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Graphic: How to turn a dead whale into a museum display

It will take several years to get the blue whale currently being worked on at Woody Point, N.L., from the beach to a museum display.

The whale is 23 metres long and weighs as much as 100 tonnes.

Read Ingrid Peritz report on the tough, awe-inspiring and stinky operation.

Getting ready for transport

The first step is to cut to the bone, which means removing the whale’s skin, blubber (through a process called flensing), guts and muscle. At the same time, the team is collecting tissue samples to be sent to researchers around the world.

The team will take the skeleton apart, pack the bones in plastic and put them in a tractor-trailer to be transported.

This first step will be mostly finished on Tuesday.

Transporting – and burying

The whale’s skeleton will be driven to Ontario in two tractor-trailers – one for the head, the second for the rest of the skeleton.

Once it arrives, the second phase will begin. The bones will be packed in soil and manure for a year to help compost any remaining flesh.

Ready for display

After the year is up, the bones are then stripped of their oil. Mark Engstrom, who is in charge of the project, says scientists will likely drain the bones by soaking them in water until the oil rises to the surface, a process can take up to two years.

There is is no guarantee that there will be money available to complete this step, which Mr. Engstrom says is very expensive.

But Mr. Engstrom said he believes it’s worth spending “tens of thousands of dollars” to maintain a record of a historically significant species on the verge of extinction.

“There are very few of them in collections because they’re so large, yet they’re a very important part of the Canadian fauna and they’re all very highly endangered,” he told The Canadian Press. “So if someone doesn’t go about doing this kind of work now, it may not be possible to do it in the future.”

Feeding pattern of a tagged blue whale

Graphics by Carrie Cockburn and Murat Yukselir / The Globe and Mail
Sources: Staff, The Canadian Press, National Geographic, Graphics News

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