Not individual whales, but whole new species. Science has the details on the big, big discovery in California’s highway system:
“In California, you need a paleontologist and an archaeologist on-site” during such projects, [paleontologist Meredith Rivin, of the John D. Cooper Archaeological and Paleontological Center in Fullerton, California,] says. That was fortuitous: The Laguna Canyon outcrop, excavated between 2000 and 2005, turned out to be a treasure trove containing hundreds of marine mammals that lived 17 million to 19 million years ago. It included 30 cetacean skulls as well as an abundance of other ocean dwellers such as sharks, says Rivin, who studies the fossil record of toothed baleen whales. Among those finds, she says, were four newly identified species of toothed baleen whale—a type of whale that scientists thought had gone extinct 5 million years earlier.
The four new toothed baleen whale species were also four huge surprises, Rivin says. The new fossils date to 17 to 19 million years ago, or the early-mid Miocene epoch, making them the youngest known toothed whales. Three of the fossils belong to the genus Morawanocetus, which is familiar to paleontologists studying whale fossils from Japan, but hadn’t been seen before in California.
The fourth new species—dubbed “Willy”—has its own surprises, Rivin says. Although modern baleen whales are giants, that’s a fairly recent development (in the last 10 million years). But Willy was considerably bigger than the three Morawanocetus fossils. Its teeth were also surprisingly worn—and based on the pattern of wear as well as the other fossils found in the Laguna Canyon deposit, Rivin says, that may be because Willy’s favorite diet may have been sharks. Modern offshore killer whales, who also enjoy a meal of sharks, tend to have similar patterns of wear in their teeth due to the sharks’ rough skin.
What would Megalodon be afraid of? Willy.