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The bones of the whale have been prepared. Jared Archibald along with other museum staff are now ready to assemble and hang the skeleton for public display.

Watch a video of the prepared sperm whale bones behind the scenes of the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory.
REAL VIDEO    56k   200k
Photo: Chris Johnson.

October 26, 2001
Preparing a Sperm Whale Skeleton for Display
  Real Audio
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Log Transcript

Genevieve Johnson

The other day we spoke with Jared Archibald, taxidermist and preparator at the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory, about the adult male sperm whale that stranded on a Darwin city beach seven years ago. Attempts were made to save the whale but it died soon after stranding. Once the whale had been flensed, meaning the majority of the flesh had been removed, the remains were handed over to the museum at which point they were buried for 18 months. In order to assist with public education about marine mammals and in particular, large cetacean species, the museum has spent the last few years preparing the skeleton for public display. Jared explains the process.

Jared Archibald - Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory

Squid have often been accused of causing the circular scars on the noses of sperm whales. In the case of the giant squid, perhaps it is in an attempt to eat the whale or, more likely, in the struggle not to be eaten.
Photo: Chris Johnson - Courtesy of the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory.

It was buried for 18 months in an old refuse tip in mulch. That was to get rid of the rest of the meat that was left on there and the oils and so forth. Sperm Whales have a lot of oils in their bones and we don't have the equipment here to remove that. We don't know how it happened but the microbes that live in the mulch actually removed all of that for us. It was quite lucky that it happened. The tannins within that mulch actually stained the bones a very brown color. We then had to fix that up. It was excavated by hand and with a backhoe. The bones were that brittle, that a lot of the bones were broken. So I spent a lot of time once it was removed, I steam cleaned them and they were stored for about 5 years until the time when the money was put aside to actually work on them. All the broken parts are put together with dowels so they all went back together. Each bone is very porous and very brittle so they were consolidated with fiberglass resin. That white color is a topcoat of fiberglass gel which gives it the actual color the bone looks when it is bleached. We spent a lot of time finding out about how the skull goes together. Basically it is just a lot of the time. The ribs, we consolidated all of those. Then one of those snapped in half for no reason so they now all have steel re-inforcing down each one. So when it hangs above people we know nothing can fall off and hit anyone on the head. It is a very important part of the job.

Teeth, to keep the real teeth aside, they were molded in a dental alginate and then made out of plaster. So they are exact replicas. We could put replicas there so we could have the teeth in our collection for scientific purposes, core sampling and so forth.

The enormous tooth of a sperm whale. One of 18 to 25 pairs that fit into sockets in the upper jaw and are present in the lower jaw only.
Photo: Chris Johnson - Courtesy of the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory

Everyone knows that whales get big, but (you will) actually see one (hanging) above you and how big it can be - the skull and so forth. So it will be used from an educational point of view, a natural history point of view and they are hoping to use it in the Maritime Gallery. So we try to use whatever we can. Whatever way is most valuable and most educational for people.

Making sure that it can hang above people. We want it to hang above people, so they can look up and see how big it is. Being able to make sure that all the bones are safe, that nothing can fall off of those, we also have engineers that will tell us what sort of cables we use, what sort of armature we can use. That side of it is interesting. Basically is has just been very tedious...Very Tedious... There are a lot of bones and you do the same job on every single one.

It has taken a long time but it is now at the point on where it can be hung.

Genevieve Johnson:

As part of the preparation process, the stomach contents of the whale were removed and examined, revealing several squid beaks, the remains of the animal's last meal. Also on display will be pieces of skin removed from the nose of the whale which are covered in circular sucker marks, possibly made by squid in a last ditch effort to avoid being eaten by the whale.

This is Genevieve Johnson speaking to you from Darwin, Australia.

Log by Genevieve Johnson

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