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'Monster' Turns Out to be 40 Million Year-Old Whale

Originally printed in The Rankin County News on April 26, 1962

Considerable excitement was aroused Wednesday morning of last week when a grading machine uncovered the skeleton about 12 feet below what had been the normal earth level in the Pelahatchie Creek area. The vertebrae section was still largely intact, although the rib bones had been broken by the earth moving operation. Tip-to-tip of the bertebrae was estimated at 40 feet in length, with individual sections ranging up to 17 inches long and 10 inches in diameter.

W. D. Moore, State Geological Survey expert, looked the skeleton over and called it's a "basilosaurus," and estimated its age as 40 million years. With his findings announced, Moore shrugged the matter off as "not uncommon" and announced that his department didn't have the funds, personnel or enough interest to try to preserve the remains.

Millsaps College geologists were among the many who viewed the skeleton that had been officially declared a prehistoric whale. They, too, were insufficiently interested.

By Friday, disappointment reigned and work on the reservoir had to go on. So, the huge earth-moving machines resumed their work and parts of "Willie's" remains are now in place to help hold back the water of the Pearl River.

Sometime in the future, though, Willie may get a little nearer the salt water that was his home those 40 million years ago. The dirt in which he was encrusted has been put into a "fuse plug" in the three-mile-long earthen dam. If the water pressure over the dam ever endangers it, this fuse plug is designed to "blow out" to relieve the pressure. This will be when Willie's bones move further down-river.​​

Ross Barnett Reservoir Dam under construction on September 19, 1960

The largest prehistoric fossil ever found in Rankin County was turned up by workmen at the site of the Pearl River Reservoir dam Wednesday morning. Work in the area has been postponed until experts can inspect the skeleton and decide on its removal.

What kind of animal the "find" was is as yet unknown, but workmen who have seen it declare that it must have been huge, probably 25 to 35 feet or longer, Sheldon Webb, one of the Harbert Construction Company workers , said that the vertebrae section is reasonably intact. He said that the vertebrae sections are 8 to 10 inches in diameter. He said what appeared to be teeth were 1 1/2 to 2 inches in diameter; and that the rib cage has been broken and scattered. The head section, also missing, is believed to have been hauled away with dirt for the dam before the fossil was discovered.

​The area where the skeleton was found is east of the G. M. & O. railroad and about 200 yards from Pelahatchie Creek. It was discovered at a depth of about 12 feet where dirt was being removed to construct the emergency spillway in the reservoir dam. The dirt is being scraped up in huge scraper wagons for hauling to the dam site.

While this is by far the largest fossil ever uncovered in the county, numerous specimens of prehistoric sea life were unearthed at the Marquette Cement Manufacturing Company quarry site near Brandon a few years ago. When the State Lime Plant first began operations at what is now the quarry site, several shrimp and other small fossils were found. Later, when Marquette began testing the site, remains of shark and other fish were discovered. A three-foot layer of scallop shells was also laid bare about three feet below the hill's surface.

Skeleton of Huge Prehistoric Monster Uncovered at Reservoir

Originally printed in The Rankin County News on April 19, 1962


Prehistoric Whale in Ross Barnett Reservoir

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Ross Barnett Reservoir Spillway under construction - approximately mid 1961

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Willie the Whale probaly could not care less, but his bones are now scattered from mantles of souvenir hunters to the fill in the emergency spillway of the Pearl River Reservoir. After their 40 million year rest, no one wanted Willie's bones bad enough to dig them up and preserve them.​​