Stench And Gore – Breaking Down A Deceased Blue Whale To Ensure New Life For The Animal

Source: Hakai Magazine/Jacqueline Windh

Photo: NOAA/Wikimedia Commons

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The soft rubber soles of hip waders are not designed for climbing a dead whale. Benjamín Cáceres digs in hard with his feet. He grabs the blue-black pleats of the whale’s throat with one rubber-gloved hand, and pulls himself up the rotting carcass. In his other hand he clutches a cheap, plastic-handled knife.

Cáceres, a marine biologist at the Río Seco Museum of Natural History in Punta Arenas, Chile, is part of an 11-person crew tackling the formidable challenge of defleshing this 21-meter, 70-or-so tonne juvenile blue whale. It is the first step in preparing the skeleton for museum display.

Report of the stranded whale came in the week before, when government officials contacted Cáceres’s colleague Aymara Zegers at the museum. Zegers and marine biologist Gabriela Garrido were on the road immediately: heading to Punta Delgada, at the Strait of Magellan’s eastern entrance, a two-hour drive north of Punta Arenas.

The great size of the animal, the location and shape of its dorsal fin, and the distinctive gray marks on its body indicated to the pair right away that it was a blue whale.

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Photo: NOAA/Wikimedia Commons

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