A whale of a time at the Alberton Public Library

Author Anita Miettunen explains to students from Alberton Elementary School what the process of writing her book ‘Bones, Books,and Blue Whales: The Story of Canada’s Largest Blue Whale Skeleton’ was like. The book details not only when the whale was found, but also how it made the journey from Canada’s east coast to the west coast, arriving at the Beatty Biodiversity Museum in Vancouver, BC. Jillian Trainor photo

It’s been over 30 years since a blue whale was found beached in Norway, PEI.

On May 29, Grade 5 students from Alberton Elementary School had the chance to find out how the whale made the journey from PEI to the Beaty Biodiversity Museum (BBM) in Vancouver, BC.

At the Alberton Public Library, the students had the chance to meet Anita Miettunen, author of the book ‘Bones, Books,and Blue Whales: The Story of Canada’s Largest Blue Whale Skeleton’.

“I was volunteering at the Beatty Biodiversity Museum, and I was just captivated by the size, so I was really drawn and inspired first of all by how magnificent it really was,” said Ms Miettunen. “I was already writing children’s manuscripts, I just thought it would make an incredible story to share beyond the walls of the museum.”

The whale was originally found in 1987, but was buried for about 20 years because it would rot if it was just left on the beach. The belief was that over time the flesh would decay and the skeleton would remain.

A research scientist was trying to figure out what could go in the atrium of the BBM and heard about the skeleton buried in PEI.

In December 2007, a team of research scientist went to PEI to find the whale and check to see if the bones were in good condition to dig up and put together.

“They were in for a surprise, because the whale had not decayed,” said Ms Miettunen. “There weren’t the right kind of bacteria or microorganisms to decay the flesh, so that’s why it didn’t decay.”

This became a big problem for the scientists

They found some bone and did some tests on it to figure out if the bones might disintegrate. As luck would have it, the bones were fine, and could be dug up.

In May 2008 the team returned to excavate the bones. It took ten days to find the bones, count them, get rid of the flesh, and more. It was a very smelly experience.

Once excavated, the bones were transported to the museum, where another problem had to be solved. The bones of the whale had an oil in them which helped the animal with buoyancy, but had become very smelly after so many years.

“First they put them in hot water tanks, but the temperature was too hot and the bones started getting mushy,” explained Ms Miettunen. “There was a machine that shoots hot vapor through the bones, and that’s how they figured out how to clean the bones.”

Along with seeing the excavation process through a slideshow of photos, Ms Miettunen brought out a plastic replica of a piece of bone from a blue whale’s flipper, which was passed around among those attending the presentation, including Brianna LeClair.

Ms LeClair’s mother and uncle actually had the chance to see the whale in 1987.

“My mother thought it was pretty cool, and it was pretty interesting for her,” she said. “Her brother climbed up on the whale, but she said ‘I’m not going to do that.’”

Ms LeClair said she never thought something like this could happen in West Prince.

The blue whale is one of many species in the world today that is endangered. While their numbers have been on the rise, there’s still a lot of concern about how climate change could affect not only the blue whales, but their food source as well.

Ms Miettunen hopes by teaching students about what happened in Norway, they’ll become more curious about biodiversity and what can be done to help these species.

“Hopefully it gives them an appreciation of their world around them here, but beyond that I hope it inspires them to learn more about biodiversity, and nature, and what we might be able to do to preserve biodiversity,” she concluded.

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