Master Skeleton Articulator: How cool would that be on a business card?

I've just had a piece published in the Walrus, and it's also available to read at their website. Basically, the piece is about how this 85ft Blue Whale skeleton was discovered and prepped for a new museum at the University of British Columbia.

It was really quite amazing to chat with Mike deRoos, the aforementioned Master Skeleton Articulator, and it's worth mentioning that he was not the one who came up with the job title. He was as humble and nice as humble and nice can be.

Anyway, whilst finding out stuff for the piece, I had a chance to take a few photos, which you can see below. It was awesome to see these bones, but it must be something else to see the whale itself in the wild.

Anyway, the article starts with a recipe:

7,000 L tap water
60 Balaenoptera musculus bones
100 L lipase solution
300 L bacillus spore mixture
40 L biochem accelerator

In a large container, combine water, bones, and lipase. Heat to 50°C with continuous mixing for one week, or until oil floating to the top becomes less evident. Cool the mixture to 37°C, and add bacillus and accelerator. Stew at 37°C for several months.

One might assume the above to be a peculiar soup recipe, and for an extremely large party at that. But it is actually a formula for a most unusual science experiment happening in a warehouse on the pier in Victoria, British Columbia. Balaenoptera musculus is the Latin name for the blue whale, the largest animal ever to have existed on the planet. One specimen's bones can be found in the warehouse -- an array of massive vertebrae, mandibles, ribs, and flipper bones carefully arranged on the floor, with hundreds of smaller fragments placed on crowded racks nearby. There is also an unpleasant smell in the air.

The experiment is an attempt to degrease these giant bones, so that an entire blue whale skeleton can be reassembled without fear of it becoming rancid and discoloured over time. This, apparently, is not easy to do. Marine mammal physiology is such that whale skeletons are saturated with oil, making them buoyant and useful as an energy storage unit, but also prone to decomposition. It also doesn't help that some of these oily bones are almost as heavy as a small car.

To read the rest, click here.

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Is anyone else besides me pants-peeingly excited about this? Should be awesome!

I have a connection to this whale project: I gave them permission to use one of my pictures, and blogged about it, and it ended up becoming the most popular post at a blog I contribute to.

That whale degreasing step is no joke. The whale mounted at the Long Marine Lab in Santa Cruz (click above link for pic) was not thoroughly degreased, just hit with half a dozen coats of weatherproof paint. Now the paint is cracking, fat is dripping out of the mandibles, and grass is growing out of the skull.

But it still rocks.

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