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Witch/Fossil Hunt! 

Beachcombing for the real thing

click to enlarge A twisty snail fossil.

Photo by Mike Kelly

A twisty snail fossil.

I apologize in advance to anyone who didn't want to be transported to this alternate universe just now. But you can relax because the only difference between this new universe and your old one is that I was elected president of the United States in 2016.

My presidency started out OK. But then someone noticed I had taken more than 300 beachcombing trips to Humboldt County in my first two years. They claim it cost taxpayers $1 million just to sweep the sand out of Air Force One.

I come to Humboldt because you have the best beaches. And I wish I could take you all beachcombing with me, but my Secret Service escorts would have to shoot you in the legs.

But those Secret Service escorts have sharp beachcombing eyes, so they are totally worth having around. I equip each of them with a little plastic bucket and spade, and I let them keep any dead things I don't want.

Some of the dead things we find have been dead a very long time. Bluffs along some Humboldt beaches contain fossils of Pliocene and Pleistocene sea creatures. These fossils sometimes weather out during winter storms and can be found when things calm down.

Only an idiot would visit these bluffs in the rain, so I do it all the time. I don't worry about the landslides and dangerous surf. Just as they are trained to take a bullet for me, a Secret Service agent will gladly take a giant block of falling siltstone for me.

One common fossil is the giant Pacific scallop. As with many of the fossils here, the scallops are usually crumbly. But I have some solid enough to display in the Oval Office in place of all those stupid books.

I haven't found any fossil whale bones there yet but I know whales were around because I found a nice golf ball-sized whale barnacle called Coronula. This barnacle rode around on a whale about a million years ago. A barnacle under your skin would be like a bone spur!

Small snail fossils are relatively common. The moon snails may be cute with their globose shape but they are probably the ocean's biggest assholes. Look for perfectly round beveled holes in the shells of clams and snails. This hole is where a moon snail drilled through and then slowly ate the other animal alive. You can even find these holes in other moon snails. The cannibalistic bastards ...

Common clams include cockles, bent-nose clams and a delicate, shiny one called Pandora. The large mussel Mytilus is a less common find. Like most of the fossils here, the clams and mussels are very similar to ones that live here now. After all, a million years in geologic time is about as long as my attention span.

It's also possible to find million-year-old sand dollar fossils around here. However, the cemented sand dollars that are common on beaches in the Eureka area are just modern sand dollars that got covered in concrete somehow. These sand dollar "fossils" are fake just like all the allegations.

There are also trace fossils in the siltstone. These are left behind by critters burrowing in the former ocean bottom. They are made by worms, clams, shrimp and tiny little Democratic congressmen. (Ha! That's a good one! Your funniest stable PRESIDENT ever!)

Also, you should be aware that collecting vertebrate fossils — like whale bones — on federal land is illegal. So be sure to know the law where you collect. I don't have to worry about that though because anything I do is automatically legal.

Biologist Mike Kelly writes science-based satire as M. Sid Kelly. It's available at Eureka Books and for Kindle. He prefers he/him.

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Mike Kelly

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