PEI

Blue whale surfacing from P.E.I. beach

A team of researchers from the University of British Columbia have begun the mammoth job of digging up a blue whale buried on a western P.E.I. beach in 1987.

A team of researchers from the University of British Columbia have begun the mammoth job of digging up a blue whale buried on a western P.E.I. beach in 1987.

'It just keeps going and going,' says team leader Andrew Trites as the blue whale is uncovered. ((CBC))

The whale washed ashore at Nail Pond in 1987, and was rediscovered by the researchers last fall. The plan is to display the skeleton in a special case outside a new biodiversity museum in Vancouver.

"It's just an incredible adventure," team leader Andrew Trites told CBC News Thursday.

"Finally we're here and we've started, and even now I'm realizing how big a job it is."

Blue whales are the largest animals that have existed on Earth, larger than any dinosaur or any of the massive reptiles that swam the seas when dinosaurs ruled the land. The Nail Pond whale was a female, 27 metres long.

The exhumation of the huge carcass is being done with great care.

"We want to be careful that we don't miss anything, we don't break bones or lose things," said team member Mike deRoos.

"Everything has to be catalogued as we bring it out of the pits."

Bluish skin is still visible on the tail vertabrae. ((CBC))

The job began with an excavator that dug a large trench alongside the whale, and is continuing with hand shovels. Conditions are far from ideal. With the wet spring the trench bottom has filled with water. Researchers are also dealing with another surprise: even after 20 years, much of the flesh and blubber still clings to the bones.

"We can clearly see these vertebrae from the tail region showing through, and you can also see this very bluish tinged skin," said Trites.

"A lot of the fat and tissue is still there, so it's quite surprising that after 20 years in the ground that so much of the whale is still here."

Although intellectually astonishing, the 80 tonnes or so of flesh creates an incredible stench around the project site. Researchers said the lack of bacteria and oxygen underground helps explain how well the whale has been preserved.

Despite the stink, Trites cannot contain his excitement as the full extent of the animal emerges.

"It's truly remarkable to see something this big," he said.

"When you're here and you look at it and you start seeing it being uncovered you say, 'Gosh it just keeps going and going.'"

Students from UPEI and Holland College joined the dig Friday, which will continue into the weekend.

There are currently only four other blue whale skeletons on display in North America.

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