Blue Whale Excavation

i-7088e72b9ee935fe44dd2fc25c3744c6-Blue_Whale_Art.jpgHow big is a blue whale?

A blue whale is so big that a person can swim through it’s largest blood vessels. A blue whale is so big that there are cars smaller than its heart. The blue whale is the largest animal on earth, now or ever, as far as we know. Its tongue is as large as the largest land animal on the present day earth (elephant). Oh, and it can go faster than most ships.

A blue whale is so big that when it dies, it takes YEARS to rot. And it smells REALLY bad.

And that is why people are moving out of a certain neighborhood in Canada.


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NAIL POND, Prince Edward Island – In Canada’s tiniest province, scientists are undertaking what may be history’s largest exhumation of a single creature. …

The reek from the excavation of a blue whale is strong enough to churn the stomach and bring tears streaming. It’s been nearly 21 years since the immense creature washed ashore and was buried on an isolated strand of red sand near the island’s northwest tip.

In late 2009, if all goes as scheduled, the skeleton will be suspended in a glass atrium at the Beaty Biodiversity Museum in Vancouver. It will be one of a handful of complete blue whale skeletons anywhere. Blue whales are the biggest animals on earth – and among the rarest, with only a few thousand swimming the oceans.

The body snatchers had hoped for a cleaner corpse.

“We’d expected to find bare bones,” Trites said.

Instead, the team found that the whale’s namesake blue flesh had basically mummified, while gigantic bands of solidified blubber remain on the skeleton like a hard-rubber shroud.

Sorry guys, but to be honest, they should have expected this. We already knew that blubber would last years. Why would this blubber cooperate with the natural defleshing process? It is a very common mistake that those interested in defleshing mammals make. That is, thinking that if you bury something for a long time you can come back and there will be a skeleton. That very rarely works.

“But it’s the smell of the rancid oil permeating the bones that really gets your attention,” Trites said in an interview Thursday afternoon at the wind-blasted dig site. “It’s pretty powerful.”

The bizarre unburial uses the techniques of heavy earth moving – and intricate autopsy. In a month or so, after a transcontinental journey by truck and train, the bones will be dumped into gigantic enzyme bath vats, built specially for the purpose in British Columbia, where bacteria will be employed to rid the bones of the noxious oil.

[I don't think anyone is actually moving out of the neighborhood, by the way.]

Boston Globe

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Comments

  1. #1 Stephanie Z
    May 18, 2008

    PEI, home of Confederation, L.M. Montgomery and now, the big stinky whale.

    Did you really find information about people moving out? The major industry in the area is fishing (at least until July, when you can add tourism), which is stinky by nature, although it is a different stink. And with the winds around there, there have to be several localities–not neighborhoods, way too tiny for neighborhoods–afflicted with the smell.

    Speaking of wind, the Atlantic Wind Test Site is just cool, especially in person, and only four to five miles from the whale. Turbines of all different designs, packed together and running:

    http://www.weican.ca/

  2. #2 Cameron
    May 18, 2008

    Elephants are definitely not the second largest animals on the planet.

  3. #3 Greg
    May 18, 2008

    You are right. I mean to way “the largest land animal” … and somehow that came out.

    Several whales are larger.

  4. #4 laurisa
    May 18, 2008

    ah, largest land animal. correct me if i’m wrong: the largest land CARNIVORE is the Kodiak brown bear. bitches measure 1 meter from one ear to the other. sucks to be a hiker in a hungry bear’s path.

  5. #5 Greg Laden
    May 18, 2008

    Laurisa. Technically, the largest land carnivore is the polar bear because there is this one polar bear that is the largest bear of any living/recent population. However, if you go around and measure a bunch of kodiak bears, you will find that they are big on average, and the average kodiak will be bigger than the average polar.

    Yet, it is also true that all the brown bears (kodiak and griz) as well as polar bears are pretty much the same species if you look only at the DNA phylogeny.

    My view is that polar bears are a different species that has very recently arisen. Possibly in the last few thousand years.

  6. #6 Zach Miller
    May 19, 2008

    Well, the fact that grizzlies and polar bears are known to produce hybrid offspring indicates a very recent divergence.

  7. #7 Greg Laden
    May 19, 2008

    It is my opinion that this divergence was likely observed by humans.

  8. #8 Cameron
    May 20, 2008

    Apparently genetic studies on ursid phylogeny indicated a date of a million to a million and a half years for polar bear/brown bear divergence – but they do recognize that the oldest fossils are 1/10th of this.

    Yu, Li et al. 2004. Phylogeny of the bears (Ursidae) based on nuclear and mitochondrial genes. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution (32), 480�494

    One of the fossils in question is Ursus maritimus tyrannus, discussed here

    I think the early Wurm is about 100 k years ago, before our species got there but long after other hominids. U. m. tyrannus was apparently very large even compared with polar bears and could have been one of the largest mammalian land hypercarnivores known (if not the).

  9. #9 greg laden
    May 20, 2008

    Cameron:

    I personally think, and this is really at this point not too supportable, just call it a hunch, that these estimates may be old by a large margin.

    Polar bears are cicumpolar, but right, when were humans in the subarctic in the old world? (we can include Neanderthals, of course). That is a bit harder to kinow.