Response Magazine

The tale of a whale in Eaton Hall

Photo by Esther Yun

A new permanent exhibit of a 29-foot gray whale skeleton was installed in the lobby of Eaton Hall in September.

The installation marked the culmination of a multiyear project involving faculty, staff, students, and volunteers from a variety of disciplines and backgrounds.

Eighteen students in a “Whale Articulation Course” spent three weeks preparing 250 bones for the installation, which included drilling holes and attaching them together with glue and wires. Assistant Professor of English Peter Moe, whose lifelong interest in whales led to organizing the project, co-taught the course with experienced whale assembler Rus Higley, director of the Marine Science and Technology Center at Highline College.

The crew raised the skeleton’s head and body separately to better position the whale’s bones, which weighed over 500 pounds.

The gray whale, Eschrichtius robustus, washed ashore last year on a beach in Puget Sound. A necropsy revealed orca teeth marks and likely death by starvation. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration gave SPU permission to retrieve the whale and display its skeleton on campus for educational purposes.

The 16,000-pound whale was towed to Gig Harbor, then hoisted ashore where students and volunteers spent hours flensing the whale (slicing the flesh and fat from the whale’s carcass).

They buried the bones in manure to allow nature to do the rest of the decomposing work. Months later, volunteers exhumed, washed, and transported the bones to campus, where Professor of Biology Eric Long had students arrange and number the bones in preparation for assembly in his vertebrate biology course.

In conjunction with the class, Seattle Pacific hosted four public lectures (via Zoom), with professors and local experts examining the biological, artistic, conservational, and even theological aspects of whales.

To view the lectures, as well as a time-lapse video of the skeleton’s assembly and installation, visit spu.edu/whale.

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