The Whale Project

Whales are the largest animals that have ever lived on our planet, yet we know very little about them. New species of whales are still being discovered, and we are learning more all the time. One group that is learning more about whales are students of SPU Assistant Professor of English Peter Moe. During Summer Session 2020, these students assembled the skeleton of a 29-foot juvenile gray whale, Eschrichtius robustus.

The Elusive Whale

Background

In 2019, SPU Assistant Professor of English Peter Moe heard about a grey whale carcass that had washed ashore on a private beach in Longbranch, Washington.

Whale skeleton articulation course

Summer Session 2020, a group of SPU students assembled (“articulated”) the skeleton of that whale, and along the way engaged in interdisciplinary inquiry as a way of coming to know the unknown. Moe taught the course with Rus Higley, director of the Marine Science and Technology Center at Highline College, who is an experienced whale assembler — this was Higley’s fourth whale assembly. During the course, SPU faculty and invited guest lecturers spoke about whales from their respective disciplines, including theology, biology, and art. As the class syllabus explains, 

This is an effort to practice interdisciplinary inquiry, to explore how one field might enrich another, putting us in a position to learn something we could not have learned within our own disciplines alone. By coming to know whales, we can work toward saving them. 

In Moby Dick, Ishmael warns readers against speaking too much about what it’s like inside a whale — “have a care how you seize the privilege of Jonah alone” he says — but after these four weeks, four weeks where you will handle this whale’s very bones, four weeks of standing within her jaws, four weeks of peering out through her ribs, you may be in a place to say something of what a whale is.

The articulated skeleton now hangs in the lobby of Eaton Hall.

Eschrichtius Robustus Speaker Series on Zoom

“Knowing Whales,” Part 1 [Lecture recording*]

Wednesday, Aug. 19, 7 p.m.

  • “Epistemology and Whales,” Matthew Benton, SPU assistant professor of philosophy
  • “Jonah and the Whale,” Sara Koenig, SPU associate professor of biblical studies
  • “Whales as Installations,” Alison Stigora, SPU assistant professor of sculpture
  • “A Whale’s Pelvis,” Ryan Bebej, Calvin University associate professor of biology

*Due to technical difficulties, the first 30 minutes did not get recorded.

“Knowing Whales,” Part 2 [Lecture recording*]

Wednesday, Aug. 26, 7 p.m.

  • “Job 41, Theodicy, and the Leviathan,” Jeff Keuss, SPU professor of Christian ministry, theology, and culture
  • “Mother’s Milk,” Gaile Moe, SPU professor emerita of family and consumer sciences
  • “Metaphor and the Incomprehensible,” Mischa Willett, SPU instructor of education, English, and writing

*Due to technical difficulties, the first 30 minutes did not get recorded.

“Save the Whales” [Lecture recording]

Wednesday, Sept. 2, 7 p.m. 

  • Lynda Mapes, award-winning environmental journalist, The Seattle Times  
  • Jessie Huggins, stranding coordinator for Cascadia Research Collective
  • Kristin Wilkinson, stranding coordinator for National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
  • Eric Long, SPU professor of biology