Oregon State seeks $125K to finish preservation of blue whale skeleton

This undated photo supplied by the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department, researchers harvest the carcass of a blue whale that washed up on the beach recently near Gold Beach, Ore. Authorities estimate that the 78-foot long dead blue whale was dead for about two weeks before it washed up onto the sandy beach. (Oregon Parks and Recreation Department via AP)

NEWPORT, Ore. – For the first time since Lewis and Clark first visited the Oregon Coast, a blue whale washed ashore back in November 2015.

The carcass washed ashore near Gold Beach, Oregon.

Since then, the carcass "has been submerged in Yaquina Bay allowing nature to run its course by having scavengers clean the bones," Oregon State University said in a statement.

The goal: Put the bones of the 78-foot blue whale on display outside the Hatfield Marine Science Center campus.

The cost: $125,000, even with volunteer labor.

“The job is a big one and will require specialized equipment along with the chemicals," said Bruce Mate, director of the Marine Mammal Institute at Oregon State University. "Unfortunately, state and federal agencies are not set up to fund this kind of work, but the educational value for the project would be immense. We know we can find volunteers for the labor effort and we’re hoping to secure some private support to get us launched.”

The next step: Treat the skeleton with chemicals to remove oils from the bones.

“It’s critical to get the oil out of the bones to help preserve the skeleton and keep it from becoming rancid,” Mate said. “The chemicals needed are both carcinogenic and flammable, so they have to be handled carefully. They are expensive and need special recycling procedures.”

Mate has done this before, on a smaller scale.

Forty years ago, he supervised a graduate student preservation project of a 30-foot minke whale. That skeleton now hands outside the Guin Library at OSU’s Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport.

“It’s holding up very well,” Mate said.

A blue whale is a much bigger project.

"For starters, blue whales are the largest animals to have ever lived on Earth," Oregon State said in a statement. "A team of nearly 30 volunteers, including OSU undergraduate and graduate students, spent 10 days removing the flesh from the blue whale in 2015 – taking off about 58 tons in the process.

"The bones that remain are immense – a small school bus would fit inside the whale’s mouth."

“We had sections of the vertebrae that two people together could not lift, so we had to use a small front-end loader,” Mate said. “To properly treat the bones, we’ll have to fill large livestock troughs with the chemicals and do it more or less one bone or section at a time.”

For more information on the Blue Whale Articulation project, contact the OSU Marine Mammal Institute at (541) 867-0202.

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