Sunday, February 13, 2011

Week 4 Orca Articulation- Hope comes to life!

We did it!  Hope's skeleton is together (at least for now).  There are a very few finishing touches for the next week, but the big stuff is done.

Deanna spent many hours this week working on recreating one of Hope's pelvic bones.  That's right, she has a pelvis!  We had her right pelvic bone but had to recreate the left one.  Then came the several days of research and head scratching to find the final postion to mount them.  Come by to see what we decided.

Hope's orginal pelvic bone on the right and the recreated one on the left.

Next came the task of placing the scapulae and flippers. Again we scratched our heads, looked at lots of photos of swimming, diving and breaching orcas, moved the flippers and scapula to different postions and rotated the flipper to make sure it would be anatomically correct. We decided on a position that fits perfectly with her graceful diving position.

Deanna and Lee hold the right flipper and scapula while the rest of us guide the position. 

We also put some finishing touches on the rib cage to make sure it would be strong enough to stay in the position we carefully worked on last week and to hold the weight of the scapulae and flippers. We used epoxy clay to add strength to the all-thread pins and then covered the epoxy with clear silicone to match the vertebrae.

Heather, Linda and Chris molding the epoxy clay.

Becca worked hard to weld and custom fit the cradle that will safely hold Hope's 80 pound skull in position. This required several trips back and forth to her shop for "fitting sessions". Then the cradle was painted and padded before being secured to her skull with a one inch all-thread rod.

Becca and Lee adjust the skull cradle.

Some of the last bones to be attached to the skeleton are the v-shaped chevrons beneath the tail. Watch the video below to see how Eliza and Chloe recreated this unique piece of orca anatomy.

Before we could try mounting the skull, the last vertebrae needed to be drilled.  The cervical, or neck vertebrae are some pretty interesting bones.  The seven vertebrae are fused into two sections, making them a bit tricky to drill.

Roger prepares to carefully drill the cervical vertebrae. 

We arrived Friday morning to a highly motivated Lee Post, who quickly had us ready to mount the skull. It took twelve people for this first effort, mainly because we had to drill the hole where the set screw inserts into the all thread rod holding the skull in place--and because we were kind of nervous!

Seroius faces as we manuver the skull into position.

Becca drills the hole for the set screw.

Lee prepares to attach the mandibles.

After we attached the skull (and let out our breath) we attached the flippers to the scapulae. Sue and Linda represented "team flipper" by gently guiding each of them into place while Lee set the screws that hold them securely.

Sue holds the right flipper while Lee and Linda attach the left flipper. The rope adds support.

We were on a roll and the next step was to insert the tail piece.  Before we could do that, we had to raise the whole whale a few inches so that the tiny bone on the end of the tail couldn't hit the hard floor.

Up she goes!

The tail piece inserted smoothly with another set screw to hold it in place.  More adjustment to the hanging ropes made sure Hope stays balanced and secure.

Eliza, Lee, Chloe, Heather, Becca and Sue hold the tail in place.

It took alot of volunteers alot of hours to put Hope back together. Here are almost all of us with this beautiful whale!

For those of you who haven't heard the news, Hope's skeleton will be stored in sections throughout the Natural History Exhibit and classroom for the time being. Although it will be a while before we are able to build her a home, we are glad her presence will remain here. Learn more about our capital campaign to build Hope a home HERE.
We knew the time would come when Lee had to return to his life as a book seller in Homer, Alaska (and author of really cool bone building books found at his website We will miss his smile, enthusiasm, and amazing ability to get everyone involved in this project. We appreciate his kind and gentle guidance as we turned this table full of bones into a beautiful whale. Lee has become a part of the PTMSC family, so he can't stay away for too long. In fact, he's already dreaming up new projects for us!

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Week 3 Orca Articulation

Hope's week began with a trip to the dentist.  Well, actually the dentists came to her.

Local dentists Henry Nichols and Dave Pitts spent two full days attaching the lower jaw and adjusting her bite so that these powerful teeth fit together perfectly.  The teeth are actually casts of the original teeth.  You can learn why we had to make these "orca-dentures" and how we did it HERE.

Volunteers Kim Kopp and Laura Rosenburg have been working non-stop for the past three weeks reconstructing bone damage to the skull.  Here's a look at their amazing work.

Both pectoral flippers are nearly complete.  "Team Flipper" put in many hours using cat scan images of the right flipper to place each tiny bone in exactly the right spot.  The final step is adding layers of clear silicon caulk to replace the cartilege.

Repairs began on the small, v-shaped, chevron bones which fit under the tail section of the spine.  One of these was sliced by a flensing knife when the flesh was being removed from the tail before it was buried in the manure pile. Volunteers Chole and Eliza crafted a special piece made of paper clips and water putty to replace this sliced off bit.

Marine Mammal veterinarian, Dr. Pete Schroeder, stopped by to check on our progress.  Dr. Schroeder was one of the first people to respond the stranding in 2002 and has followed the study of this whale closely ever since.  He helped us piece together some questions we had about the bone deterioration in the skull and the placement of the teeth.  In talking with Dr. Schroeder, it seems that Hope had bone loss in her skull which was likely related to the infection she had when she died.  He also helped us work on placing some of the ribs.

Work began on the rib cage early this week. This is a particularly finicky part of the process, especially with the forward ribs which each have two parts and are connected to the sternum.  Progress is slow, but steady as we ensure that each rib is perfectly spaced, oriented correctly and flows into the rib cage with its neighbors.  It takes time but the result is beautiful!

In case you haven't noticed, we got cool t-shirts and hats this week, too!  Thanks to a generous sponsor, all the proceeds from the shirts and hats go directly to the Orca Project Capital Campaign fund.  This campaign will fund our future Ocean Science Hall and the programming and exhibits that will make it an amazing place filled with vibrant science in action. You can get your own shirt during our open houses over the next two weekends-- open house times are here.

Last but not least, Hope made the news.  Check out this clip from King 5 television.