NEWPORT, Ore. – The skeleton of a rare 70-foot blue whale that washed up on the Oregon coast several years ago will journey to Alberta, Canada later this week so a team of preservation and restoration specialists can prepare it for public display at Oregon State University’s Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport.
Oregon State’s Marine Mammal Institute has contracted with Alberta, Canada-based Dinosaur Valley Studios to complete the cleaning and preservation of the bones and build a permanent display for them.
“The skeleton of this whale presents an extraordinary educational opportunity for students and researchers and an awe-inspiring experience for all visitors to the Oregon Coast,” said Lisa T. Ballance, director of the Marine Mammal Institute, which is part of OSU’s College of Agricultural Sciences. “We are thrilled to begin this next phase of the preservation and display process.”
The Marine Mammal Institute’s effort to preserve the whale skeleton began in 2015, when the carcass washed ashore near Gold Beach, Oregon. The event was so rare in Oregon that the last known beached blue whale was more than 200 years ago.
Researchers from the Marine Mammal Institute saw the carcass as an opportunity for study and education. After examining and dismantling the carcass, researchers bundled the remains of the skeleton in huge nets and submerged them in Yaquina Bay, where seawater and marine invertebrates cleaned the bones.
The skeleton was in the water for more than three years before being removed in November 2019. The original plan to clean and restore the skeleton was delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic but work is now resuming.
Representatives from Dinosaur Valley Studios, which specializes in skeletal reconstruction of very large animals, have been in Newport this week preparing the bones for transport to their studio in East Coulee, where they will complete the restoration.
The project is expected to take several months or more, depending on how much additional cleaning is needed, said Frank Hadfield, president of Dinosaur Valley Studios. Any remaining connective tissue, marine debris and oil will be removed and the bones will be disinfected.
The team will preserve the bones and build a steel display structure to hold the articulated skeleton. The design uses an external cradle system and requires no drilling, leaving the bones intact and available for study by researchers, Hadfield said.
One of the project’s challenges is the animal’s sheer size: a blue whale skeleton contains 365 bones ranging in size from tiny to enormous. For example, the mandibles, or jaw bones, are 18 feet long. Some of the phalanges, which are fingers from the flipper, are just a couple of inches long.
Hadfield and his team have preserved other whale skeletons and the 24-foot skull of a blue whale, but this will be the group’s first complete blue whale skeleton. Dinosaur Valley got its start, and its name, through its work rebuilding dinosaurs. The company is located adjacent to Drumheller, Alberta, which is known for its extensive deposits of dinosaur bones.
“This is the largest project we’ve ever done,” Hadfield said this week. “The good news is the integrity of these bones is beautiful – they are in really great condition. Most of the residual oils have already been purged, which will make our job easier.”
The project has received enthusiastic support from the public since the idea was first introduced, Ballance said. The institute has raised $250,000 for the project and is seeking an additional $150,000 in donations to complete the restoration and display. For more information on the campaign, “Help us build a whale,” visit: beav.es/bones.
“We are deeply grateful for the public’s support of this project,” Ballance said. “It is an unforgettable experience to engage with a blue whale and this display will make that possible for so many.”
About the OSU College of Agricultural Sciences: Through its world-class research on agriculture and food systems, natural resource management, rural economic development and human health, the College provides solutions to Oregon’s most pressing challenges and contributes to a sustainable environment and a prosperous future for Oregonians.