On June 25th, 2014, Glacier Bay National Park celebrated the Grand Opening of "Snow" the largest humpback whale skeleton on public display in the United States. Her massive 3,729 pound skeleton is housed in a beautifully constructed outdoor pavilion just a short walk from the Glacier Bay Lodge. The return of Snow to her permanent home in Bartlett Cove was as much a homecoming as a celebration. The event welcomed many Huna Tlingit families back to their homeland to help dedicate the exhibit and conduct a spirit ceremony that included giving Snow her Tlingit name, "Tsalxaan Tayee Yáay," which translates as "Whale Beneath Mt. Fairweather."
The Grand Opening was a culmination of 13 years of hard work by park staff and volunteers, followed by the expert skills of a professional whale articulation contractor. Dan DenDanto and his crew from Whales and Nails, LLC completed the final cleaning and preparation of bones at their facility in Seal Cove, Maine. Snow's huge skeleton was carefully transported 3,000 miles each way for this work.
The celebration kicked off on Thursday evening, June 24th with a special presentation by Dr. Herb Maschner from the Idaho Virtualization Lab (IVL). In Spring 2013, Snow became the largest specimen ever to be digitally 3D scanned. Her skeleton was added to the Virtual Zooarchaeology of the Arctic Project – a virtual, interactive, osteological reference collection for the study of northern vertebrates.
On Friday afternoon, the park hosted a children's carnival to begin the day's events. Youth of all ages visited with park rangers and SCA volunteers to learn about whales through fun games and activities. With the help of local high school volunteers, the park created twelve hands-on centers for kids to explore. One of the most popular stations was the bone touch table, but it ranked right up there with face painting!
Later in the day, Whale Project Coordinators, Melissa and Kelly, cut the ribbon to signify the official opening of the exhibit and begin the ceremonies. Park staff and partners highlighted years of personal experiences and stories ranging from Snow's discovery to exhibit installation. Guest speakers included Dr. Herb Maschner of IVL and Dan DenDanto of Whales and Nails. Speakers from the Park included: Philip Hooge, Superintendent, Tom VandenBerg, Chief of Interpretation, Janet Neilson and Christine Gabriele, Whale Researchers, Albert Faria, Chief of Law Enforcement, and Steve Schaller, Education Specialist.
The festivities ended with a standing-room only evening presentation by Dan DenDanto. He took the audience on an unimaginable journey through the process and hardships of cleaning a massive, greasy humpback whale skeleton and transforming it into an outdoor world-class exhibit.
Displaying this beautiful, one-of-a-kind skeleton was just one way to turn Snow's tragedy into triumph and provide unparalleled educational opportunities for future generations . We hope that this skeleton will inspire Glacier Bay visitors to learn more about whales and their challenges for decades to come.
This project would not have been possible without the vision and perseverance of park whale biologist, Christine Gabriele, who spent the last 13 years of her career giving this project the continuity and guidance it needed to become a reality. It took the hearts and hands of many park staff and community volunteers to prepare this unique specimen for professional cleaning and articulation.
A big thanks to Dan DenDanto and the Whales and Nails Team for sharing their passion, enthusiasm, and knowledge with park staff, visitors, and the Gustavus community. Snow's skeleton will help tell the story of humpback whales for generations to come.
Last updated: May 18, 2021