13 million-year-old fossils leaving Saddleback’s paleontology lab heading for museum

The fossils were taken from the Topanga Formation in the late 1990s and put in Saddleback’s storage facility. (Sarah Black)

Kimiya Enshaian

Ancient dolphin fossils examined for restoration and study at Saddleback College by students will be transferred to the Los Angeles County Natural History Museum once replicas have been provided.

Tony Huntley, co-chair of Saddleback College’s biological sciences, said that these mid-Miocene dolphin fossils date back to 13 million years ago.

“This area is famous for marine fossils, they (dolphin fossils) were mostly from the Topanga Formation,” Huntley said when explaining where these were found.

Huntley explained the fossils were collected in the early to late 1990s in areas where houses were being constructed. They were then moved to a warehouse facility in Saddleback College in 2005.

“The fossils are important, and as such need to be stored in a museum setting,” Huntley said.

Another key figure in the transfer is Larry Barnes, which Huntley says is the “foremost authority on marine mammal fossil from southern California.”

“Dr. Larry Barnes has written a paper in which he names the new species found here at Saddleback College,” Huntley said.

Saddleback and the museum are working on an agreement so both institutions benefit.

“The current plan is to make high-grade replica casts of the important fossils, then transfer the original materials to LACMNH (Los Angeles County Mueseum of Natural History),” Huntley said. “The replicas would then be used by the city and by Saddleback College for educational purposes, so there is not a real loss for the students doing research at school.”

As far as the city of Mission Viejo, Saddleback College, and the Division of Math, Science and Engineering, Huntley said that everyone is supportive of this process.

Further agreements between the school and museum will need further research, making sure everything is finalized, according the Huntley.

Though the dolphin fossils are being taken to the LACNHM, Huntley mentions that there still is significant marine life fossils at school that are research worthy.

Huntley mentions that their other big fossils besides the dolphin are the several sea lion skulls they have collected as well as shark teeth and fish vertebra.

Anthropologist Renee Garcia and biologist Huntley both instruct classes researching such fossils in the paleontology building.

Whether the fossils are real or replicas, Huntley seems confident that students will continue to be given the skills to understanding these prehistoric relics. 

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