Lucky for fossil lovers that Martin Byhower used to be a whale conservationist.
Now a seventh-grade science teacher at Chadwick School in Palos Verdes, Calif., Byhower was walking across the school's campus and spotted a fossil made visible from recent landscaping work on the property. Recognizing that it might belong to a marine mammal, he decided to contact Howell Thomas, senior paleontological preparator of the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, to study the fossil further.
"Within about four seconds, he looked at this one and said, 'Whoa, this is really special,'" Byhower told LiveScience describing Thomas’ reaction to the fossil. Indeed, the specimen is believed to be 12 to 15 million years old, NBC Los Angeles reports.
“From my initial observation, the fossil appears to be that of a new species, perhaps even a new Genus,” Howell Thomas, senior paleontological preparator of the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County said about the finding. “If this is a new species or genus, it is definitely a publishable find.”
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If the fossil does represent a new species, it could be named “chadwickii” after the school where it was found, the Chadwick School stated in a press release.
The fossil was found in a large chunk of Miocene Era Altamira Shale, also known as “PV Stone.” At the moment, the fossil is embedded in a 32-inch-long boulder. Once the specimen is excavated, on Feb. 5, it will be examined at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County for at least a year. Paleontologists plan to make a cast of the skull and return it to the school. Byhower told LiveScience the discovery will lend itself to new teaching opportunities.
"It's a pretty remarkably complete skull," Byhower said.