Nfld. & Labrador

Sperm whale bones dug up out of compost for marine research

Marine researchers and students were busy with a smelly project in Corner Brook Tuesday, digging up sperm whale bones buried in compost for an entire year.

Sperm whale bones

Here and Now

6 years ago
Marine students in Corner Brook were busy digging up sperm whale bones on Tuesday 0:41

Marine researchers and students were busy with a smelly project in Corner Brook Tuesday, digging up sperm whale bones buried in compost for an entire year.

The bones of the sperm whale had washed up on the beach just north of Rocky Harbour.

Dr. Robert Scott, director of the Bonne Bay Marine Station in Norris Point and associate professor at Memorial University's Grenfell campus, organized the project.

The skeleton was buried in the compost heap behind Grenfell's recreation complex last summer.

Scott said burying the bones in manure to get rid of leftover organic matter is a fairly common process, used on both large and small bones.

"Put them in a condition where microbes and insects, larval insects and adult insects, will eat away the flesh from the bone so that we can further process the bones, and a compost pile is a great place for that to happen," he said.

"We're going to get the shovels out, our rubber boots, some gloves and we're going to dig into the compost and move the bones out, clean them up and see what state they're in."

Involved in the dig was a group of Memorial University students enrolled in a two-week intensive field course for marine mammals.

Rebeccah Sandrelli, who is studying marine biology, had the chance to get a close-up look at the bones by pressure washing the compost off of them.

"I didn't expect how large the whale bones are and they actually clean up really nicely, all the whale blubber and the rest of the whale carcass came of really nice in the compost," she said.

"I really didn't know what to expect. It's not every day you get to dig up a pile of whale bones, but there's definitely a lot more bones than I expected and they're huge."

Sandrelli said the chance to work with the whale's skeleton is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, but it does kind of stink.

"It's no worse than a farm," she said.

Teaching tools

Once the bones are cleaned up, they'll be left out in the sun to bleach and dry.

Scott hopes once that process is done they'll be used to teach marine students at schools on Newfoundland's west coast.

"We'll get them cleaned up, get them dried, sort them in to their respective positions in the skeleton, take a picture and then we will find a place to kind of store them so that they can try out and then we'll use them in classrooms," he said.

"This was a small whale, but just to see the sheer size of these bones from a small whale kind of puts the size of these creatures into perspective."


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