A replica of a fossil of a prehistoric whale skull mounted on a wall.
A replica of a fossil of a prehistoric whale skull and vertebrae within the Kenneth C. Patrick Visitor Center.

NPS Photo / Anela Kopshever


Fossilization is the process in which minerals replace organic matter and thus preserve their form. Teeth and bone are the most common vertebrate fossil remains, since they are hard and can become fossilized before decomposing.

Moving as part of the Pacific Plate, the rocks of the current Point Reyes Peninsula have been edging northward along the San Andreas Fault an average of two inches a year. About seven million years ago, these rocks were approximately 80 miles to the south—near present-day San Gregorio—and under sea water. During the rocks' submerged state, whales, sharks, large fish, sand dollars, and clams thrived above or in the sea floor. As they died, some were embedded in the sand and mud, becoming fossilized over millions of years. As water levels dropped and the land was uplifted, rock layers were exposed to erosion and fossils were exposed. Many of the species found in the fossil record at Point Reyes are very similar to plants and animals that still thrive in the waters surrounding the peninsula today; some are predecessors of modern species.

Help Protect Fossils at Point Reyes

If you find any fossils within Point Reyes National Seashore, please leave them where you found them and report them and their location to a park visitor center. Please be aware that possessing, destroying, injuring, defacing, removing, digging, or disturbing fossils from their natural state is prohibited.

Learn More

Fossils and Paleontology: Preserving Our Rich Fossil Heritage

The History of Paleontology in the National Park Service

Fossils and Paleontology: Laws, Regulations, & Policies


Read More about Fossils at Point Reyes

Loading results...


    Visit our keyboard shortcuts docs for details
    4 minutes, 8 seconds

    In this episode of Outside Science (inside parks), hear about an ancient porpoise skull that was found at Point Reyes National Seashore.


    Photo Galleries


    Science & Research Project Summaries

    From 2006 to 2018, Point Reyes National Seashore and Pacific Coast Science and Learning Center (PCSLC) staff and communication interns assisted scientists conducting research through the PCSLC and the San Francisco Bay Area Inventory & Monitoring Network to produce a series of Resource Project Summaries, one of which was about a paleontological inventory conducted at Point Reyes. These one- to eight-page summaries provide information about the questions that the researchers hoped to answer, details about the project and methods, and the results of the research projects in a way that is easy to understand.

    Top of Page

    Last updated: February 4, 2024

    Park footer

    Contact Info

    Mailing Address:

    1 Bear Valley Road
    Point Reyes Station, CA 94956


    This number will initially be answered by an automated attendant, from which one can opt to access a name directory, listen to recorded information about the park (e.g., directions to the park; visitor center hours of operation; fire danger information; wildlife updates; ranger-led programs; seasonal events; etc.), or speak with a ranger. Please note that if you are calling between 4:30 pm and 10 am, park staff may not be available to answer your call.

    Contact Us