Whale skeleton being processed for assembly, display in Tacoma

Jun 28, 2011

The skeleton of a gray whale that died last year in Seattle is taking shape in Tacoma.

Highline Community College marine biologist Rus Higley, staff and volunteers are bleaching and assembling the skeleton for display in later this year. (Photo gallery inside)

Sometime after July 4, the bones will be moved to the Foss Waterway Seaport to be rearticulated into a lifelike configuration. Later this year the skeleton will be hung in a display area at the Marine Science and Technology Center (MaST) in Des Moines, where Higley works as the manager of the center and an instructor.

"The project to hang a whale at the MaST Center started over 3 years ago with a vision by several of the staff and the idea that having a hanging whale would be a huge teaching opportunity for students young and old," Higley explained.

Higley told The News Tribune it's been a long, messy, smelly process.

Getting volunteers to help carve up the quickly decomposing whale was easy, he told the Tribune, even after being warned:

"At the end of the day you're going to throw your clothes away."

He said the smell was pervasive, sticking to hair and skin. It went away only after four or five scrubbings in the shower.

Volunteers cut up the whale and buried the bones in September under horse manure where the flesh would be removed from the bones naturally, turning a 40,000-pound whale into 1,500 pounds of clean and non-smelling bones.

“Although the death of such an amazing animal is always a sad affair, hopefully the benefits of learning about these gigantic animals will far outweigh its loss,” Higley said.