This week has been an interesting one for animalia and the Arbogast family.
Brian achieved 15 minutes of fame, since a dead 70-foot fin whale washed up on shore about 30 miles north of campus. This is the second largest species of whale in the world, after blue whales, and is relatively rare in our waters. In the HSU vertebrate museum, which Brian curates, they only have one fin whale skull from a juvenile. This was a prefect chance for them to salvage the skull of a full grown adult for the collection.
This is easier said than done. A group of 5-6 people worked on the animal for about 4 days to detach it’s skull from the body and move it up the beach to where it could be buried. It will remain underground for about 2 years, allowing bacteria to do their job and remove all the meat from the bone. Then they will dig it up, clean it, and find a place to store it.
This sounds like a pretty easy task, but it’s all about perspective. This photo may shed some light on just how big of an animal we are talking about here. They needed to use modified chain saw blades to cut through the connective tissue, and the blades had to be sharpened about every 5 minutes, due to the sand covering everything. Then, they had to use a huge piece of construction equipment to move just half of the lower jaw up the beach. But the biggest thing of all was the smell— I won’t go into to much detail here, just try imagine 70 feet of rotting blubber that has been on the beach for a week and dead for several weeks before it washed up. I made Brian take two showers when he got home from dealing with it.
Here are a couple of local newspaper stories that have some more info: Fin whale washes up on local beach, which features a photo taken by Brian of the whale just after it washed up, and The tale of a whale. Brian is going to be on the news tonight, too.
My adventure was much smaller in scale. Yesterday, while Brian was literally up to his elbows in whale, I came home early from work to meet the plumber who was kind enough to unplug our kitchen sink for us.
I was driving home in the middle of the day, and there were thousands of wooly bear catepillars crossing the road. It was quite a sight, and made me profoundly sad. I had no choice but to run over hundreds of cute little fuzzy guys. Well, I guess I had a choice, but it was either kill my self swerving all over Old Arcata Road to miss them, or stay on a straight course. I bet that out of the thousands that were crossing the road, all in the same direction, only a handful of them actually made it all the way to the other side. They are just too slow and the road is too busy.
Which makes me think, what kind of ancient, humble ritual are we ruining for these fuzzballs with our gas guzzling contraptions of steel? And how can it possibly be worth it to us?