Cetacean Fossil in Elsmere Canyon: Transverse Process?

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    Bill Ungar

    New member of Southern California Paleontology Society (SCPS) discovered this fossil bone in a 75-90 pound boulder of green/gray matrix, in the Towsley formation, in Elsmere Canyon near Santa Clarita, California, USA. Collector has yet to begin preparation (fossil still in boulder). Fossil has undergone some weathering due to exposure.

    First discovered in December of 2020, photos of the fossil were tentatively identified by Joe Cocke and Patrick Hsieh (both of SCPS) as a Cetacean Vertebra due what appears to be the Transverse Process on the right side.

    Jorge Velez-Juarbe of the Los Angeles Natural History Museum agrees that the fossil is Cetacean, and gave me this analysis: “While the fossil presents some potential (e.g. hints that there may be more of it or other fossils) it is not necessarily something we would bring into our collections. Primarily due to its incomplete nature and lack of further diagnostic characteristics that would otherwise help us identify to which particular cetacean group it belonged to, as opposed to more complete material we have from nearby areas. In any case, please keep your eyes open when/if you return in case there are additional remains”.

    I have been unable to find any additional fossil bone remains at the site – having looked at many other exposed boulders of the same color and hardness matrix. Austin Hendy, also of SCPS says: ¬†“I believe marine mammals are uncommon in the Towsley. So it’s a valuable data point and brownie points to you for finding it!

    So, what I would like to know – based on my photos, and description of the location, can you tell me what you think I found? You can find additional pics of this specimen on myfossil.org.

    Bill Ungar
    STEM Teacher
    Riviera Hall Lutheran School
    Redondo Beach, California

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    Victor Perez

    Hi Bill,

    I know both Jorge and Austin, and I agree with their comments. It seems you’ve found some fossil whale bone, but unfortunately it also seems to be pretty heavily weathered. I cannot confirm which bone(s) you have or the species.

    Cetaceans are known from the Towsley Formation. A skull was described in a paper by Barnes in 1977, “Outline of Eastern North Pacific Fossil Cetacean Assemblages”



    Bill Ungar

    Hi Victor,

    Thanks for your opinion. I agree, the exposed portion of the fossil is heavily weathered (wind, water, etc) Рand so I would like to remove matrix (which is extremely hard conglomerate) to see if the bone extends further into the matrix  which I assume would be less weathered and more recognizable. Patrick Hsieh from SCPS recommends I use a Mighty Jack Рwill try to borrow one. Keep watching for further updates!

    Bill Ungar

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