A search-and-rescue team has excavated rare baleen whale fossil from a backyard in California.

The Los Angeles Natural History Museum joined hands with Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department's Search and Rescue team and recovered the baleen whale fossil from Rancho Palos Verdes, which was first spotted and reported around 35 years ago.

Howell Thomas, a senior paleontological preparator at the Los Angeles Natural History Museum, says that the fossil is estimated to be over 12 million to 15 million years old. Thomas suggests that the discovery of the fossil is a very rare find as only 20 such fossils are reported to be in existence.

Thomas explains that baleen whales feed on fish and other sea creatures, but do not catch them individually. They open their mouth and such a large amount of water and filters fish and other sea creatures using baleen plates. As they eat in large quantity, they can grow quite big as well.

Thomas says that he was contacted by Gary Johnson and informed about the fossil a few months ago. Johnson claims that he first found the fossil as a teenager in 1978 while exploring a creek behind his parent's home in Rancho Palos Verdes.

Johnson contacted a local museum and was informed that the fossil was of a baleen whale. However, at that time the museum did not have enough resources to excavate the half-ton fossil.

In January this year, Johnson read a story about the excavation of a sperm whale fossil from a nearby school. This incident prompted Johnson to contact the Natural History Museum so that they could excavate the fossil.

Reports suggest that the sheriff's department search-and-rescue unit has declined to offer a helicopter to excavate the fossil. However, they offered to send volunteer crew, who usually rescues motorcyclists and stranded hikers as a training mission.

Volunteers dug the area surrounding the fossil with crowbars, which loosened the partially buried fossil. They attached a harness to the heavy fossil and managed to lift it with the help of a metal tripod, which was capable to bear weight of more than 5,000 pounds.

"Nestled on the cart for the ride, the fossil was heaved and hoisted incrementally by rescuers using a ropes-and-pulley strategy up an estimated 25-degree incline," reports LATimes. "The cart rounded a bend in the path, made its way up a shorter incline into a backyard."

The fossil will be in the museum for further research and authorities suggest that there are no current plans to put the fossil on display. 

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