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Shark Attack Captured In Three-Million Year-Old Never Before Identified Fossils

The City of San Diego Letterhead

July 27, 2001

CONTACT: Kristina Alexanders,
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Wendy Hovland-Henry
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New record for West Coast

Photo of Fossils

Ancient shark teeth were discovered among fossils of a previously undescribed genus and species of whale ? three-million years-old. Cut marks found on the fossil whale bones are typical of those caused by sharks during feeding attacks and scavenging activities. This assemblage is rare.

LA JOLLA, Calif -- A significant paleontological discovery made during excavation of a reservoir in San Diego provides evidence that two to three million years ago, ancient great white sharks and whales inhabited the ocean waters over what is now Mount Soledad.

The fossil bones, discovered by paleontological monitor Robert LeVeille of Brian F. Smith and Associates during excavation of the Bayview Reservoir construction site, have been identified as an extinct type of baleen whale. LeVeille was working under the direction of Senior Paleontologist Dr. George L. Kennedy.

The assemblage of whale bones consists of partial skull, both ear bones, a lower limb bone (ulna), broken ribs and several other skeletal elements. The whale was identified by Dr. Lawrence G. Barnes, a vertebrate paleontologist and specialist in fossil whales at the Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History, as belonging to a previously undescribed genus and species of rorqual whale, which represents a new record for the west coast of North America. The rorquals include such baleen whales as the blue whale, fin whale, and humpback whale, in the family Balaenopteridae. Barnes estimated the length of the animal when alive to have been 60 to 70 feet long, with a skull length of 10 to 12 feet.

Shark teeth were also found with the whale remains -- identified as belonging to an ancestral form of the modern Great White Shark (Carcharodon sulcidens), and a species of Requiem shark (Carcharhinus sp.).

"What is particularly interesting about this assemblage is that several of the bones exhibit cut marks that are typical of those caused by sharks during feeding attacks or scavenging activities," said Dr. J. D. Stewart, a vertebrate paleontologist and specialist in fossil sharks at the Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History, who examined the remains. Sharks routinely lose teeth during attacking and scavenging activities.

"The presence of shark teeth among the fossil whale remains suggests that they are likely the result of scavenging behavior while the whale carcass lay on the bottom sediments," said Dr. Kennedy, who supervised the excavation.

The fossils were unearthed from the Pliocene San Diego Formation, a marine sedimentary formation dated at two to three million years old, which previously has yielded six or seven species of whales, porpoises and dolphins. Paleontologists working with the City of San Diego Water Department are currently studying the fossils, which will be deposited in the private paleontological collections of the San Diego Society of Natural History.

Paleontologists and archaeologists are often on hand during construction projects that may potentially yield fossils and artifacts, as mandated by the California Environmental Quality Act.

The Bayview Reservoir project is part of the City of San Diego Water Department?s Capital Improvements Program (CIP). The new 10-million gallon reservoir is currently under construction, and will improve water service to area residents. The projects in the CIP, which include pipelines, reservoirs, treatment plants and pump stations, will ensure a safe and reliable water supply that will protect the region's job base, environment and overall quality of life for generations to come.


  • Paleontologist Dr. George L. Kennedy, who supervised excavation of the discovery
  • Michael Gonzales, Senior Environmental Planner and coordinator for California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) compliance for the City of San Diego Water Department, Capital Improvements Program
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