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Museum's dream: whale of an exhibit

Bowhead skeleton great but pricey idea

It's a whale of a tale but it might be dead in the water, this time, for Winnipeg.

The skeleton of a bowhead whale measuring 15 metres located near Repulse Bay, Nunavut, is waiting to be collected and cleaned by Palcoprep, an Alberta-based paleontology collection and preparation company, as soon as it has a buyer.

The remains of bowhead whale on shore in 2010 near Repulse Bay, Nunavut.

PALCOPREP INC.

The remains of bowhead whale on shore in 2010 near Repulse Bay, Nunavut.

The remains of bowhead whale on shore in 2010 near Repulse Bay, Nunavut.

PALCOPREP INC.

The remains of bowhead whale on shore in 2010 near Repulse Bay, Nunavut.

The Manitoba Museum is at the top of the list for Palcoprep president Frank Hadfield, a former Manitoban who grew up in Inwood before moving to Drumheller, Alta., to begin his company.

Hadfield said he has been communicating with Randy Mooi, the curator of zoology at the Manitoba Museum, about the skeleton as museum officials in the past had expressed an interest in a bowhead whale as an exhibit piece.

"This came to light (Wednesday) so we're kind of scrambling right now to see if we can generate a serious interest from an institution so that we can go up and harvest the skeleton from this animal," Hadfield said.

"It's one of the largest we've ever heard being taken; it's close to 52 feet, so it's a massive animal. The cost associated with it would be quite large so if we don't have a guaranteed client, it would be a lot of money to put out there on speculation."

He said the cost would be about $300,000 to $400,000 to collect, clean, mount, display and transport a cetacean skeleton of that size.

Mooi said the only way this particular bowhead could come to the Manitoba Museum would be if private donors stepped up.

"We've been talking with Frank and his company for a couple of years about the possibility of obtaining a bowhead whale; it would be a fascinating exhibit, and a reminder that we do have a saltwater marine coastline that we sometimes forget about," Mooi said. "We're certainly interested in getting one, but this particular one we're not really in the position to open up the chequebook."

Mooi said acquiring a bowhead skeleton could be a future project with an Inuit community, which can carry out traditional hunting under strict federal rules. Commercial hunting of bow whales is prohibited.

"Ideally we'd like to work with a particular community to get footage of the local hunters and that way the natural-history side of it would be part of the exhibit," Mooi said. "There have been some bow whale skeletons with old harpoon points in there that can be aged. Some of these whales are thought to be 100 years old."

The project is somewhat time-sensitive. While the Inuit hunters have already flensed the whale (removed the blubber), other animals will eventually set upon the carcass and the bones may be scattered. Palcoprep would need the entire skeleton for the project.

Palcoprep specializes in preparation and presentation of fossils and skeletons primarily for natural-history museums.

ashley.prest@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 6, 2013 A10

History

Updated on Friday, September 6, 2013 at 7:59 AM CDT: replaces photo

2:49 PM: Fixes reference in quote.

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