Sound to Sea's Great Whale Puzzle
The Sound to Sea Environmental Education Program will preserve a dwarf sperm whale skeleton for school children to get an up close look at this majestic creature for years to come.
On March 15, 2014, a dwarf sperm whale (Kogia sima) washed up dead on the beach in front of Trinity Center. The Marine Mammal Stranding Network responded to the stranding with the help of guests and staff of Trinity Center. Staff and volunteers from Sound to Sea, NC Maritime Museum, NCSU Center for Marine Sciences and Technology, NC Division of Marine Fisheries, Carteret Community College, and UNC Wilmington collaborated on the necropsy of the whale.
Experts from the Marine Mammal Stranding Network recognized this whale as a rare specimen in good condition. They worked with Sound to Sea to carefully bury the post-necropsy carcass in a sandy grave to let it decompose. The whale will stay buried for two years as the first step in preparing the bones to eventually be rearticulated for a display. This winter we plan to exhume the bones and are now seeking financial support to continue the process.
This project will take a lot of work and time. We are lucky enough to have the expertise of Keith Rittmaster of the NC Maritime Museum to help guide us through this complicated project. While we prepare for the fun ahead, we are gathering funds and materials that we will need.
Procedure for Re-Articulating the Whale Bones
Digging up the whale- Exhuming the skeleton will take 4-5 hours since we will need to carefully document, label, and photograph all the bones and teeth. Imagine losing track of what order the vertebrae are in! We will build frames to hold the bones in the correct order as we work with them.
Burial of the Dwarf Sperm Whale March 2014
Example of how bones are stored on racks to keep them in the right place
Soaking the bones- The bones are soaked for several weeks to months in a solution of ammonia and Dawn dish soap and then in a hydrogen peroxide solution to degrease them as well as remove any remaining flesh and bacteria. If the bones need further degreasing, we will have it done in the NCSU vet school's trichloroethylene vapor degreaser.
Soaking whale bones of a full sized Sperm Whale (photo: Keith Rittmaster)
Dry the bones- The bones will sit in the sun for a few weeks to a few months to make sure that they are completely dry. The bones will be inside a cage as they dry so they are not damaged and so animals do not get into them.
Drying Box with sea turtles bones (photo: Keith Rittmaster)
Bone repairs – Broken bones will be repaired using steel pins and casting resin. Fragile bones will be strengthened with casting resin.
Paint the bones- We will paint the bones with 2 coats of diluted bookbinders glue to strengthen them and prevent them from deteriorating over time.
Bookbinders glue gets painted onto a full size sperm whale skeleton (photo: Keith Rittmaster)
Assemble the skeleton- The skeleton will be rearticulated and mounted onto a portable frame. The vertebrae will have holes drilled through them so that they can be put on a steel rod with foam between each representing the intervertebral discs. The bones will be temporarily glued in place and then permanently attached with resin or hardware once we know that they are in the right place. The bones of the flippers will be mounted on Plexiglas to make them sturdier and show the size and shape of the flipper.
Portable Dolphin Skeleton Display Example
The ribs are attached to the vertebrae with resin.
The vertebral column is mounted on a steel rod and can be separated into several pieces for transport.
Foam sits between each vertebra, representing the intervertebral discs.
The bones of the flipper are mounted onto Plexiglas to help with durability.
After we excavated the bones, we carefully cleaned as much dirt off of them as possible. Then the bones were soaked for 3 weeks in a solution of Dawn dish soap, ammonia, and water. We did this twice, washing the loosened dirt and flesh off between soaks.
The bones then had to dry thoroughly. We sat them in the sun in a cage for a few weeks until they were completely dry.
The next step was to soak the bones in a hydrogen peroxide solution to finish cleaning and whitening them. Now we have begun the process of weighing and labeling all the bones. We laid out the bones in order and tried to figure out which sides were up, down, front, and back.
We are so excited about what we've accomplished so far and can't wait to share our next step with you!
Now the fun really begins!
Contact us for more details!
I like "Gulliver" for the whale's name. I enjoy the irony of a giant dwarf.