October 2006 -
Bone Restoration and Rearticulation Begins
Post, whale skeleton expert, arrived in Kodiak by ferry from his
home in Homer with his truck full of tools and supplies to begin
the bone restoration and rearticulation of the Kodiak Gray Whale
skeleton. Lee is no stranger to Kodiak. Not only was he born here,
he has returned in recent times to rearticulate a Cuvier's Beaked
Whale skeleton that hangs in the foyer of the Kodiak Research Center,
and a Dall's Porpoise skeleton on display at the Kodiak State Parks
visitor center at Fort Abercrombie State Park.
Under Lee's instruction, Stacy and a small group of dedicated volunteers
begin repairing some of the broken and cracked bones that were damaged
when the whale was buried in 2000 and excavated in 2004. With some
Water Putty, Epoxy and a little paint, the bones soon looked as
good as new.
Using the architectural plans, Lee built a scale model of the room
in the new visitor center where the whale skeleton will be displayed.
He also made a scale model of the whale to hang in the model of
the building. Although most of the details had already been worked
out with the architects, Lee and Stacy wanted to make sure the whale
would fit and decide on the best pose for the space. A graceful
S-curve will work best.
bones of both flippers were rearticulated with metal rods and epoxy.
Getting all the small bones in the right positions with the proper
spacing is a challenge but Lee had drawings from the flipper of
another gray whale that we used as our guide. We drew a grid for
each flipper on large sheets of paper taped to the tops of plywood
tables. This allowed us to place the bones in the correct positions
before we pinned them together.
Once the flipper bones were drilled, pinned, and glued together,
we used clear silicon caulking to replace the cartilage and cover
up the metal. This will also be done between the vertebrae when
the spine is rearticulated.
All the vertebrae were lined up, numbered, and measured so we could
determine their precise spacing.
February 2007 -
Post returned to Kodiak for another work session on the Kodiak Gray
Whale skeleton. In the interim since Lee's last visit, local metal
expert and welder Stanley Wolrich built a heavy duty12-foot long
steel cart to support the main part of the skeleton while it was
being rearticulated. The cart was built on wheels so that the skeleton
could be moved onto a flat bed trailer and into the new visitor
center when completed. When Lee arrived, the cart was ready to go
for the next phase of the skeleton reconstruction.
The team worked for two weeks straight and watched the whale skeleton
materialize, bone by bone.
a metal support structure for the skeleton had to be made. The main
component consisted of a 21 foot long steel pipe that would be threaded
through the centers of all the vertebrae. It had to be bent into
a graceful "S" curve so that the position of the whale's
body would have a dynamic and lifelike pose. This is harder to do
but preferable to a straight rod running through the spine that
results in a static and stiff pose. After drawing out the curve
on the floor, Stanley and his crew bent the pipe with a pipe bender.
It was a tough job, but they made it look easy.
The bent pipe was then placed on the cart and ready for the vertebrae.
then had to find a drill press to drill the holes through the centers
of the vertebrae and not just any drill press would do. We had to
find one big enough to accommodate the size of the largest vertebrae,
and one that would slow down to 80 - 100 rpms. The Kodiak National
Wildlife Refuge had one that met our specifications, so we transported
all the bones to the drill press and spent a day drilling the 2'
diameter holes through the largest of the vertebrae. The smaller
neck and tail vertebrae would be done with a hand drill.
the vertebrae were drilled, we began threading them onto the pipe
and spacing them. Another smaller metal rod of all-thread was inserted
through each vertebra below the main pipe to stabilize the bones
and allow us to lock them in place with nuts and washers.
The 8-foot tail section was constructed separately on a smaller
pipe that tapered into all- tread at the very end since the last
few vertebrae are quite small. The tail section will fit into the
main pipe and lock into place.
Spacing the vertebrae properly is very important so as to achieve
the original length of the whale, which in our case, was about 37'.
On a live whale, the vertebrae are held together and spaced with
cartilage that is a strong, flexible material. Once we got the bones
locked into place in their proper positions, we filled the space
and covered up the hardware with layers and layers of clear silicon
caulking which looks and acts almost like the real thing when dry.
Each layer of silicon has to dry 24 hours before the next one can
be applied. Anyone who has caulked a window or sink knows how impossibly
sticky the stuff is. The trick to getting it on smoothly is dipping
your fingers in clear bubble-blowing soap.
The chevrons were then attached to the undersides of the caudal
vertebrae with all-thread pins that were glued into place. Animals
with active tails like porcupines, beavers and whales require more
specialized muscles to operate them. The tail muscles help to produce
the downward motions and attach to special v-shaped bones called
chevrons that are located under the tail vertebrae.
The skeleton is being rearticulated in 5 main sections so that it
can be transported more easily and fit through the doors of the
new visitor center, about a half-mile away. When the new building
is completed in September, the whale skeleton sections will be moved
in one by one. The main body and the skull will be wheeled in on
their own carts, the 8-foot tail section, the two flippers and the
ribs will all be carried in separately. Once all inside, they will
be assembled for the first time and hung up in their permanent location
from the ceiling of the second story as a complete and magnificent
gray whale skeleton for all to admire.
April 2007 -
More Bone Work!
Lee Post arrived for our final 2-week, marathon bone blitz. Each
time he came to Kodiak he rode the ferry from Homer and brought
his truck full of tools and materials. During this time period,
master welder Stan Wolrich helped us design and fabricate more custom
metal parts for the skeletal support system. Each whale is different
so each support system, involving many metal pieces, has to be custom
Since we had the ribs already placed and positioned with our wooden
spacers, we started with the design and fabrication of the metal
rib cage support. We bent strips of metal that fit inside the ribs
and welded them to 2 metal rods that were welded to two metal bars
attached to the spinal pipe between the vertebrae.
the rib cage frame was made and installed, we primed and painted
it a nice gray color. Then we attached the ribs to it with bolts.
The ribs were also pinned into their respective vertebrae. Since
the body with the ribs is too wide to squeeze through the doors
of the new visitor center, we planned the rib attachment so that
we could easily remove and replace them when the time came to move
the skeleton into the new building.
correct placement of the scapulas was the next challenge. Once bolted
in place to the ribs, we could then decide on the position of the
flippers. First we attached the humerus of each flipper to its corresponding
socket on the scapula. Each flipper has its own metal bracket that
will attach to a cable running up to the ceiling. That way we have
more flexibility in choosing the best position for each one once
the skeleton is suspended from the ceiling in the new building.
we focused on the skull, which weighs about 250 pounds and the jaws,
about 80 pounds each. We planned to hang the skull and jaws as one
unit from 3 places. Two huge eyebolts were screwed into the sides
at the base of the skull, epoxied, and bolted in place from inside
the cranium. Cables attached to the eyebolts will be joined at the
top of the skull and extend to the ceiling as one.
The seven cervical vertebrae were attached to the base of the skull
with another steel pipe that will slide into the 2" body pipe
and be bolted into place.
We then had to figure out how to attach the huge, 80-pound jaws
to their sockets. One large eyebolt was screwed into each socket
and another to the end of each jaw. Where they overlapped, we bolted
them together. This allows some space in the joint as well as some
movement while we fiddled around with the rest of the skull support
of the greatest challenges of this part of the project was figuring
out how to support the jaws adequately in the correct position so
that we could support both of them and the heavy, central part of
the skull while suspending them from the ceiling. To figure out
the right design, we first needed to turn the skull over so we could
work on it. While upside down, we also figured out the position
of the 2 ear bones and the 3 hyoid bones.
the earthquake history of our area, we were always thinking of worst-case
scenarios, which in my mind was a big enough quake to shake the
building and get the skeleton swinging! We had to design all the
support apparatus with this in mind so that all the bones would
stay together in such an event, sway minimally as one unit and not
fall on anybody! We could have designed something really strong
and really ugly but we rose to the challenge of figuring out how
to accomplish this with the least amount of metal showing. Our final
solution involved two fabricated pieces that were held together
with one huge custom-made eyebolt that runs upward through the blowholes.
Our last concern was stabilizing the bones of the rostrum so we
used epoxy and at the tip, we also bolted them together and attached
a small eyebolt where the cable will be attached.
By April 14th, we completed all the bone work we could do until
the new visitor center was finished in September. At that time,
we'll move the pieces of the skeleton in, put them together and
hang the entire skeleton from the ceiling.
the next phase of the Kodiak Gray Whale Project kicked in - Bare
Bones Education. Stacy gave educational tours to many school children
and various other groups. All were awed and some greatly inspired
by the enormous size of the whale.