If you want to feel small.... (306/365)

November 2, 2015 – ….just stand nose to nose with a blue whale skeleton.

I found the time this afternoon to take a trip out to UBC to sit in on a seminar on fish physiology in relation to environmental change. It was a fascinating look at how the shifts in environmental temperature can affect different stocks of the same species of salmon simply because those different stocks have different aerobic scope based on physiological adaptation. Not all sockeye are created equal.

And it’s always nice to have a chance to come back to my Alma Mater for a visit na d a chance to catch up with some colleagues.

And of course, it’s always cool to stand nose to nose with a monster of a whale skeleton.

When the museum was built the huge atrium wasn’t going to be done any justice by a few seal and small whale skeletons. Someone thought a blue whale would be fantastic, but where does one come up with a blue whale skeleton on order?

It turns out that there was one under the beach at Tignish, Prince Edward Island, where it was buried in 1987 after it beached after presumably being struck by a ship. In 2007 the government of Prince Edward Island and the Museum of Nature decided to allow UBC to uncover and transport the skeleton to be displayed at the Beaty Biodiversity Museum.

When they dug up the 25 metre female whale, it turned out that the flesh had not decomposed as presumed, and the excavators had to carve the flesh from the skeleton before it could be shipped by rail to Victoria, where it underwent an extended period of degreasing to remove the rancid oil in the bones. A section of the cranium, where the whale was struck, was reconstructed, and one fin had to be located. It was later found in a farmers barn and when the whale is viewed one can see the difference in the bone colour between the two fins – one was exposed to oxygen for 30 years while the other was entombed in sand.

The sections of the whale were then hoisted into place and steel cables were installed from custom fabricated attachment points in the skeleton to pre-installed u-bolts in the ceiling.

The skeleton, housed in the museum’s glass atrium, is Canada’s largest blue whale skeleton, the “largest skeleton exhibit in the world suspended without external framework for support”, and one of only 21 blue whale skeletons on public display worldwide.

But there is much more to see at the museum than just the whale.

Since I got to the lecture early it was interesting to wander the aisles of preserved biological organisms, and really cool to see many of those jars of fish that I remember being in a dusty basement of the Zoology building not that long ago.

“The Fish Collection holds over 800,000 specimens, including whole fish stored in alcohol, skeletons, cleared and stained fish, and fish X-rays. It also has 5,000 DNA samples. It is the third largest fish collection in Canada, with particular strengths in freshwater and nearshore marine species. Locations covered include Canada, the Aleutians, the Malay Archipelago, Mexico, the Galapagos Islands, Panama, and the Amazon River Basin. The collection has been used in conservation efforts, environmental assessments, and numerous research projects, particularly by the Native Fishes Research Group. It has also served as an educational resource in training some of Canada’s leading fish biologists. Over 2,300 species from the Fish Collection are included in FishBase, a global fish relational database supported by a research consortium that includes the UBC Fisheries Centre. The museum’s collection was the first to be indexed by FishBase.” ~ Wikipedia

There is always some feeling of home when I come back to UBC. If not the people, then the fish in the jars that I remember working with in my undergraduate degree 🙂