Bone Shuffle — New plans for blue whale skeleton

The blue whale bones are seen on the bottom of Yaquina Bay. (Photo courtesy Oregon State University)

NEWPORT — Blue whale bones intentionally sunken in Yaquina Bay will be raised and reassembled for display at the new Marine Studies Building at Hatfield Marine Science Center. But they won’t be inside the building as originally conceived.

Concerns about earthquakes and falling bones prompted Oregon State University officials to shift plans for the skeleton to an outdoor location between the library and the new 72,000-square foot building set for completion next January.

Bruce Mate, director and chair of the OSU Marine Mammal Institute, oversaw the sinking of the bones in 2016 after the 78-foot whale was struck by a ship and drifted on-shore near Gold Beach the November prior. It’s unclear who will orchestrate the recovery and articulation of the skeleton once it has been picked clean on the bottom of the bay.

That’s when the real work begins.

‘You have to cook the bones to get the whale oil out,” said Mark Farley, strategic initiatives and communication manager for Hatfield. “Then you need forklifts, pulleys, cables, lots of volunteers and artistic expertise. Cartilage that disappeared on the bottom of the bay has to be brought back. Then you have to paint it to make it look right.”

Volunteers have cut their teeth reassembling sea lions, and they will be on hand to help out with the cetacean.

“I believe it will be completed within the next year, but details remain to be settled,” said Mate. “We will be using volunteer labor for the cleaning and articulation of the bones under leadership that has not yet been finalized.”

Divers go down periodically to see if the bones, carefully swaddled in netting, are clean enough to be raised to the surface.

“They’re still cooking,” Farley said.

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