar finds over the past decade, date back to a time when much of Orange County, particularly the southern area, was submerged and populated with ancestors of modern sharks, whales, walruses and other Pacific Ocean denizens.

One of the most spectacular discoveries occurred in September, 1980, when the intact fossil of a four-tusked walrus was unearthed near San Clemente. Scientists said at the time that no other like it had been found anywhere in the world.

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Just a month later, at another nearby construction site, the relatively intact skeleton of a 50-foot baleen whale was recovered.

The discoveries have continued, including three more whales--one of which was about 70 feet in length and another that was found just last year--and the remains of various other ocean creatures, such as the ancestor of the great white shark.

A key element to preserving the wealth of fossils being uncovered in the quickly developing south Orange County area was a 1977 ordinance passed by the Board of Supervisors.

The board, told by scientists that the area possessed an underground bounty of ancient materials, began requiring developers to watch closely for fossils and artifacts of early Indian civilizations during preliminary building stages.

MP, Los Angeles Times

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