Valley News -

By Tony Ault
Staff Writer 

'Name the Whale' at Western Science Center

 

Last updated 7/11/2018 at 4:38am

Tony Ault

Paleontologist Dr. Alton Dooley, left, and Western Science Center curator and educator Andrew T. McDonald look over the fossil of a prehistoric baleen whale at the center's dig site. The large whale fossil, millions of years old, still in its protection casing is now on display for the public at the Hemet museum.

Dr. Alton Dooley and his fellow paleontologists have a "whale of a tale" to tell at the Western Science Center Museum in Hemet and need the public's help.

The huge fossilized baleen whale was estimated at 50 million years old and now has a new home at the Western Science Center's dig site behind the museum at 2345 Searl Parkway in Hemet.

Alton Dooley, Ph.D., is the executive director of the Western Science Center and got his start in the science by studying prehistoric whales, but he couldn't keep his excitement inside when some very large fossil pieces arrived at the museum in June. The fossils were discovered at an excavation site almost two years ago in Santa Cruz County. The whale fossils were transported to the museum encased in heavy plaster that is now being carefully removed by the center's staff and the visiting paleontologists. It will be a very long process to complete the casing removal to allow studies on the whale fossil.

What is even more exciting for the center is that the fossil will be on display at the center's dig site for many years with opportunities for museum visitors to see the paleontologists at work removing the casings and making their observations. The public is now being asked to help the scientists give the creature a name. The public may suggests names during the Western Science Center's "Name Our Whale" event at hashtag #NametheWhale or on the center's website at http://www.westerncentermuseum.org.

The name given the museum's new whale fossil is expected to be announced Wednesday, July 11, by the staff. The museum has other prehistoric fossils that the public has helped name, such as "Big Max," a huge ice age mastodon which was found during the excavation of Diamond Valley Lake in Hemet.

Tony Ault

Paleontologist Dr. Alton Dooley, left, and Western Science Center curator and educator Andrew T. McDonald look over the fossil of a prehistoric baleen whale at the center's dig site. The large whale fossil, millions of years old, still in its protection casing is now on display for the public at the Hemet museum.

Dooley said the prehistoric baleen whales, when they first swam the oceans 50 million years ago, were actually smaller than the whales seen today and may have had teeth. The museum's baleen fossil still remains a mystery to paleontologists who have yet to determine the whale's actual age, if it was an adult or baby, was it a relative of any of today's modern whales or is it a yet-unknown whale species. The only thing they know for sure is that it was found on land not too far from the present-day ocean front in Santa Cruz County. In prehistoric times, the ocean came more than 30 miles inland of present-day California.

Soon to join Dooley and the local paleontologists to study the fossil beast will be Dr. Robert W. Boessnecker, an adjunct professor at the College of Charleston and the Mace Brown Museum of Natural History; paleontologist Tom Demere, Ph.D, from the San Diego Natural History Museum and others from across the nation.

Visitors to the Western Science Center Museum will have an opportunity to see the scientists at work on the whale fossil as they carefully remove the casing and studying the fossil bones revealed.

The baleen whale can be seen at the museum Tuesday through Sunday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., with special events held throughout the summer. For information, call (951) 791-0033 or visit the website. Admission costs vary with $8 per person suggested. Special rates for groups, students, military and seniors available. Donations are always welcome.

Tony Ault can be reached by email at [email protected]

 

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