In August 1980 the Fish and Wildlife Section of Vandenberg Air Force Base reported a dead stranded Blue Whale to the Museum's Vertebrate Zoology Department. Executive Director Dennis Power along with Curator Chuck Woodhouse made the ambitious decision to harvest the skeleton and display it at the Museum. The following is an account of how this whale became the icon of the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History.
Date: August 7, 1980
Field Number: SBMNH 1980-29
Location: Santa Barbara County, Vandenberg Air Force Base, ca. 0.5 miles south of Pt. Pedernales
Species: Balaenoptera musculus
Common Name: Blue Whale
Notes: Moderately decomposed sub-adult male with sloughing skin and visible postmortem shark bites.
Length: 22 meters (72 feet)
Cause of Death: Unknown
As participants in the California Marine Mammal Stranding Network, the Vertebrate Zoology lab is tasked with collecting basic data on all dead stranded cetaceans (whales, dolphins and porpoises) in San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, and Ventura Counties. The initial data collected includes: Location, Species, Date, State of Decomposition, Length, Gender, and Final Disposition of the animal. Depending on the condition of the animal, a necropsy (autopsy for animals) may also be conducted. Due to the condition and location of this Blue Whale, a full necropsy was not conducted.
Museum staff and volunteers collected a full suite of morphometrics (body measurments).
The black coarse baleen was intact and collected for the Vertebrate Zoology collection.
Vertebrate Zoology staff observe the external condition of the animal and record any unusual marks. External marks on this Blue Whale included evidence of shark bites. Sharks commonly prey upon dead floating marine mammals and it is not uncommon to see this type of external marking.
There was evidence of post-mortem (after death) shark bites but no external indication as to the cause of death.
The carcass was flensed (tissue removed) on the beach and the bones were hauled up the cliff using an electric winch mounted to the front of a truck. At the end of each day, the bones were transported back to the Museum where the bones would be cleaned.
One of the lower mandibles being hoisted up the cliff.
The Museum's truck was waiting at the top of the cliff for the mandible and the cranium to be hauled up by the crane.
The skull required a lot of man-power as well as a crane to extract the skull from the carcass and lift it up the cliff. The soft tissue was left on site where nature recycled the material.
Necropsy and Recovery Team:
Mr. and Mrs. Steve Karl
David San Giovanni
Financial and in-kind support for recovery of the skeleton:
American Cetacean Society/San Luis Obispo Chapter
Sea Landing Sports Fishing