The nearly intact fossil of a 4-million-year old whale has been unearthed at a construction site in Santa Cruz County. Discovered well above sea level, the bones made their way to the mountains through the shifting of tectonic plates.

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The whale was discovered on September 4 by a paleontologist assigned to monitor a housing development in Scotts Valley. The remains of the mysticete whale, an ancestor of the baleen whale, measures about 25 feet (7.6 meters) long. It’s rare to find such a well-preserved specimen, and scientists are excited to have the opportunity to study a whale that lived so long ago. In addition to the vertebrae, the scientists were able to unearth pieces of the skull, jaw, shoulder blades, and arm bones.

“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,” noted UC Santa Cruz paleontologist Matthew Clapham in the Santa Cruz Sentinel. “So this sounds like it’s a very impressive find.”

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Typically, only bits of shark teeth and marine fossils are found in the dirt of Scotts Valley. But the discovery of a large vertebrae could offer insights into early whale evolution. This creature was alive around the time that whales diverged from their early ancestral group, so the remains could reveal fresh insights into the origins of modern whales.

The bones made their way to the hills of Santa Cruz over the course of millions of years as the seafloor slowly lifted up through the shifting of tectonic plates.

Currently, the scientists are encasing the bones in plaster to preserve the remains and make transport easier. The bones are scheduled to travel to Paleo Solutions’ office in Monrovia, in Southern California.

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[ Santa Cruz Sentinel 1 & 2 ]

H/t Science Recorder!


Email the author at george@io9.com and follow him at @dvorsky. Top image by Shmuel Thaler/Santa Cruz Sentinel