When paleontologist Melissa Macias saw bone jutting out of a cliff near a landfill construction project in Southern California, she knew she had found something big.
It turned out the fossils found at the Bowerman Landfill in Irvine belonged to what was once a sperm whale, the largest toothed mammal in the world.
"It's exciting for a paleontologist to find any fossil, but it's amazing to find something this size and so well-preserved," she said.
After weeks of evaluation, the sperm whale fossils were unveiled to the public Tuesday at the landfill. The fossils found could be up to 12 million years old and include 18 teeth, skulls parts and a flipper bone.
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This is not the first time a fossil has been found at the Orange County landfill, though it is the largest. The landfill is located at what was once the bottom of the ocean, which makes it a perfect location for fossils, according to Julie Chay, spokesperson for Orange County's waste management department.
Chay said paleontologists are hired as contractors during certain construction projects to monitor digging and look for potential fossils. Macias was working as a contractor monitoring a buttress-building project when she discovered the fossils.
The fossils were put in casts and brought to a nearby trailer, where they have been studied for the past month.
After the unveiling, the original fossils will be on display at the landfill and the casts will move to the Cooper Center, which preserves and manages fossils, according to Jere Lipps, the center's director.
"These fossils paint an amazing story," Lipps said. "It was a great find."