• Sunset view of Glacier Bay and the surrounding Fairweather Mountains.

    Glacier Bay

    National Park & Preserve Alaska

Cleaning Whale 68's Bones

December 18, 2012 Posted by: K. VandenBerg

The arduous task of removing the remaining stubborn oils from Whale 68's bones has begun.  Beginning with the smaller flipper bones, caudal vertebrae, and massive mandibles, the oiliest bones are being tackled first.

How do you clean oily humpback whale bones?  According to Dan DenDanto and the 'Whales and Nails' team, you first use a pre-soak pressure wash and boil the heck out of them! Well, not exactly because this would compromise the bone making it very weak.  A lower temperature, sustained over a short period of time is much better.  "Before the bones enter the wash tanks, an attempt is made to remove as much of the surface grease as possible in order to prevent the wash water from becoming prematurely saturated with oil.  The steam pressure washer utilizes super-heated water and detergent at variable pressures up to 2000 psi." Each of the bones receive this treatment between each hot water simmer.  "Some of the bones will be simmered and washed this way four or five times." It is important to change the wash water when it becomes oily.  As Dan states, "My grandmother always used to tell me you can't clean things with dirty wash water!"

Whale 68's massive skull will need the same treatment, but is a great deal more challenging than some of the smaller bones.  Dan had to build a rack that could be used not only store the skull, but also move it around.  Weighing almost 800 lbs., it is not easy to maneuver.  In order to accommodate the skull, Dan made modifications to a trailer that had previously been used for a 50 ft. sperm whale.  "In particular, it was necessary to fabricate armatures which would support the asymmetric weight of the skull as much of the right side is damaged, or fragile, due to the trauma of the ship strike. " The trailer Dan modified serves several functions.  It provides a storage base for the skull and becomes a dolly to move the skull around the shop and to/from the boiling tanks.  Dan also had to fabricate a dolly for the enormous lower jaws - each one weighing 260 lbs!  Not only is Dan an expert in every aspect of whale articulation, he's also quite the welder, carpenter and engineer!  

Stay tuned for updates as the 'Whales and Nails' team continues to clean and repair the skeleton over the next few months. 

cleaning bones from Whale 68


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