Highway widening is usually good for areas where traffic is packed, but in general, cutting open new land for highways doesn’t frequently lead to major scientific discoveries. However, a recent highway widening project in California’s Laguna Canyon led to the discovery of a new species of whales originating sometime between 17 million and 19 million years ago. The find was roadcut science at its finest.

The found whales are a new species of baleen whales. In fact, the widening of the roads between 2000 and 2005 yielded four new species of baleen whales, in this case, prehistoric whales that were found with teeth. In fact, finding remains of toothed baleen whales that lived between 17 and 19 million years ago was pretty significant. Prior to this, scientists believed that toothed species had been extinct for five million years. While the new whales are the most exciting discovery, the excavation project also yielded hundreds of other samples from the period.

How did the road crew know exactly what they were looking at as they worked? According to The Huffington Post, California law says that both a paleontologist and an archaeologist must hang out on site as workers work, which probably means finds like these occur more often than the average person might guess. In any case, with professional scientific crew on staff, better judgment calls can be made and fossils can be treated with care.

On Wednesday, the finds were reported by paleontologist Meredith Rivin who works in Fullerton, California at the John D. Cooper Archaeological and Paleontological Center. Rivin says she hopes to publish a paper explaining more about the whale finds later in 2013.

Photo Credit @Ho New/ Reuters via Time

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