Spain's biggest whale find to be hung in museum

2nd June 2008, Comments 0 comments

The largest-ever whale which was washed up on Spanish shores in early February will be hung in Madrid's Natural Science Museum in 2009.

2 June 2008

MADRID - The largest-ever whale to be washed up on Spanish shores has offered the Spanish scientific community a unique opportunity to investigate an endangered species of cetacean.

The common rorcual whale aged around 45-years-old, weighing in at 45 tons and more than 20 meters long, died on a Marbella beach in early February after a five-hour struggle by vets.

It took 30 men and a 95-ton crane 12 hours to load it aboard an articulated flat bed truck, which then took it to a nearby dump where Seville-based taxidermist María Ángeles Prieto - a specialist in whale skeletons - was waiting with a team of tuna fishermen.

The autopsy showed that the animal was underweight, and probably died from old age. But biologist José Luis Mons of the Centre for the Rescue of Threatened Marine Species (CREMA), says other factors might have been responsible.

"It is possible that pollution was a contributing cause, as well as lack of food."

Bone crazy
Over the course of two days, Prieto and her team removed the heart, jaw, and other organs, which have been sent to research centres in Barcelona and Granada. The skeleton will be sent to Madrid's Natural Science Museum.

After cutting away as much flesh as possible, the bones were taken to the nearby Doñana national park, where any remaining flesh and muscle was allowed to rot away. Then they were taken to Huelva's Biological Station, where they were left to soak and clean in water tanks.

Prieto's team of four taxidermists supply Spain's museums with a wide range of animals, but her passion is the sea, and she is in the process of setting up a centre for oceanographic studies.

"I love bones," she confesses: "the bigger the better," she adds while holding aloft a piece of whale jaw that is part of a skeleton destined for Granada's Science Park. She compares the jaw with the micro-engineering of a mouse skeleton. "The only way to clean these is to put a couple of beetles to work on them."

She puts the mouse carcass back into its glass case. Next to it is a vast tank containing the 300 kilogram heart of the whale washed up in Marbella.

Visitors to the Natural Science Museum in Madrid will not be able to see the rorcual whale until 2009. When Prieto has finished her work, the skeleton will be shipped in three sections: the column, the ribs, and the skull, which alone weighs three tons.

Josefina Barreiro, the chief conservator of the mammals and birds section, says that the cost of preparing the skeleton is around EUR 60,000. "But our total annual budget is just EUR 100,000 for the whole collection."

She says the museum will look for sponsors to cover the cost of the whale, and that the government will have to make an extra contribution. Once the whale skeleton has been assembled, it will be slung across the main hall.

[El Pais / Jeronimo Andreu / Expatica]

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