IRVINE, Calif. (WPVI) --Paleontologists made a rare and important discovery at the Bowerman Landfill in Irvine, California. They found well-preserved fossils of a large sperm whale 10 to 12 million years old.
"I'm finding things all the time, but to find something of this size and as many elements as I've found, that was pretty exciting," said Melissa Macias, a paleontologist.
Macias spotted the bones as a construction crew moved soil to create a new waste disposal area.
She found 18 teeth, a flipper bone and portions of the jaw and skull. All of the pieces were well preserved.
"They're complete. You have the root, you have, everything is there and it's pretty intact," Macias said. "It was really exciting to find something in that great of condition."
A team of paleontologists worked non-stop to remove the fossils from the dirt. They used picks, brushes and glue to piece together fragments. Experts say it's the first large sperm whale fossil now in their records.
"This is an important connection to fill in the gap in the fossil record of whales in Orange County, which is one of the most complete records in the world," said Jere Lipps, director of the Cooper Center in Santa Ana.
The bones are expected to be moved to the Cooper Center, where fossils in Orange County are preserved, curated and managed.
Macias feels lucky to have made the discovery.
"Three feet one direction it would have been taken out before I found it. Three feet to the other direction, it would have stayed buried," she said.
After the fossils are processed at the Cooper Center, they will be available for loan to exhibits all over the world.