Sunday, June 16, 2013

Field Trip: Petrified Whalebone, Santa Barbara, California

The Santa Barbara Coast is famed among local rockhounds for their fossils - in particular, the vast quantities of petrified whalebone which can be found in the area. Although the bone is certainly the most common find, there are other fossils and even the odd piece of agate to be collected.

You'll want a backpack to put your finds in, and a good pair of shoes or sturdy hiking sandals to climb over the loose rocks. Take a water bottle and some lunch if you plan on going far.

Gaviota, Refugio, and El Capitan Beaches seem to have the best [and the most] material, although any beach in that area with enough rocks available will likely have pieces to pick up.

Search among the cobbles for the bones
You can also find petrified wood here - some of it brightly colored like the Arizona material [okay, I only found one piece like that on my trip, but the rest of the tree's got to be around somewhere, right?]

Petrified Wood from Gaviota
If you look closely at the wood, you can still see the original grain preserved - and there's even some bark on the other side. And such nice jaspar reds and yellows!

On the field trip I attended, there were perhaps 40 lbs in total of petrified bone found, amongst ten or so people. It's far from rare, so you've got an excellent chance of finding some.

If you're wondering how to identify fossil whalebone when you find it, the key is all in the texture. It looks like little cells filled in with quartz or agate, as shown in the picture below.

It can come in all kinds of colors - I've found white, black, red, tan, and orange-yellow so far. Once you've found your first piece or two, you'll quickly develop an eye for it.

And, of course, remember not to get so focused on one kind of rock that you forget to look at the others. That petrified wood pictured above? Most of the field trip members walked right over it before I picked it up - but they were so focused on finding the bone, they never even noticed it.

Fossil Bone

Happy hunting and good luck!

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