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The fossilized remains of a 3-million-year-old whale — older than creatures from the Ice Age — have been found at a construction site at the San Diego Zoo.
Paleontologists are excited not only because of the specimen’s estimated age, but also because the skeletal frame appears to be intact. “It’s rare to have a skeleton this complete,” said Sarah Siren, a paleontological field manager with the San Diego Natural History Museum.
She is helping guide construction crews in unearthing the remains. Zoo officials came across the whale fossil Thursday while digging for a project to build a water tank.
A few other whale fossils about this old have been discovered in the South Bay in the 1980s and 1990s. Elsewhere in Southern California, there have been some fossil finds of whales that date back 15 to 20 million years.
The find is a baleen whale, and it’s probably hadn’t reached full adulthood when it died. Gray whales are a type of baleen whale. This one is about 24 feet.
“Usually you just find the skull or scattered pieces,” said BradRiney, a paleontologist who’s been with the Natural History Museum since 1981. “This is one is pretty close to complete.”
It could take as long as week to unearth the fossil from the zoo site. It will be sent to the Natural History Museum, where it will undergo testing and be restored. It could be on exhibit within a year.