Fossil Finds on the Oregon Coast

By Jessye Pennington

fossil beach in oregon

Moolack Beach to Yaquina Head

There’s never a bad day to find yourself enveloped in nature, meandering the Oregon coastline and experiencing everything a good beach day has to offer. Our favorite time, however, might be October. The rolling fog, perfectly crisp autumn air, and salty drizzle promises to bring us on a spooky adventure through the ghost forests and sleepy coastal tidelands. 

beach fossils from oregon coast

Agatized clam belly, Fossilized rib, Patinopectin propatulus.

seashell and coral fossils

Heart-shaped “Teredo Wood,” Finds of the day from South Beach, Indra exploring the bedrock at Moolack Beach

As we start our morning adventures, I lean over and ask our five-year-old daughter, “Do you know who the best skeleton detective was?....Sherlock BONES!” She sighs, “Oh, come on, Mom!” But, even a bad joke can’t put a damper on the excitement of what we might find. It’s best to look on sandy beaches at low tide, in creek washes, and particularly near one of Oregon’s many famous sea stack rocks. These sea stacks are constantly hit by waves, which brings what is unearthed into shore.

oregon coast beach fossils

Agatized fossil coral from Depoe Bay, Perfectly preserved bivalve fossil, As-found gastropod fossil.

And in fact, today, we are out to be bone detectives. Ghost forests aren’t the only fossilized finds on the Oregon coast. Over 60 million years ago, asteroid impacts that exterminated the dinosaurs left oceanic holes that, over this time, have layered with fossils. Erosion and uplift is always exposing new bones and fossils of various sea creatures and plants, many of which are now extinct. We have found a variety of petrified, agatized, and silicified wood, fossilized bivalve clams and gastropods, shark, sea lion, and seal teeth, and even a fossilized rib of a Steller’s Sea Cow! Fossils along the Oregon Coast are organized into three formations: Astoria Formation, Nye Mudstone Formation, and Coledo Formation. These fossil formations help to delineate the age of a fossil, ranging from 15 to 30 million years old. 

fossilized bones and seashells oregon

Unknown fossilized bone from Newport, Liracassis petrosal at Beverly Beach, Baby Saccella calkinsi fossils.

fossil sea shells from oregon beach

Chione ensifera at South Beach, Musashia indurata at Fogarty Creek State Recreation Area, Agatized gastropod from the Nehalem River.

Skeleton sleuthing fun doesn’t just end at the beach. When finding a fossil in a rock, or a fossilized shells and bones, we get to also do the work of learning what it is, how old it might be, and a lot about the history of our oceans and coastal areas long ago. There are various online tools and resources to assist in the search. We have even connected with professors and universities who have taken a look at some of our finds to help with identification. 

fossil bones and petrified wood from oregon beach

Petrified wood from Depoe Bay, Fossilized bone found in Newport, Indra fossil hunting at Moolack Beach.

National Fossil Day is the Wednesday of the second full week in October. National Parks are sponsoring fossil events. Little ones can learn about the history around them, and even earn junior paleontologist badges! As October gears you up for spooky season, don’t forget to get your own “Sherlock Bones” on, and investigate the skeletal secrets of the coastal ranges. Happy hunting and haunting!

oregon coast beaches for fossil hunting

Exposed bedrock between Moolack and Beverly Beach, Junior paleontologist Indra at Otter Rock.

Learn more about beach fossils:

beach fossil identification locations history

Learn more about fossils found on modern and ancient shores around the world. Articles ›

This article appeared in the Beachcombing Magazine September/October 2022 issue.

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