Sea cow fossil found along Orange County toll road

Marc Cota-Robles Image
Saturday, July 19, 2014
Sea cow fossil found along Orange County toll road
A Caltrans crew discovered a sea cow fossil while installing a sprinkler system along the 73 toll road in south Orange County.

LAGUNA NIGUEL, Calif. (KABC) -- It's been a tedious task for a crew of paleontologists. They got the call from Caltrans when its crew installing a system of smart sprinkler controllers made a unique find in Laguna Niguel.

An ancient fossil, between 5 to 7 million years old, located along the 73 toll road in south Orange County in what's known as the Capistrano Formation.

Paleontologists from San Diego's Natural History Museum say they're almost certain it's the fossil of a sea cow, which belongs to a group of animals that includes the dugong. The dugong still lives to this day in the warm coastal waters of the Indian Ocean.

"It appeared to be 7 or 8 feet long and a couple of feet thick," said Caltrans spokesman David Richardson.

And perhaps even more interesting, this general area otherwise surrounded by homes and shopping centers, has been known for other fossil discoveries in the past.

"We've found a lot of fossils when we've done road work, we've found large ones, small ones, whales, you know, a great variety," Richardson said.

But this find, Richardson says, is said to be one of the first specimen of its kind, fully intact, found in the area, which created a bit of a challenge.

"The location that we found this was fairly high up on a relatively steep slope so getting it down the slope and not breaking it is a serious part of the removal," Richardson said.

While there's additional preservation work to finish in a lab, Caltrans expects the sea cow fossil will eventually be put on display for all to see.