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Bones of behemoth make their way to Deep Bay

The body of a 30-tonne young grey whale is buried on Scia’New First Nations reserve land in 2010 in anticipation of The Whale Project — a campaign aiming to bring the skeleton of the whale to the VIU Deep Bay Marine Field Station. After four years of decomposing, the whale’s skeleton is now ready to be dug up and put on display in the station.  - PHOTO SUBMITTED BY VIU
The body of a 30-tonne young grey whale is buried on Scia’New First Nations reserve land in 2010 in anticipation of The Whale Project — a campaign aiming to bring the skeleton of the whale to the VIU Deep Bay Marine Field Station. After four years of decomposing, the whale’s skeleton is now ready to be dug up and put on display in the station.
— image credit: PHOTO SUBMITTED BY VIU

The bones of a 30-tonne grey whale decomposing in Sooke are ready — after four years — to be dug up and displayed, said VIU Deep Bay Marine Field Station Manager Brian Kingzett.

Deemed "The Whale Project," Kingzett explained the campaign aims to bring the entire skeleton made up of 145 bones to the Marine Station.

"We're asking people to sponsor individual bones," said Kingzett, who estimates the entire project will cost $75,000.

"The plan is to display the whale's skeleton in the atrium so people can see it up close, connect with it and understand what amazing creatures they are," said Kingzett, adding the bones will hang from the ceiling in a chandelier-like fashion.

"The preparation of the skeleton will provide an incredible learning opportunity for students involved in the process," said Kingzett. "And once it's on display the whale will continue to educate the public."

Kingzett said "people get inspired when they can interact with marine life."

According to Kingzett, the total weight of the bones will be more than 1,000 pounds after decomposing from the 30 tonne carcass buried in 2010 in anticipation of this project.

"It's a big deal," he said, brimming with excitement about what he called "an interesting experiment."

Kingzett said not only is the Whale Project unique in its own right, the funding approach campaign organizers are taking is also "unprecedented."

"For the first time ever VIU is trying a crowd funding approach," said Kingzett.

He explains crowd funding involves looking to a variety of individuals for financial backing, instead of one specific person or organization to fund the entire initiative.

Kingzett said crowd funding often uses web-based media to communicate project goals. He said it allows individuals to contribute at a range of levels, as well as  make contributions online.

"We're modeling our approach after something like Kickstarter," said Kingzett. "We have a video that's launching at the end of this week which will explain what we're doing and why."

Kingzett said crowd funding allows the community to get involved and engaged.

"We're trying to make this a really fun project," said Kingzett. "And we want people to be a part of it."

So organizers are calling to the community for help.

"We're asking people to sponsor us on a per-bone basis," said Kingzett. "You can sponsor an individual bone, or the cleaning and articulation of a bone. Donations can be made through the VIU Foundation and will be tax deductible."

Kingzett said the timeline of the project will depend on community support.

"We're looking for volunteers and sponsors," he said. "We're doing this project for the community and we want it to be a community project."

Kingzett explained the Whale Project started four years ago when a young grey whale washed ashore in East Sooke Park.

"The Scia'New First Nations in Beecher Bay and DFO Marine Mammal Specialist Paul Cotrell facilitated us getting the whale," said Kingzett. "The First Nations were concerned that people were disrespecting the whale's body, cutting chunks out of it, jumping on it — generally behaving like people who don't respect marine life."

Kingzett said Scia'New First Nations and VIU have since formed a partnership working to preserve the skeleton of the grey whale for the purposes of education.

"We consulted with elders about an appropriate place to bury the whale on their reserve," said Kingzett, who admitted the project came together naturally as if it were meant to happen.

Last year, Kingzett said the university signed a memorandum with the Scia'New First Nations and the remnants of the whale are now ready for the next phases of the project: exhumation, cleaning the bones, transportation the bones and assembling them in a natural shape.

To follow the progress of The Whale Project visit Brian Kingzett's blog at http://viudeepbay.com/2013/04/12/grey-whale-project-ready-for-next-phase/.

For more information, to volunteer or sponsor a bone contact the Deep Bay Marine Field Station at 250-740-6399.

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