Some natural history museums have iconic dinosaur skeletons. The Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History has a skeleton of the largest animal to ever exist on Earth – the Blue Whale – whom we fondly call "Chad."
Our Blue Whale skeleton is proudly named "Chad" thanks to the leadership gift of the Dreier Family. The skeleton is truly a generational icon, so Museum Trustee Doug Dreier and his family named it “Chad,” which is the middle name of the men in the Dreier Family for three generations
The 72-foot long Blue Whale skeleton in the Museum’s front yard is not only an icon of the Museum, but a rare specimen that gives our visitors first-hand exposure to the world’s largest animal. The Museum’s skeleton is one of only five complete Blue Whale skeletons on exhibit in the United States. Yet our treasured whale was deteriorating and in critical need of repair.
The skeleton was originally harvested from the rocky cliffs near Point Arguello on Vandenberg Air Force Base in 1980, and set on exhibit in 1983. The magnificent Blue Whale skeleton has fascinated Museum visitors for more than 25 years. Exposed to direct sun and rain, certain bones of the skeleton have deteriorated to the point where they must either be repaired or dismantled. Removal of the Blue Whale would be a significant loss to the Museum, our visitors, and the scientific community.
An analysis performed by Museum scientists showed that the whale’s skull needed to be replaced in its entirety and that the remainder of the skeleton required extensive repair. Curator of Vertebrate Zoology Paul Collins supervised this work.
Phase One: New Skull and Mandibles Preparation
In 2007, Museum scientists harvested a skull and mandibles from a similar-sized Blue Whale that washed ashore in Ventura. These bones were taken to a site in Gaviota, CA for maceration, a complicated process involving the removal of the remaining soft tissues and the treatment of the bones for long-term display. Costs associated with this 18-month phase included staffing, construction of large soaking tanks, rental of industrial equipment such as a steam cleaner and a crane, and purchase of supplies. [See pictures]
Phase Two: Skeleton Restoration & Skull Installation
The existing Blue Whale bones were replaced or refurbished, and the newly prepared skull bones were installed. [See pictures]
- DISMANTLING SYNOPSIS: In March 2010, the Museum's Blue Whale skeleton "migrated" north to an exhibit design company called Academy Studios, in Novato, California, where it underwent a thorough restoration. The skeleton was dismantled and moved north on a truck, but the skull of the whale remained at the Museum because it is too badly deteriorated to be restored. Instead, a skull harvested from a 2007 Blue Whale stranding replaced the old skull when the restoration was complete. The re-assembly of the 7,700 pound Blue Whale skeleton was completed on November 19, 2010.
- REINSTALLATION SYNOPSIS: After nearly nine months of meticulous restoration, the Museum’s Blue Whale skeleton was articulated and reinstalled in November 2010. The restored skeleton, which weighs nearly 7,700 pounds, is 98% real bones and is a composite of four specimens. The skeleton is positioned as if the whale is beginning a deep dive into the water. Soon, visitors will once again enjoy walking under the skeleton and into the rib cage to experience the shear size of these gentle giants.