Sitka Whale rearticulation project from FB with vertebrae & rope

Humpback Whale Re-Articulation Project

By UAS, Sitka HIgh, Science Center & Many More

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What does it take to rebuild a whale skeleton?  Scientists, faculty, and students from UAS and Sitka High School – plus numerous community volunteers – took on this project after a one year old humpback whale washed ashore near Sitka in early March 2023.

Re-articulating a whale is a process requiring lots of community collaboration.
Here are the steps undergone so far:
  1. Recruit experts, community partners, and volunteers.
  2. Transport volunteers to the beach site (thanks, Allen Marine + UAS Applied Fisheries!)
  3. Collect the whale bones.
  4. Transport bones to the NSRAA’s Medvejie hatchery.
  5. Hang the bones in net pens to soak for a few months. (Why? So sea critters can help the ocean get flesh off the bones!)
  6. Transport bones to a container van (thanks, AML & K&E!) at UAS to store with equipment and supplies.
  7. Multiple bone cleaning soaks. Over the “Boil-a-Thon” weekends, groups of volunteers, including UAS and high school students, take shifts soaking and boiling the bones, and then scrubbing and cleaning them. This gets oils out from the bones. They need multiple soaks to ensure all of the oil is out so it doesn’t end up dripping out down the road.
  8. Boil the skull and mandible. This step requires a custom steel tank large enough to accommodate these very large bones. Luke Gibes, Assistant Professor of Welding, and his UAS welding class just finished building the tank!

And that’s just the beginning! There will be more “Boil-a-Thon” weekends over the fall months, soaking in ammonia and then hydrogen peroxide to bleach over the winter months, and the re-articulation process starting in the spring.

By Fall 2024, all involved hope to have the re-articulated whale skeleton hanging in the Sitka High School commons!

Interested in volunteering with this cool project? Contact Stacy Golden, (907) 752-0673.

UAS plans to offer dual credit college classes to HS students and potentially community members. Stay tuned for details!

Collaborators include:  Lauren Wild, Asst Professor, UAS Applied Fisheries program & stranding coordinator; Stacy Golden, biology teacher at Sitka High; Alex McCarrel, research coordinator at Sitka Sound Science Center; Dr. Shannon A. DeMaster, UAF College of Fisheries & Ocean Sciences (+ many, many community partners).