Lake Forest paleontologist uncovers ancient fossil

Along the Aliso Creek Trail lies the skeletal remains of a 10-million-year-old whale. Although the exact location of the fossil is being kept a secret, Daryl Hansen, the paleontologist who discovered it, has intentions of keeping it preserved so it can be put on display.

Ian Randolph

A 10-million-year-old prehistoric Baleen whale skull was found in a muddy creek bed in Lake Forest. Daryl Hansen, an amateur paleontologist, discovered the fossil while hiking along Lake Forest creek more than a year ago.

He nearly bypassed the foramen magnum where the spinal cord went through the skull, dismissing it just a hole in the ground.

Jeffery Kaufman, a biology instructor at Irvine Valley College and wild life instructor in the 1980’s, was fascinated by the discovery. Doing survey work for endangered species, he had been to the site many times over the years.

He stated that he probably had stepped on the fossil head thousands of times not realizing what he was walking over.

At first, he thought they may have been shark remains engraved in the sandstone. Amy Stincson, who is head of the zoology department at Irvine Valley College, collected and cleaned the sandstone but was not available to comment. According to Lisa Babilonia, an Orange County paleontologist, “complete whale skulls are rare. Usually fragments such as jawbones and smaller pieces survive.”

She estimated that the whale skull was about 10 million years old, buried mostly under sandstone but said to be about three feet wide and five feet long. The skull ranges from five million to 25 million years ago from the Miocene period when marine mammals swam in the waters that covered what is now Southern California, Babilonia said.

Nadeem Majaj, manager of the Orange County Flood Control Department, said that paleontology is very common in Orange County due to its history with excavating.

He found it unique that the fossil was buried eight feet down and discovered by a hiker.

Due to the fossil being buried, it needed heavy cleaning and development by the paleontologist and archaeologist in Orange County.

For now the fossil is being preserved in a where house until they find out the exact year and quality of the skull.

If it isn’t intact or fragmented, it may not be as valuable. He also said the biggest threat to the fossil is mankind and, more specifically, vandalism.

Erosion and weather would not affect the fossil, he said.Bob Woodings, a Public Relations director of the City of Lake Forest, was also very happy about the discovery.

He said that the flood district is trying to find the significance of the fossil and, if it it rare, it will probably go to a university or public museum, depending on the rarity and quality.

He also said that El Toro was once under water, that half or Orange County was once underground, and that the materials found were once used for sand mining long ago.

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