Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Whale of a Back Bone!

IMG_4015.jpg IMG_4008.jpg
Left to right: New vertebra with juvenile gray whale skull and bones in background. Profile view of vertebra atop a table in the PTMSC Natural History Exhibit (photos by M. Vane).

A whale vertebra measuring approximately 3-feet tall and 4-feet wide arrived at the Port Townsend Marine Science Center last week. A couple found the bone while beachcombing in Southeast Alaska back in the 60’s. The unusual collectible was donated to PTMSC by their children all these years later with the intent to help the PTMSC inspire and inform others about whales. 

October 21 marked the 45th anniversary of the enactment of the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA). This act recognizes that some marine mammal species have been negatively impacted by human activities. By outlawing the take* of certain marine mammals, the MMPA strives to ensure these creatures can continue to fulfill their integral role in the marine ecosystem.

At the time of collection, there were no rules about bringing cetacean bones home and the PTMSC is overjoyed to have received this generous donation!

The crew here spent a good while fawning over the massive scale of the bone. Then came the task of identifying it. Which vertebra is it, and what species of whale did it come from?

First we looked at what area of the spine it came from...

Image: www.bajawhales.com
Our bone has three long projections. We decided on a lumbar vertebra.

Then came determining the species it came from. Using size as our main key for identification, we were left with a few options.

Fin Whale (Balaenoptera physalus)
The second largest animal to live on earth, coming in at an average length of 75 feet and weighing 80,000-160,000 pounds., the “Greyhound of The Sea” is known for its ability to travel at speeds up to 23 miles per hour.

Image: Online: The Royal Natural History, Vol. 3

Blue whale (Balaenoptera musculus)
The largest animal to live on earth (that’s right, even bigger than the dinosaurs!), blue whales can grow up to 82 feet long and weigh 300,000 pounds on average. Blue whales move much slower than fin whales and are known to produce the second loudest call in the animal kingdom.

Photo: www.sbnature.org/buyabone
At the time of this posting, we haven’t come to any fixed conclusions and unfortunately may never know for sure. Our educated guess is that it is from one of the two species listed above. To confirm the exact species though, we would need more of the skeleton or to test its DNA.

Regardless, we are enjoying the discussion. Come in and see this monstrous vertebrae for yourself! Imagine the animal it was part of and its massive scale. What do you think it could be?

Posted by Mariah Vane, AmeriCorps

*Hunting, harassing, capturing, or killing any marine mammal or attempting to do so.

1 comment:

  1. How fascinating, and how lucky for PTMSC! Thanks for your excellent blog, Mariah. I can't wait to see the new whale bone!


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