Under California law, a paleontologist and an archaeologist must be on-site to supervise during any new road construction — and in at least one case, this law has turned out to be quite useful.
On Monday, two scientists who had been supervising a highway-widening project in Laguna Canyon announced they had identified four new whale species from a rock workers dug up sometime between 2000 and 2005, reported the journal Science.
Paleontologist Meredith Rivin of the John D. Cooper Archaeological and Paleontological Center in Fullerton, California told Science that the four new species were early toothed baleen whales that roamed the oceans some 17 to 19 million years ago — making them the youngest known toothed whale species.
Rivin, who presented her study at AAAS on Monday, said the fourth new species, dubbed “Willy”, was a huge surprise itself. It was considerably larger than the other three and its teeth were badly worn, a sign suggesting that Willy’s diet consisted mostly of sharks, whose rough skin has resulted in similar patterns of wear in modern killer whales.
Scientists are not strangers to roadcut science. In 2011, a team of researchers led by paleobiologist Nick Pyenson of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History identified a staggering 75 prehistoric whale skeletons at the site of a Chilean highway-widening project, according to the Daily Mail.
Pyenson told Science that he was “excited” to see further analysis of the California fossils although he wasn’t sure what they would reveal about the early history of whale revolution.