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Caltrans Crew Uncovers 5 Million Year Old 'Sea Cow' Fossil In Orange County

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A Caltrans crew working off the 73 toll road in Laguna Niguel discovered the bones of a 5 million year old marine mammal.

The work crew was installing a sprinkler system on a high slope over the roadway when they came across the remains. Paleontologists from the San Diego Natural History Museum have since been excavating the bones, and plan to eventually put it on display, according to ABC 7.

The animal, known as a sea cow, is an extinct marine mammal that used to live off the coast of California 5 to 7 million years ago. Distantly related to manatees, their only close relatives that remain today are the dugongs that live in the Indian Ocean. The ancient animals could grow up to 30 feet long, though this individual is a more modest "seven or eight feet long and a couple of feet thick," according to Caltrans spokesman David Richardson.

What makes the find so unique and challenging is that it appears to be fully intact. "The location that we found this was fairly high up on a relatively steep slope so getting it down the slope and not breaking it is a serious part of the removal," Richardson added.

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As novel as the find is, it's not unsual given the geology of the area. The bones were found in a part of the earth in southern Orange County known as the Capistrano Formation, which is rich in marine fossils up to 11 million years in age.

"We've found a lot of fossils when we've done road work, we've found large ones, small ones, whales... a great variety," said Richardson.