NEWPORT, OR (KPTV) - The skeleton of a 78-foot blue whale was brought back to dry land this week. It will be preserved and eventually prepared for public display.
To help get it there, volunteers are needed to remove oil and fat from the whale bones that have been sitting in Yaquina Bay for several years.
The whale carcass washed ashore near Gold Beach in November 2015. Bruce Mate, emeritus director of Oregon State University’s Marine Mammal Institute, said such a sight is extremely rare on the Oregon coast.
In fact, there hadn’t been a documented case of a blue whale beached in Oregon since Lewis and Clark’s journey to the coast 200 years prior, according to Mate.
Researchers from the Marine Mammal Institute saw the 2015 carcass as an opportunity for study and public education. They examined and dismantled the carcass – including removing 58 tons of flesh – and then bundled it in huge nets that were submerged in Yaquina Bay.
The nets were weighed down, “allowing nature to run its course by having scavengers clean the bones,” according to OSU.
An anonymous donor last year provided a gift of $125,000 to the Oregon State University Foundation to help pay for the next phase of the preservation: Retrieval and cleaning of the bones.
On Thursday, Jim Lewis of Hatfield Marine Science Center oversaw crane and diver coordination; the dive team was led by Jim Burke of the Oregon Coast Aquarium during the day-long operation.
There were 285 bones in all, including the whale’s 6,500-pound skull, 18-foot mandibles and several large net bags full of vertebrae and other bones.
“We’ve got a bunch of work to do to get everything cleaned up,” Mate said. “It’s critical to get the oil out of the bones to help preserve the skeleton and keep it from becoming rancid.”
Additional funding will likely be needed to complete the display, along with donations of large vats or troughs. Volunteers are also being sought in the Lincoln County area to clean bones.
Those interested in volunteering or providing funding or supplies should contact Mate at email@example.com.
Once the bones are ready, the skeleton will be put together and displayed at the new marine studies building under construction at the OSU Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport.
The whole process is expected to take about a year.
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