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The Florida Fossil Hunters have a WHALE of a good time! Brevard County, Florida

The following is the text of the Orlando Sentinel article (from Local and State) dated Sunday, July 30, 1995. By Brad Kuhn

MELBOURNE - Shamu it's not, but Brevard County may soon have its own whale of a tourist attraction. Construction workers digging a retention pond at the county landfill on Soarno Road unearthed the fossilized skull of a baleen whale

That's big news for a group of Central Florida fossil hunters, who say it could be one of the biggest fossil finds in the state. "It's something that you won't see often," said Dean Sligh, chairman and founder of Florida Fossil Hunters of Orlando. "We usually have two or three digs a month, but nothing of this caliber."

The 5-foot skull, a rib bone and forelimb were discovered Wdnesday by Ray Futch, project foreman for Prince Contracting Co. of Palmetto. "I saw a little black place and began digging around it," he said. "After about an hour or so, I could tell it was big. So I roped it off and told everybody to stay away from it." Construction was diverted from the immediate area of the find to other parts of the project, while project managers decided what to do with the behemoth.

In the construction business, a historical find means a potentially costly delay. It is not unusual for a developer to keep such finds quiet, to avoid public scrutiny. In this case, project manager B. Fritz Von Bargen of Post, Buckley, Schuh and Jernigan Inc. and Dick Gosselin, the county's construction coordinator, decided to contact the Florida State Museum in Gainesville. "I've got to admit, though, when we first saw it, the thought [of burying it] crossed our minds," Gosselin said.

Museum officials contacted Sligh, who rallied club members for a weekend dig. Saturday, eight club members with shovels, buckets, plaster and trenching tools braved the rain to unearth their find. Early fascination turned to frustration by midday as the group began to realize the magnitude of excavating a 50-foot whale with hand tools. Prince contracting chipped in, donating the use of a backhoe to make afternoon digging easier.

Time is short. Although the county has temporarily shifted work away from the area of the find, Gosselin said they will be ready to resume in about two weeks. Members of the Florida Fossil Hunters have full-time jobs that keep them from the task during the week, forcing them to pull marathon weekend sessions.

The skull, which has been buried for thousands of years was already beginning to crack as it dried. Sligh said the group plans to clean and preserve it as quickly as possible. The dig site is in a secured construction area that is not open to the public. But Sligh said he hopes to display the find at the club's annual fossil fair at the Central Florida Fairgrounds in November. After that, plans call for it to be displayed at the Brevard County Museum. As owner of the land where the whale bones were discovered, the county will own the fossils.

Unlike Shamu, its meat eating cousin, the baleen whale is toothless. These giant vegetarians eat by smiling and allowing water to pass through a giant grillwork called baleen. Such whales are among the biggest creatures in the world. Sligh said it is not unusual to find whales inland. "Dug out a piece of whale the size of a dinner plate in Winter Garden last week," he said. But rarely do fossil-hunters find such large pieces intact. "Depending on how much is there, I think this could be one of the largest fossils ever found in Florida," he said

By midday the group had uncovered most of the whale's head and were searching for its backbone. They planned to wrap up about dinner time, but Sligh said plans could change if something turned up. "If we find more of the skeleton, they'll probably have to chase us off with nightsticks."
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------Adventures as described above don't happen every weekend, but if you don't look you will not find! That is what the Florida Fossil Hunters is all about. A group of work-a-day individuals who LOVE to get out in the field as much as possible. Weekends, holidays, vacations... ANY TIME WE CAN!!!


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