South Georgia Community leaders and geologists from Georgia Southern University say they are heartsick that looters stole part of a 30 million year old whale fossil in the Flint River.
Georgia Southern geology students were excavating the fossil from limestone on the banks of the Flint River in Albany.
This is some of the limestone we recovered from around the fossil. It was smoothly cut with a large industrial saw by looters, who then took a large section of the fossil's backbone.
The Georgia Southern University geologists found over the weekend when they came to check their fossil excavation the number one through four vertebrae gone. The fifth and sixth are still in place.
People in Albany and Statesboro call it heartbreaking.
"They are still doing further research on the site and hoping to do more things. They found some other remnants and pieces there, but certainly everybody's disappointed in the fact somebody would do this," said Thronateeska Heritage Museum Executive Director, Tommy Gregors.
Lori Farkas led an Albany group to the Governor's office to make sure some of the fossil would be displayed in Albany.
Now she worries it's lost forever. The rock removed weighed hundreds of pounds in a very remote location, so it was not an easy theft.
"It was somebody who thought it out. It wasn't just a group of people that said hey let's go get the bones. I mean I'm heartsick," said Lori Farkas, Save The Whale Organizer.
Georgia Southern University's Dr. Kathlyn Smith said "It was a beautiful specimen with excellent scientific value. I am keeping my eye on ebay and other online auction sites to see if they show up, but I think we're out of luck."
"It also really diminishes the educational value that we could have gotten out of studying the fossil. And the positive publicity we could have gotten from being able to acquire this through legal means," said Gregors.
Georgia Southern geologists and Albany experts are working to preserve the remainder of the whale fossil, and excavate it before more looters ruin it totally.
The Department of Natural Resources law enforcement and possibly the GBI will be investigating the looting, which is a felony.
They say they will be able to track the fossils if they are sold. Georgia Southern and local officials are urging whoever stole the piece to just put it on the porch of Thronateeska Museum to keep a priceless 30 million year old fossil from being lost.
Friday, the city manager's office placed a video surveillance camera on the fossil site to better protect it.
If you have any information about this case, you could earn a reward. Call CRIMESTOPPERS at 436-TIPS.