A mysterious fossil was discovered near Santa Cruz this week, causing a stir among researchers and setting Twitter ablaze with enthusiasm and theories.
San Jose State University Professor Dustin Mulvaney came across the 3-foot-long gray mass and other fossils below the Capitola bluffs, a small coastal area near Santa Cruz. The rugged shoreline is usually not accessible, but exaggerated low tides during the “king tides” created a dramatic coastline that allowed Mulvaney to explore the area.
The Capitola cliffs are of particular interest to scientists studying environmentalism and the early earth, as “only that section of bluff has these fossils,” according to Mulvaney. Here are some photos of the mysterious fossil he found:
“Definitely one of the best sea fossil specimens I’ve stumbled upon. What on Earth was it?” wrote Mulvaney on Twitter.
It remains unclear where the fossils originated or how old they are, but other researchers have offered some possible explanations. Mulvaney theorized that the gray, oblong mass could belong to a marine mammal that lived between 5 and 7 million years ago. Paleontologist Robert Boessenecker suggested it could be a cervical vertebrae of a “balaenopterid baleen” whale, which would be 3 to 4 million years old.
The term “baleen whale” refers to a group of very large whales that use a filter system made of “baleen” in their mouths to collect krill and fish. These whales, including humpbacks and minkes, are known for their ability to gulp large amounts of seawater and food, but are likely much less intimidating than their toothed ancestors.
Other tides were found in the area by Mulvaney, who posted those photos to Twitter as well:
While the exact identification of the fossil remains uncertain, it is clear that it is a significant discovery that has sparked interest and intrigue among scientists and the general public. Further examination and research will likely provide more information about this ancient marine creature and its place in the history of the earth.