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Blue Whale Restoration Project

- Blue Whale Skeleton Dismantle
-Restoring the Skull
- Restoring the Skeleton
- Blue Whale Skeleton Returns

  Restoring the Skeleton
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In March 2010, the post-cranial bones of the Museum's Blue Whale skeleton were sent to Academy Studios in Novato, California for a thorough restoration. The original skull remained at the Museum because it was too badly deteriorated to be restored. The new skull and mandibles (jaw bones) of the Museum’s newly restored Blue Whale skeleton is from a similar-sized Blue Whale that stranded in Ventura, California in September 2007 (#SBMNH 2007-19). Below are pictures that show the restoration process of the post-cranial skeleton and the assembly of the new skull and mandibles to the skeleton.

Stripping old paint, bondo and fiberglass repairs from a Blue whale vertebrae.

Stripping old paint from one of the vertebrae.

Post-cranial bones after being cleaned of old paint, bondo and figerglass.

Replacement and repair of vertebral processes using foam board and fiberglass.

Comparison of cleaned vertebrae on left and stabilized and repaired vertebrae on the right.

Ribs stripped of old paint, bondo and fiberglass.

Ribs after being stabilized and repaired using marine epoxy.

Forms used to make replicas of phalanges (finger bones) that are being replaced on the refurbished mount. Whales have individual digits on the inside of their flipper. 

Terminal caudal vertebrae (tail vertebrae) borrowed from Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History to make cast replicas for our refurbished Blue Whale skeleton.

Cast replicas of terminal tail vertebrae for use on the Museum's refurbished Blue Whale skeleton.

Finished cast replica of the terminal tail vertebrae for use on the Museum's refurbished Blue Whale skeleton. 

Recently refurbished cervical vertebrae (neck vertebrae) for the Museum's Blue Whale skeleton.  Note the intervertebral disks that were modeled to fit in between each of these vertebrae.

Refurbished Blue Whale vertebrae with the first  primer coat of paint.  Note that the holes in these vertebrae have not yet been resized to fit the larger diameter of pipe that will be used to support the refurbished skeleton.

Drilling rig used to resize the holes in the vertebrae for the larger pipe that will be used on the refurbished skeleton.

Vertebrae drilled to larger pipe diameter. Note the notch cut at the base of the hole through the vertebrae. This notch will slide along a strip of steel welded to the pipe to keep the vertebrae from rotating on the pipe.

Vertebrae suspended on pipe supports for ease of painting. 

First mockup of the ribs and thoracic vertebrae using wood supports to hold ribs in place. The ribs provide support and protection for the chest region (heart and lungs).

Mock up of the rib cage using wood to support the ribs and steel gantries to support the reassembled thoracic vertebrae. 

Mockup of the rib cage using wood to support the ribs.

Another view of the mockup of the rib cage using wood supports.

Paul Collins, Museum Curator of Vertebrate Zoology, is pointing out to the Academy Studios staff modifications needed to correct the rib orientation. Reviewing mocked up sections of the skeleton prior to building permanent steel supports was a critical step during the remounting of the skeleton ensuring that the refurbished skeleton is the most anatomically correct mount of a Blue Whale skeleton.

Paul Collins, Museum Curator of Vertebrate Zoology standing at the back of the mocked up thoracic cavity pointing to the reassembled lumbar vertebrae.  

Pete from Academy Studios examining the new Blue Whale cranium prior to stabilization and repair work on this bone.

Bones of the new skull during stabilization work. Marine epoxy was used to harden the porous inner core and friable outer surfaces of these bones prior to repairing the bones.  

The new Blue Whale cranium after stabilization with marine epoxy.

Reassembly of the new refurbished Blue Whale skull. The left maxillary and premaxillary bones are being lifted into place and the reassembled vulmar bone is sitting on pipe supports to the left side of this photograph.

Academy Studios crew working on reassembling the left side of the rostrum for the new Blue Whale skull.

First orientation of the refurbished left mandible to the reassembled Blue Whale skull. 

First reasembly of the skull and mandibles for the new Blue Whale skull. 

Second and final placement of the mandibles relative to the reassembled skull. The lower mandible is the largest single bone of any animal.

Final orientation of the mandibles relative to the new Blue Whale skull. The reasembled skull is still being supported with a temporary wood and pipe support structure.

Reasembled new Blue Whale skull and mandibles with new support steel in place.

Academy Studios crew holding hyoid bones in place under the reasembled Blue Whale skull as the Museum crew evaluated the orientation or these bones relative to the ventral surface of the cranium. The hyoid bones help to control the tongue and protect the trachea.


Pete holding the sternum in the location which was chosen for its placement on the refurbished skeleton.

The sternum is anchored by steel supports to firmly hold the bone in between the first four ribs. The sternum is sponsored by True Blue Friends in honor of Museum Executive Director Karl Hutterer.

Paul Collins, Museum Curator of Vertebrate Zoology holding up a cardborad cutout of the front limb bones to determine the precise placement of these bones relative to the remainder of the reassembled Blue Whale skeleton.

New steel supports for bones of one of the front flippers. This steel is located on the back side of the bones and will not be readily visible when the skeleton is viewed from the side. 

Michelle Berman, Museum Associate Curator of Vertebrate Zoology (5' 2" tall) standing inside of the reasembled rib cage. Note that the wood supports have been replaced by steel supports that will support the rib cage.

Recently galvanized steel that will be used to help support various parts of the refurbished Blue Whale skeleton.

Applying final coat of exterior grade latex paint to the refurbished ribs for the Museum's Blue Whale skeleton.

Most of vertebral column for the refurbished Blue Whale skeleton reassembled on the new galvanized pipe support.



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