Whale Bones May Soon Come to Life

For more than two years, Oregon State University researchers have been looking for a way to preserve a 78-foot blue whale that washed ashore off the coast of Oregon. Blue whales are the largest animals on earth – weighing up to 100 tons – and it has been over a century since one has washed ashore in Oregon. 

The gigantic and very pungent carcass was found near Gold Beach in November of 2015. Since then, 15 tons of bones have been stored in Yaquina Bay while the director of Marine Mammal Institute, Bruce Mate has scrambled for ways to find funding for turning a gigantic pile of bones into a life-size anatomical display. Mate hopes to incorporate the new discovery as a full-scale installation for the entry of the $58 million Hatfield Marine Science research center being built in Newport this spring.  

Mate hopes to have the bones chemically cleaned of residual oil, as well as find an ultimate home for the collection of oversized bones that would be reconstructed for display. Degreasing the whale bones alone costs over $125,000, and finding a space large enough to host a blue whale, is well, a whale of a task itself.

Getting oil out of the bones is a critical step in making sure the skeleton does not become rancid. It took over 10 days for 30 or so graduate and undergraduate student volunteers to remove flesh from the bones in the initial days of discovery – yummy! Since they moved the de-fleshed bones from the South coast, OSU scientists cleverly stored the bones underwater in Yaquina Bay so marine life could help them naturally strip the bones of any remaining materials. I suppose that is why they get paid the big bucks.

Before the blue whale can be installed, it would need a temporary facility for researchers to re-assemble the bones, after they have sufficiently dried and oil has been extracted properly. Since there is no state or federal funding for such a project, Mate is looking either for a large donation, or possibly crowdfunding if need be. Whale puns aside, it is a very large project.

By Chris McDowell

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