The Los Angeles County search-and-rescue squad is used to fishing people up and out from all manner of cavernous off-road troubles, but on Friday, August 2, the team hoisted to safety its most unusual victim yet: A baleen whale trapped at the bottom of a steep hillside for 16 million years.
Pieces of the whale's skull, baleen and jaw were entombed in a 1,000-pound boulder sitting at the bottom of a ravine. A location like that presented obvious problems for any possible excavation, but there are not even two-dozen such fossilized baleen whale samples in existence, so it was rare enough that the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles just had to have it for its collection.
L.A. County search-and-rescue agreed to excavate it. But how? There was the rub. Using a helicopter would have been cost-prohibitive, so that left the good old-fashioned way -- digging up and under, hoisting onto a carrier, and carting it up the hill.
Of course, that sounds easier than it is! A 10-person rescue crew had to loosen up the boulder with hand tools and sometimes bare hands. Then a powerful tripod hoisted the rock onto a cart, which, by ropes-and-pulleys and tireless workers, made its way slowly up the ravine and off to the street. The museum took over from there, carting away the rare old beast for research.
"It's like a snapshot of my childhood," Gary Johnson told the Los Angeles Times. Johnson originally found the fossil when he was a teenager in 1978. (He reported the find, but a different museum declined to attempt to excavate the half-ton rock, so the boulder with the whale in it stayed where it was, until now.)
The Natural History Museum of Los Angeles will now study the rare find. The baleen is a group of toothless whales that are like the Dyson vacuum cleaners of the deep. The "baleen" is a filter apparatus in the whale's mouth that lets it strain the water for food of varying sizes.