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Wyland's Whaling Wall at the Ocean Institute in 1982
Wyland's Whaling Wall at the Ocean Institute in 1982
Wyland's Whaling Wall at Concordia in 2008
Wyland's Whaling Wall at Concordia in 2008

Wyalnd's Whaling Wall II Comes to Concordia

Staff, students, and parents at Concordia Elementary School were pleased to welcome a new addition to the campus this year. Whaling Wall II, the second in a series of life sized whaling murals painted by world renowned environmental artist Wyland, was installed in Concordia’s multi-purpose room. Wyland originally painted the mural on a wall at the Ocean Institute in Dana Point. When the original institute was demolished to make way for new construction several years ago, the mural was preserved and eventually found a new home at Concordia as part of Project Splash, the whale fossil restoration program that is being implemented at the school. 

When Wyland painted his first mural on the side of the Hotel Laguna in 1981, his goal was to ultimately paint 100 life size murals dedicated to the great whales and ocean conservation. With the demolition of his original mural several years ago, Whaling Wall II is now the oldest existing Wyland mural in the world. Concordia is proud to display this important and valuable work of art.

Project Splash

Splash the Whale Arrives At Concordia!

Splash the Whale was delivered to Concordia Elementary School on Tuesday, January 27. Splash is a 4-9 million year old baleen whale fossil that was moved to Concordia from Dana Point. When it was first discovered at a new home development in Laguna Niguel in 1996, the fossil was named “Splash” by local students. At the time, scientists believed that Splash may have been one of the most complete specimens of its kind ever found on the North American continent. A good portion of the fossil remains intact and will provide wonderful learning experiences for our students in the area of science. 

The acquisition of the whale fossil will enable our school to create a hands-on science discovery center that will introduce students to the study of paleontology while providing real-life math and science experiences. The program will focus on enrichment activities fully aligned with California state standards, with students working in teams to excavate, document, and identify fossils in hands-on simulated learning experiences.    Components of the future Paleontology Park include:  

  • On-site excavation of Splash, the whale. Students and visitors will be trained and provided the opportunity to help exhume Splash and participate in the preparation of a variety of displays in the Paleontology Park.
  • Students visiting the center will experience the excitement of scientific discovery while learning how to excavate and identify fossils. 
  • The Paleontology Park will ultimately feature a variety of fossils, interactive displays and exhibits that the entire community can visit, study, and enjoy.

To learn more about Project Splash, check out the Project Splash PowerPoint presentation and the original Excavation Report for Splash the Whale from RMW Paleo Associates.   A slide show of Splash's arrival can be seen at right.

Splash at the Excavation Site in Laguna Niguel, February 1996
February, 1996

Excavation Report for Splash the Whale

Report completed by Marilyn Morgan and Diane Walker

RMW Paleo Associates

Spring 1985    

Re: SS Laguna Niguel Whale  

The nearly complete fossil baleen shale skeleton that was collected from the siltstones of the late Miocene/early Pliocene (9-4 million years ago) Capistrano Formation* at the SS project in Laguna Niguel is one of about seven complete fossil whales that have been collected from all of the rock units in Orange County. It is very rare to find a fossil whale specimen as complete as this one. Usually, the bones of marine mammals get moved about by currents and wave action, or by scavengers such as sharks, that disassociate the individual bones from the skeleton. This specimen is remarkably complete: skull (with ear bones?), jaws, limb bones, hand bones, ribs and vertebrae. This suggests that the whale died, sank quickly to the bottom, and was rapidly buried. When this specimen is identified, it will add to our understanding of the history of whales and will provide a means of determining relationships between whale species.  

The SS Laguna Niguel whale is a moderate sized baleen, or toothless, whale. The whale’s skull is eight to ten feet long and it had a body length when alive of approximately 40 – 45 feet. Baleen is a broom-like structure made of material similar to fingernail material. They use this material, or baleen, to filter small organisms out of the water. Although it is still encased in rock, preliminary field identification suggests that this animal belongs to an extinct family of baleen whales, the Cetotheriidae.  

Whales have a long geologic history. Whales are the oldest and most diverse mammalian group to adapt to a marine existence. The earliest fossil whales are known from the early middle Eocene age (50 +/-million years ago) in Pakistan and Egypt. These animals probably lived an amphibious life along the shores of a shallow sea. From these ancestors, the diverse assemblage of present day whales arose. Cetotheres are the first group of truly toothless or baleen whales. Members of this family are the most likely ancestors of the modern families of whales. During the late Miocene, the time period of the deposition of the Capistrano Formation, there is a transition from a fauna dominated by primitive whales to a fauna that contains the direct ancestor of the modern whales. Most of the modern families of whales were appearing by the late Miocene, while the cetotheres were in decline. Based on the size of the SS Laguna Niguel specimen, it is difficult to say if it represents a primitive cetothere or a more modern taxa. It is a bit large for a cetothere, but not out of the range of possibility.   

Many of the 60 names species or cetotheres are based on non-comparable skeletal parts. As a result, the history of this group and their relationships to the modern whales is unclear. Skeletons, like the SS Laguna Niguel whale, allow scientists to determine which bone goes with which jawbone, skull, rib, etc., thus resolving some of the conflicts in species assignment. This is significant because it allows scientists to determine relationships between different species of animals. Skeletons, like the SS Laguna Niguel whale, will help develop a better understanding of the evolution of the modern whale families.   

*Over 8 million years ago Orange County was submerged under a deep embayment that extended across the present-day Los Angeles Basin. The gradual emergence of this sea floor produced a gently sloping shelf upon which submarine fans and marine sediments were deposited. These sediments have been designated the Capistrano Formation. Fossil marine mammal bones and teeth, fish, shells, and plant debris have been collected from this information in the Laguna Niguel area. The Capistrano Formation is recognized internationally as the source of significant fossil marine vertebrates, including many previously unknown species.  

Marilyn Morgan, Principal, RMW Paleo Associates  

Diane Walker, Principal, RMW Paleo Associates

Project Splash PowerPoint

Orange County Register Story, Video, and Slide Show about Splash

See the story, video, and slide show about Project Splash that was published in the Orange County Register on Wednesday, January 28.