A rare whale fossil has been pulled up from a Southern California backyard with the help of a sheriff’s search-and-rescue team.

According to Howell Thomas, who is a paleontologist from the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, the fossil is a 16 million to 17 million-year-old baleen whale fossil. The find is incredibly rare, Thomas noted, as there are only around 20 of them know to exist in the entire world.

The fossil was found by years ago by the 53-year-old Gary Johnson of Southern California. Johnson had originally found the fossil when he was a teenager playing in the woods behind in house. However, he did not alert anyone of its existence until another fossil was recovered in January around a nearby school.

“I thought, maybe my whale is somehow associated,” said Johnson, who now works as a cartoonist and art director.

It was then that Johnson called Thomas to alert him to the whale fossil.

After that, Thomas began trying to get the fossil out of the ground. Apparently, it was no easy task, as the ancient whale bone was lodged in a 1,000 pound rock.

To get it out of the ravine it was stuck in, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department search-and-rescue volunteers had to lend a hand. They used pulleys and steel trolleys to pull it up the slope and load it onto a truck bound for the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County.

The sheriff’s department search-and-rescue unit used the excavation as a sort of training mission, said search-and-rescue reserve chief Mike Leum. Normally the crew rescues stranded hikers and motorcyclists who have become trapped in tough terrain, making this mission a little out of the ordinary.

“We’ll always be able to say, ‘it’s not heavier than a fossil,'” Leum said.


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