New UBC facility will house blue whale skeleton



An architect’s rendering of the under-construction Beatty Biodiversity Museum at the University of B.C. The glass atrium will house a blue whale’s skeleton that stretches longer than two city buses.

The skeletal remains of a blue whale — the largest species to have ever lived — will be installed next year in a new museum at the University of B.C.

The 25-metre blue whale beached, died and was buried in P.E.I. more than two decades ago.

The skeleton, which is longer than two city buses, will be ensconced in a specially designed glass atrium that has been nicknamed "the lantern," said Wayne Maddison, director of the university’s new Beatty Biodiversity Museum.

But before the skeleton can be put on display, it must first be exhumed.

"We were kind of wondering: If you put something in the back of your fridge 20 years ago, what would it look like if you went back and had a peek?" said Andrew Trites, director of UBC’s Marine Mammal Unit, who led a preliminary dig in December.

"I thought we’d find very pristine bones, but as we started scrapping back the layers of dirt, what we found was a very, very blue-skinned animal. It was completely covered, still in skin and blubber."

Under the flesh the bones were clean like "spare ribs," Trites said, but the smell of rotten flesh was stomach churning.

"Our biggest challenge will be trying to keep our breakfasts down," Trites said.

The display, which will be one of only five in North America and roughly a dozen in the world, will open in 2009. The museum will house more than two million animal and plant specimens.

blue whale facts

  • Whaling pushed blue whales to the brink of extinction. Off Vancouver Island, whalers took 9,500 blue whales in 55 years.

  • Last summer, five blue whales were spotted off the Queen Charlotte Islands. Trait said, "It is the first good news we’ve had in the last couple of decades."

Latest From ...