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Blue Whale Skeleton Clean-Up at Vancouver Museum

Nov 30, 2015 03:01 PM EST
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Big Blue, a blue whale skeleton at Vancouver's Beaty Biodiversity Museum
The blue whale skeleton at the University of British Columbia's biodiversity museum has a long history, found in 1987 on Prince Edward Island in eastern Canada, then recovered in 2007. Recently it needed to be spruced up.
(Photo : Beaty Biodiversity Museum)

Maybe you've seen the awe-inspiring hulk of a whale skeleton suspended in a museum. Did it look a little dusty? The Beaty Biodiversity Museum at the University of British Columbia (UBC), in Vancouver, Canada, recently needed to give theirs a cleaning. 

That is, not long ago, the 82-foot blue whale skeleton at UBC underwent its first cleaning and maintenance since it was put on display in 2010, according to a release.

Chris Stinson, the museum's curatorial assistant of mammals, reptiles and amphibians, and two "master skeleton articulators," Mike deRoos and Michi Main, used a hydraulic lift to vacuum and remove dust and spider webs. They also looked for cracks and made any necessary repairs, and refreshed paint on a few replica bones that are within the full skeleton. Then they scheduled ongoing maintenance, said the release.

The whale at UBC is the largest suspended and internally supported skeleton in the world. This means that while the skeleton was first being prepared for display, DeRoos and Main drilled and cut holes in bones for inserting metal structural pieces, then used cables to suspend the whale. Each of the cables was able to support the skeleton's entire weight, the release confirmed.

Here's the story behind this blue whale skeleton: Its owner, a female whale, landed on Prince Edward Island's northwest coast in 1987. In 2007, UBC acquired rights to uncover the skeleton. Even though it had been buried for 20 years, the 150-ton carcass had barely decayed. Technicians needed to repair the bones and clean them, get them ready to be suspended, and make replicas of any damaged or missing bones. This work was recorded in the 2011 Discovery Channel documentary, Raising Big Blue.

London's Natural History Museum will have a blue whale skeleton strategically placed in its main hall beginning in the Summer 2017. 

Other museums that have whale skeletons as teaching tools include: 

The Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History

the New Bedford (Mass.) Whaling Museum, which notes on its website that it did not whale the animals on display 

University of Cambridge's University Museum of Zoology also has a finback whale skeleton 

Other recent whale stories:

Blue Whale: 'Knife Edge' Balance of Energy-Gathering and Breathing, Says Study

Blue Whale and Endangered: Rare Whale Seen Off Maine

For more great nature science stories and general news, please visit our sister site, Headlines and Global News (HNGN).

-Follow Catherine on Twitter @TreesWhales

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