Museum and university conclude blue whale retrieval agreement

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It may be only a formality, but Memorial University and the Royal Ontario Museum have concluded an agreement to retrieve and treat the skeleton of the blue whale in Rocky Harbour.

Work to flense the mammoth carcass has already begun after the beached whale was towed from its original location near the town’s fish plant to a slipway near the town’s wharf earlier this week.

The process of removing the flesh and blubber and to pack up the dissected bones is expected to take five days.

In announcing the agreement for the project has been finalized, a press release issued Thursday indicated the agreement is to leverage the museum’s leadership and expertise in recovering and treating whales, while providing scientific opportunities for the university’s faculty and students to study the world’s largest mammal. The museum and the university will share the scientific information gleaned from the carcass to help enhance the knowledge base of the endangered species.

The skeleton will be shipped to Ontario for further treatment, as was the case with another blue whale skeleton the museum has already retrieved from the opposite shore of Bonne Bay.

The cost of salvaging the whale and transporting it to Ontario will be covered by Memorial University through external sources, stated the press release.

Costs include treatment of the bones — cleaning, oil removal, bone strengthening and reassembly — as well as additional costs to return the skeleton to Newfoundland and Labrador to eventually display it.

Mark Abrahams, dean of science at Memorial, said it could be five years before the skeleton is ready for display.

In the intervening years, the university said it will engage and consult the community about how and where the blue whale could be displayed.

Abrahams, noting Memorial itself doesn’t have the expertise to recover and treat the whale, said there are many possibilities for Memorial students to take advantage of this special opportunity.

“We can possibly send students to be involved in the various stages of preparing the skeleton,” he said in the press release.

“We can take samples from the whale now for soft tissue analysis. The skeleton will remain a research resource for many generations.”

As with the whale flensed in Woody Point earlier in May, the processing of the whale in Rocky Harbour is being led by Mark Engstrom, the Royal Ontario Museum’s deputy director of collections and research.

Engstrom will be sharing his experiences and the latest news on the whale recovery at a special event at the museum on June 10. Details on that event are available at www.rom.on.ca .

Organizations: Royal Ontario Museum

Geographic location: Ontario, Newfoundland and Labrador, Woody Point

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