3,000 pounds of whale bones airlifted for unique salvage project

Published: Oct. 12, 2016 at 5:44 PM AKDT
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Wednesday a helicopter hoisted more than 3,000 pounds of Humpback whale bones from the Anchorage Coastal Wildlife Refuge to a parking lot in Kincaid Park for a UA Museum project.

"I let out a shout of celebration," says UA Museum Mammals Collections Manager Aren Gunderson. "It's the culmination of a couple months of thinking and working towards getting this thing off the beach."

Gunderson first gathered a group of volunteers to cut bones from the rotting carcass and carry them up a steep bluff to a parking lot above in September. Many of those volunteers returned this week to cut out the remaining bones and secure them along with the skull on cargo nets.

"I was so glad those bones stayed in their slings," says Barbara Wild a volunteer with Friends of Anchorage Coastal Wildlife Refuge. "It's sorta like watching your child take its first step or something."

Wild says she hopes to take her grandchildren to see the bones on display someday at the UA Museum in Fairbanks.

Gunderson says they hope to find funding to use the bones for research, public display, or both.

First the bones must be driven to Fairbanks and unloaded into sand pits where the decomposition process can continue.

"We use beetles to clean up most things that are fresh but when things are rotten we just let them continue to rot," says Gunderson.

The Whale first washed ashore in Hope in June. It made its way to Anchorage in early July. NOAA says the cause of the adult male humpback's death is undetermined but it does not appear to be from trauma.