What a Whale of a Tale!

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We need help!

On March 15, 2014, a dwarf sperm whale (Kogia sima) washed up dead on the beach in front of Trinity Center. The Marine Mammal Stranding Network responded to the stranding with the help of the guests and staff of Trinity Center.

Staff and volunteers from Trinity Center’s Sound to Sea Environmental Education Program, NC Maritime Museum, NCSU Center for Marine Sciences and Technology, NC Division of Marine Fisheries, Carteret Community College, and UNC Wilmington collaborated on the necropsy of the whale.

But that is just the beginning of the tale….

Experts from the Marine Mammal Stranding Network recognized this whale as a rare specimen in good condition.  They worked with Sound to Sea  to carefully bury the post-necropsy carcass in a sandy grave to let it decompose.  The whale will stay buried for two years as the first step in preparing the bones to eventually be re-articulated for a display.

This winter we plan to exhume the bones and are lucky
whale burialto have the expertise of Keith Rittmaster of the NC Maritime Museum to help guide us through this complicated project.  While our Sound to Sea staff prepare for the fun ahead, we are are now seeking financial support to gather the funds and materials that we will need to continue the process.

Keith RittmasterThis project will take a lot of work and time. Just exhuming the whale will take four to five hours since we will need to carefully document, label, and photograph all the bones and teeth.  Imagine losing track of what order the vertebrae are in!  We will build frames to hold the bones in the correct order as we work with them.

drying box photo Keith Rittmaster

Drying Box with sea turtles bones (photo: Keith Rittmaster)

The bones will then be soaked for several weeks to months in a solution of ammonia and Dawn dish soap and then in a hydrogen peroxide solution to degrease them as well as remove any remaining flesh and bacteria.  If the bones need further degreasing, we will have it done in the NCSU vet school’s trichloroethylene vapor degreaser.

The bones will sit in the sun for a few weeks to a few months to make sure that they are completely dry.  The bones will be inside a cage as they dry so they are not damaged and so animals do not get into them.  Broken bones will be repaired using steel pins and casting resin.  Fragile bones will be strengthened with casting resin.  Then the bones will be painted with two coats of diluted bookbinders glue to strengthen them and prevent them from deteriorating over time.

Reassembling the skeletonThen the skeleton will be reassembled and mounted onto a portable frame.  The vertebrae will have holes drilled through them so that they can be put on a steel rod with foam between each representing the intervertebral discs.  The bones will be temporarily glued in place and then permanently attached with resin or hardware once we know that they are in the right place.  The bones of the flippers will be mounted on Plexiglas to make them sturdier and show the size and shape of the flipper.  flipper

It is a very big project so you can see why we might need a little help. Afterwards, the skeleton will be used as a learning tool for the Sound to Sea Program as well as just being a really neat thing to have at Trinity Center.

They say never try to eat an elephant whole, but take it one spoonful at a time.  We guess the same is true for whales.  If you can help at all, no amount is too small.  If everyone who loves us gives a small spoonful, we’ll meet our goal by the time we need the funds this winter.

Then all the kids who come to Trinity through our educational programs and camps, will really have a whale of a tale to tell!

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