PEI

'Tremendous addition': Minke whale skeleton to be displayed at AVC

A retired professor at the Atlantic Veterinary College is finally seeing his pet project come to fruition — the display of a full minke whale skeleton in one of the school's main gathering spaces.

Minke whale discovered on P.E.I. in 2010 will be displayed at P.E.I. college

The minke whale skeleton still needs to undergo a final process before it can be hung for display. (Jessica Doria-Brown/CBC )

A retired professor at the Atlantic Veterinary College in Charlottetown is finally seeing one of his favourite projects come to fruition — the display of a full minke whale skeleton in one of the school's main gathering spaces.

"It's just a reflection of what I have done for many years," said Dr. Pierre-Yves Daoust, who retired earlier this year after more than three decades at the college.

"I have always considered it my little project. But it's not for me that this is done — this is for the vet college, this is for our vet students."

The whale was found washed ashore in Goose River, P.E.I., back in June 2010.

At the time, Daoust and his team performed a necropsy and determined the young adult female likely died from exhaustion due to entanglement in fishing gear, as evidenced by a deep cut around the base of its tail.

Dr. Pierre-Yves Daoust led the necropsy on the minke whale back in 2010, and has been advocating for years to have the skeleton displayed. (Jessica Doria-Brown/CBC News )

Minke whales are the most common to wash up on Island shores, and whale carcasses generally end up buried on the beach where they were found. But this time, Daoust lobbied to keep it.

"Because it's one of our more common," Daoust said, "At some point my colleagues and I figured we should try to save all the bones from this animal with the eventual possibility that we will be able to assemble it."

Massive undertaking

After the necropsy, the whale was transported back to the vet college, stored in large plastic containers, and has since undergone a slow cleaning process.  

Each bone of the whale skeleton has been labelled by students at the vet college, who helped put 'all the puzzle pieces together.' (Jessica Doria-Brown/CBC )

"It helps to take a radiograph of some parts," explained Daoust.

"Then we know how many bones are there, we know that we'll not lose any of those bones. This was the case for the tail and the flippers because there are lots of little bones there and we wanted to make sure we retrieved all of them. It took a while to do all that."

There's still work to be done before the whale skeleton can be displayed. The bones must undergo a degreasing process — a delicate procedure because some are quite thin, and exposure to prolonged boiling or strong chemicals could damage them.

Then the skeleton can be assembled and will be hung in the college's McCain Learning Commons — a glassed-in atrium.

It's something Daoust has been asking for for years.

Colossal learning opportunity

"We are a veterinary college, we love comparative anatomy, comparative physiology, comparative pathology, and it's all about that," he said.

The female whale was reportedly in good health when it died in 2010 from apparent entanglement in fishing gear. (Jessica Doria-Brown/CBC)

"It's all about showing 'Yes, we do domestic animals, but we do a variety of wildlife including baleen whales.'

"That's why I think it would be good to have a skeleton like this, to show to our students and say 'Yes we are doing whales and we are interested in doing whales.'"

He hopes the sight of the massive skeleton in such a public place encourages his students to dream big.

"Maybe you came here because you were interested in pet animals, domestic animals or livestock," said Daoust.

"But look what you can do if you work hard enough … you could work with whales, you could work with a variety of wildlife, that is absolutely one of the messages also that we would like to convey to our students."

Hefty funds needed to make it happen

The college has issued an request for proposals to find a company to do the final work of processing the whale for display.

Atlantic Veterinary College Dean Greg Keefe stands in the college's McCain Learning Commons, a glassed-in atrium where the whale skeleton and Indigenous art installation will be displayed. (Jessica Doria-Brown/CBC )

The school estimates that will cost approximately $25,000 and said it is hoping to raise those funds through donation by the end of December.

Dr. Greg Keefe, Dean of the AVC, said the college is looking for Indigenous artists to contribute to a mural that will complement the whale skeleton display.  

"We want to honour our relationship with Indigenous community and their relationship with the marine environment," said Keefe. "We've done a few things to recognize the Indigenous community, and this is just another step in that reconciliation process."

He said any artists with an Indigenous background interested in being a part of the art installation should get in touch with the college by the end of September. He hopes to see both the skeleton and the mural ready for display by early 2019.  

"It's our gathering space at the college, and I think this will be a tremendous addition to that and create a very neat space on campus," said Keefe.

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About the Author

Jessica Doria-Brown

Videojournalist

Jessica Doria-Brown is a videojournalist with CBC in P.E.I. Originally from Toronto, Jessica has worked for CBC in Newfoundland & Labrador, New Brunswick, and Ontario.

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