Monday, 23 May 2011

A Whale of a Homecoming

Today was a trip down memory lane for me. We took transit over to my first alma mater, the University of British Columbia, to visit the Beaty Biodiversity Museum. Transit here in Vancouver is an absolute gem. Coming home, it costed all of $2.50 one zone ride for an adult to travel the 30 km between UBC and home in Burnaby, and it took barely an hour for the entire trip including two transfers.

The blue whale skeleton is 26 metres long!
The Beaty is pretty much brand new, only opening last October. The museum is right next to the Biological Sciences building, and I'm sure the venue was a great catalyst for collating and integrating the vast collections of biological specimens at UBC.

The centrepiece of the museum is a fully intact female blue whale skeleton suspended in the atrium. It died and washed up in Tignish, Prince Edward Island in 1987. The skeleton was then buried in the hopes that it would decay naturally, and was exhumed in 2008. One can only imagine what it must have stank like, what with 150 ton of whale blubber and oil decomposing into the surrounding soil. New fact that I did not know was that the whale bones are quite porous and full of oil to help with buoyancy. Therefore, there remained a whole mess of degreasing with the skeleton once exhumed.

The entire skeleton was then transported in a refrigerated container to Victoria, where it was further rebuilt and then finally placed here in UBC. The skeleton was available for viewing at special dates last July when the boys and I were here visiting, and MaMa took them to see it then. Today was International Biodiversity Day, so there were special events and exhibits, including a guest talk by my former prof Dr. Al Lewis. The boys did plant pressings, and there was a scavenger hunt answering questions from exhibits throughout the museum.

The prodigal son returns after 21 years! Here I am at the entranceway to the Biological Sciences building, where I did my B.Sc. Honours with Dr. Paul J. Harrison.

The family at the Beaty Biodiversity Museum at the University of British Columbia.

This is Dr. Al Lewis, who gave a talk today at the Beaty on his research into copepods. Dr. Lewis is Professor Emeritus at the Department of Oceanography, where I graduated from in 1990. I fondly recall this brilliant course he taught in my 4th year on zoogeography, relating animal speciation with geological movements. It was a real treat to meet him again and to remember my oceanography roots!
The last thing a krill sees before it gets sucked into massive plates of baleen and becomes lunch!

The view from below the whale. Note the pathways for blood vessels through the skull, which is just a beautiful work of art in its own right.

That's a whole mess of ribs! The heart is about  the size of a car, and beats 5-10 times per minute. The legs are now just one small vestigial bone with its move to an aquatic life. The flippers are only four digits, with the middle digit lost through evolution.

I couldn't get enough of this whale skeleton.

It's not all about whales or mammals at the Beaty. They have a massive collection of most every animal and plant species, along with a nice set of fossils.
The largest pinecone in the world! It's literally the size and weight of a pineapple! Be sure to wear your hardhats when walking in the forests if these are overhead!

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