The barrel was first spotted over the weekend but it wasn’t opened until Monday morning, Lt. Hugo Reynaga of the Los Angeles County sheriff’s homicide bureau said at a news conference.
It wasn’t clear where the barrel originated. A report from Los Angeles County Medical Examiner's office reveals the body was identified as 32-year-old Javonnta Murphy, who lived in the Los Angeles area.
A maintenance worker from a state park saw the black plastic 55-gallon drum floating in the Malibu lagoon Sunday afternoon and brought it in with a kayak, Reynaga said.
"Apparently it was too heavy and they didn’t want to open it, so they left it on shore," Reynaga said.
According to authorities, the drum was discovered in the lagoon around 10:30 a.m. Monday.
Lifeguards had spotted the barrel in the lagoon and had tried to bring it ashore, but it was too heavy, officials said. The lifeguard opened it and saw the body inside, according to the Sheriff’s Department. Fire crews responded to the scene and helped to bring the barrel to land.
"At about 8 p.m., there’s a high tide here and there’s a possibility that the container could have come in from the ocean and then got stuck in the lagoon — but we don’t know," Reynaga said.
There was no immediate word on how long the body had been in the drum or the cause of Murphy's death.
However, "from what I did see it didn’t look to me like it was decomposed or had been there a long time," Reynaga said.
Witnesses told FOX 11 that they'd seen the barrel floating off the coast. One witness said they saw it a Leo Carrillo Beach this weekend, but investigators are working to confirm that.
During the early parts of investigations Monday, LA County Department of Medical Examiner told FOX 11 that they haven't decided how to deal with this case — whether they're going to move the barrel with the body inside, or try to process it at the scene.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.