Nfld. & Labrador

MUN will need 'whale of a location' to display bones

Memorial University has confirmed it is taking ownership of a blue whale carcass near Rocky Harbour in Gros Morne National Park.
Mark Abrahams, dean of science at Memorial University, says the process has begun to display the bones of a blue whale at its St. John's campus. (CBC)

Memorial University is taking ownership of a blue whale carcass in Rocky Harbour near Gros Morne National Park.

"It's an opportunity that's presented itself," said Mark Abrahams, dean of science at MUN's campus in St. John's. "It's one of the most enigmatic animals in the ocean. It's the largest animal on the face of the earth. Memorial University prides itself on being a leader in marine research and so this is just an opportunity we could not turn down."

The Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) is already working on another blue whale carcass that washed up in Trout River. It's been cut up and transported to Ontario for eventual display.

But the ROM took a pass on the second whale that beached at Rocky Harbour, saying it would be too expensive to take on both.

Enter Memorial University.

It will be a whale of a location. I mean the whale skeleton is 78 feet long by 10 feet wide, so it's not going in your living room.- Mark Abrahams, MUN's dean of science

Abrahams said staff will draw on the ROM's expertise to help prepare the second whale for display at its St. John's campus.

"So, how to deconstruct a whale, how to properly prepare the bones and then reconstruct the whale for display," he said. "You know, I'm a fish biologist, not a whale biologist."

The partnership with ROM was only confirmed this week, so it's early in the process.

The first step will involve removing the whale from Rocky Harbour.

"That's the residents' main interest, and that's our main interest," said Abrahams. "So we have to figure out how do we get a crew there, how do we move the whale to a place where it can be properly deconstructed, and how can we get the smell away from the community of Rocky Harbour as soon as possible.

"We then need to deconstruct it, decide how to transport it, and then how to properly prepare the bones for display."

Too soon to gauge cost

He said it's too early to guess how much it will all cost, or where the whale will end up.

But he hinted MUN's new core science building — tentatively set to open in 2018 — could be the right place for it.

Abrahams said the decision to take ownership of the second whale was a no-brainer.

"Most people are thrilled that it's staying in the province," he said. "I think it's a huge treasure for the island and I think it should appropriately be displayed for the people of the province. Our interest is on the scientific end and primarily for science, but if it attracts more people to the province all the better."

He said wherever the whale ends up, it will have to be a large space.

"It will be a whale of a location. I mean the whale skeleton is 78 feet long by 10 feet wide, so it's not going in your living room."


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