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Canadian scientists dig up whale carcass

Sun., May 18, 2008, midnight

TIGNISH, Prince Edward Island – The bones of a massive blue whale that died 20 years ago off Canada’s Prince Edward Island are being laid bare in a unique project to preserve one of the largest creatures ever to live on Earth.

Scientists and a small army of diggers began the grim work Saturday of pulling apart the remains of an 89-foot-long female blue whale in preparation for transport to a new museum in British Columbia where she will be the star attraction.

Although the whale was a queen of the seas during her lifetime, she is now a large jigsaw puzzle as her bones are dissected and numbered for restoration once they arrive in B.C.

The atmosphere at the dig site near Tignish in western Prince Edward island is tinged with excitement and with the nauseating odor of rotting flesh.

Project leader Andrew Trites, of the University of British Columbia, said no one predicted so much of the whale would remain after two decades of burial, and it is making the task of separating the bones more difficult and much smellier.

“Most of the whale is now unburied and we’re removing it bone by bone, starting from the tail end,” Trites said.

The whales were abundant in nearly all oceans until the beginning of the 20th century. They were hunted almost to extinction by whalers until protected by the international community in 1966.

It’s believed there are no more than 12,000 blue whales worldwide and Trites says they are extremely endangered.

The last section of the whale to be removed will be the head, and Pierre-Yves Daoust, a professor of wildlife pathology at the Atlantic Veterinary College in Charlottetown said that will be a major challenge.

“In contrast to other portions of the skeleton, where you can separate bones from each other and they end up being manageable, the head is one big piece,” he said.

“It will be difficult to handle without damaging it.”

The skeleton will be the centerpiece of the Beaty Biodiversity Museum, currently under construction at the University of British Columbia.


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