PETALUMA, California — Highway workers made a whale of a find when they discovered four new cetacean species during a construction dig years ago in California's Laguna Canyon, researchers announced Monday, Science reported.
Though the diggers in question were completing a highway-widening project, California state law requires that a paleontologist and an archeologist be on site for such digs. As Science wrote, "that was fortuitous," because the Laguna area under construction "turned out to be a treasure trove containing hundreds of marine mammals that lived 17 million to 19 million years ago."
Paleontologist Meredith Rivin of California's Paleontological Center told Science that the four new whale species discovered on the construction site in the early 2000s turned out to be toothed baleen whales that scientists thought went extinct millions of years earlier.
Rivin and colleagues announced the findings at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science on Monday.
The newly-identified whales are the youngest toothed whale species ever found, said Time. Rivin told Time that researchers were especially shocked by the fourth specimen, nicknamed “Willy," who was unusually large and whose teeth were particularly worn down. That evidence suggestts Willy may have been feasting on sharks, Science said.
The fossils were unearthed during excavations between 2000 and 2005, according to Science.