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A fossilized juvenile baleen whale from Shark Tooth Hill on display at the Buena Vista Museum of Natural History.

Henry A. Barrios / The Californian

As dry as Bakersfield is, it can be hard to believe that, millions of years ago, it was underwater.

At the Buena Vista Museum of Natural History & Science, local educator and zoologist Stephen Collett will give a presentation all about whales, Bakersfield's former residents. Geared toward middle school-aged kids and older, the lecture will be held at the museum on Saturday at 2 p.m. 

"The whale talk will be a lecture with a PowerPoint presentation and a few specimens to pass around," Collett wrote in an email to the Californian. "I will go over the geologic history of whales and how they became independent of the land. I will also talk about how so many whale fossils came to be in the Sharktooth Hill bone bed."

Sharktooth Hill, northeast of Bakersfield, is where the museum's fossils came from, in an area that's home to more than 100 square miles of Miocene fossil bed, according to the museum's website. 

Collett, who received his Ph.D in zoology from Michigan State University in 1981 and later taught for the Kern High School District for 28 years, said he first became interested in whales and their connection to Bakersfield after collecting a variety of ear bones at Sharktooth Hill. One interesting thing he's learned about whales: Their hearing is "completely different from hearing in other mammals."

Next month, Collett will host another presentation at the museum. That one, to be held on March 17 at 2 p.m., will be on "Stromatolites: How Pond Scum Made Our Atmosphere."

"I will be talking about the history of simple photosynthetic organisms (primitive algae)," Collett wrote. "These organisms produced the very first fossils. Four-fifths of the history of life on earth consists almost entirely of these organisms. More complex life could not develop until after these algae had produced enormous amounts of iron ores, and then transformed our atmosphere into the oxygen-rich air we breathe today."

Collett said people and kids should go to either or both of his two lectures to learn a little more about science than they might have in school.

"Both of these talks delve into areas of the fossil record that seldom come to the attention of the lay public, and they go dramatically beyond what folks may have learned in high school or undergraduate science."

Kelly Ardis can be reached at 661-395-7660. Follow her on Twitter at @TBCKellyArdis.

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