PEI

Groups wondering why whale must go

A business group and the P.E.I museum foundation say the provincial government made a mistake when it allowed a beached blue whale to be dug up for display in British Columbia.

A business group and the P.E.I museum foundation say the provincial government made a mistake when it allowed a beached blue whale to be dug up for display in British Columbia.

'I look at it as two different things. Do I look at whale bones or do I look at jobs for citizens of P.E.I.?'— Environment Minister George Webster

The whale washed up on the shore near Tignish in November 1987. It was buried, and a team from the University of British Columbia is now recovering it for display in a new museum in Vancouver.

"I'm just disappointed that such a valuable asset is leaving Prince Edward Island without any compensation to the province," Anne Arsenault, general manager of Tignish Initiatives, a local business development group, told CBC News Tuesday.

Anne Arsenault is surprised the province is letting a valuable asset go for nothing. ((CBC))

Arsenault said she has a letter from the province, sent five years ago, which shows that the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto was interested in the bones and in return for them was willing to provide the province with a replica, at an estimated value of $250,000. But the ROM struggled to raise enough money, and UBC has since taken over the project.

Arsenault wants to know why the province didn't negotiate a similar deal again.

"It would have been really nice to at least have the full scale replica and the interpretation to go with it, so at least the story would have stayed here and we'd still have that claim to fame," she said.

Environment Minister George Webster said he didn't know about the ROM's offer, but whether a replica is provided or not isn't the issue. The problem is the cost of a facility large enough to house it, which Webster said would be about $6 million.

"I look at it as two different things. Do I look at whale bones or do I look at jobs for citizens of P.E.I.?" said Webster, noting he would rather see the money go toward job creation on the Island.

Officials at the P.E.I. Museums and Heritage Foundation are calling the packing off of the blue whale skeleton to British Columbia a significant loss to the Island's natural heritage. They hope future governments will ensure that it won't happen again.

"Clearly we should have something like this as the centrepiece of our telling the story of Prince Edward Island," said Ian Scott, retired executive director of the museum foundation.

"A natural-history mandate has clearly been given to the museum and heritage foundation, 25 years ago."

The team from UBC says their priority is to ensure the bones are preserved for all Canadians, regardless of where they're exhibited.

Jaw bone slows recovery

The larger bones around the skull created some challenges for the team. ((CBC))

Almost all the bones from the whale have been dug up but are still being catalogued and packed for shipping.

Only the bones from around the head remain, including the massive jaw bones, which slowed the researchers down as they tried to figure out how to deal with them.

"This has to be the largest bone that exists on the planet. It was over 20 feet long and weighed about 3,000 pounds. That was just one single bone," said team leader Andrew Trites.

"We had just calculated that it would be several hundred pounds; probably with four guys on it we could have moved it. There's no way that was moving under our power, so we just put some straps around it and the big digger, excavator reached out and strapped on and the machine lifted it and took it over to the grass."

The dig is running about a day behind schedule. The bones should be cleaned, packed and ready to move by Friday.

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