Prof and mother nature bring whale skeleton to students
Rotting whale carcass now sitting in Grenfell compost heap, skeleton to be used as teaching resource
The skeleton of one of the many dead whales that washed across Newfoundland's shores this year will be used to help current and future students at Memorial University.
Robert Scott, a marine biologist at Memorial's Grenfell Campus, was instrumental in ensuring the carcass of a sperm whale made it from a beach north of Rocky Harbour to Grenfell's compost pile.
Scott is waiting for the mammal's skeleton to be fully exposed.
"As a fish biologist, I usually sit and wait for fish, not for whales," Scott told the CBC's Fisheries Broadcast.
"To go out and salvage a skeleton from a beach and to go through the whole process of taking the flesh off at the beach and then further defleshing [the mammal] at the compost pile at Grenfell — it's a great experience."
Scott was approached by a Parks Canada biologist earlier in the year about the rotting whale that had washed ashore north of Rocky Harbour, and was asked if he was interested in doing something with it.
"Interested? At the time I didn't have a direct answer, but [I indicated] that I would think about it," said Scott.
Over the next few weeks, Scott, along with his partner and their children, would take walks to the beach where the Sperm whale lay rotting. "Mother nature was doing her thing," he said.
Worried about people stealing bones
"I was starting to get a little concerned that parts of the skeleton would start to leave the shoreline with people," said Scott.
From there, Scott collaborated with Parks Canada staff to have the whale sectioned and transplanted to Grenfell's compost pile, where it sits today.
Scott estimates it will take between one and three years for the skeleton to be totally revealed through natural decomposition.
While he is still researching as to how to de-grease the bones once they are fully revealed, Scott said he has come across a few options, including using laundry detergent or boiling them.
When they are ready, Scott said the skeleton and its bones will be used as part of a marine mammals course at the Bonne Bay Marine Station. They will also be integrated into anatomy curriculum at Grenfell.
"It's easy to bring a cat skeleton in to see a cat skeleton, but skeletal structures have diversified based on the types of habitats that they're in," Scott said.
To go out and salvage a skeleton from a beach and to go through the whole process of taking the flesh off at the beach and then further defleshing [the mammal] at the compost pile at Grenfell — it's a great experience.' - Robert Scott
"A marine mammal is out in a marine environment. A cat is on a terrestrial environment. So it is a great opportunity to have some of these skeletal structures that have diversified in whales from that of a typical terrestrial vertebrate skeleton," he said.
Scott said it's been an educational experience for all involved.
"It is something that none of us have ever done — and probably will never get to do again, though you never know," he said.
Scott said he has learned at least one thing so far: "That whale bones are big."