Nature/Wildlife, Photo Series, Photography

The Blue Whale Story


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In March 2014, several whales drowned in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Two of the blue whales washed ashore in Newfoundland, Canada. Although the cause of death is still not 100% certain, this death is significant. The blue whale is an endangered species, with only approximately 20,000 individuals remaining worldwide.

The Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) stepped up to salvage the two whales that washed ashore, and turn their tragic death into an opportunity for science and education. After ROM scientists had an opportunity to obtain samples and collect data, the whales were taken apart and shipped to Research Casting International (RCI) in Trenton, Ontario, where the bones would be cleaned and prepared for display at the ROM. In Trenton, the whales were buried in compost and stored in trailers for two years, to help degrade all living tissue.

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In June 2016, I had the amazing opportunity to be a part of a team from the ROM that travelled to Trenton for a week and documented the process of removing and cleaning the bones from the trailers, and preparing them for display.

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Research Casting International, in Trenton, Ontario, was situated right by the lake. Every day we had this gorgeous view to look forward to!
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Blue whale bones inside a trailer of compost. This trailer was filled with compost and additional bones, all the way to the top! The two giant bones you see here are the jaw bones.
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A close up of the baleen. The baleen is found inside the mouth of the whale, and used for filtering out food from the water during feeding.
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Compost and bones being removed from the trailers.
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Freshly dug bones and baleen laid out by the trailers, waiting to be taken inside RCI.
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All the compost was sifted before being discarded to ensure that no small bone fragments were lost.
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Two vertebrae being taken inside RCI.
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The bones were cleaned by hand first, before power washing.
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A vertebra being weighed and measured.
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Vertebrae and other bone fragments being lined up and organized inside RCI.
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A wasp nest was found on one of the bones. If you look closely, you can still see the eggs inside!
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The ribs of the blue whale, with a meter stick for size comparison.
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Blue whale bones laid out in order, to help create the skeletal structure of the whale.
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We found a turtle outside of RCI, right on the path of the forklifts. We decided to move him/her to a patch of grass near lake so he wouldn’t be hurt.
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Turtle butt!

The blue whale is now on display at the Royal Ontario Museum, and it is truly an amazing experience! The exhibit takes you through the entire journey, beginning to end, and you even get to learn about the history and evolution of whales in general! Find out more here: https://www.rom.on.ca/en/blue-whale.

In my opinion, the most important takeaway from this entire experience was the fact that we now, for the first time ever, have the complete genome of the Blue Whale and are able to start understanding it’s genetic makeup. This, with all the other data that the scientists were able to obtain, will result in much needed scientific research allowing us to be more knowledgable on how to protect and conserve these beautiful creatures.

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A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to visit the ROM and check out the exhibit, and I was taken back by how large the whale was! Even though I physically held these bones and assisted in cleaning them, and was able to see and experience the size of this gentle giant first hand, viewing the final display put together was still such a speechless moment. I am forever grateful to have been apart of such an amazing, and important, moment for both the ROM and science.

 

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