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9 whale skulls found among more than 500 fossils at site of new California dam

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Once made famous by Mark Twain for its frog jumping contests, Calaveras County, CA may now gain further renown as the site of where ancient sea creatures came for their final rest some 20 million years ago when the ocean stretched as far inland as present day Bakersfield.

According to reports in the San Jose Mercury News, crews working on a $7 million project to replace the Calaveras Dam in Fremont have unearthed nearly 500 fossils to date, including nine whale skulls, as well as teeth from a 40-foot long shark, teeth from a Desmostylus (described as an extinct hippo-like creature), as well clams and scallop shells, not to mention animal tracks and ancient burrows, as well as fossilized plants.

“We started finding fossils here before the construction of the new dam even started back in 2011, “ stated Jim Walker, a paleontologist working alongside the building crews. “It was very exciting. After finding the scallop shells I said I wanted to find a whale, and we did!” he exclaimed.

The reservoir created by the Calaveras Dam in 1925, is just one of several reservoirs that supply the region with drinking water, and is now being replaced with a newer one that will be better able to withstand earthquakes. It is just one part of a $4.6 billion project to upgrade the Hetch Hetchy water system, which depends heavily on the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir in Yosemite National Park to supply water to more than 2.6 million customers living in the area around San Francisco Bay.

At present the Mercury News states that construction crews are busy removing earth in front of the dam, although the new one will be located approximately 400 yards downstream from the current site. The actual construction of the new dam is not expected to begin until 2016, with the entire upgrade project to take 15-years to complete. In the meantime, officials from the San Francisco Public Works Commission announced that the fossils will (eventually) be placed in a museum in the Bay area.

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