A 20-tonne grey whale, decomposing in Sooke for the last four years, was finally unearthed.
On June 8, a small group of volunteers headed to the Scia’new Nation (Beecher Bay) land where more than 150 bones were articulated, measured and rinsed. The bones have since been transported to the VIU Deep Bay Field Marine Station.
The skeleton of the whale will be reassembled later this year to hang like a chandelier above the station’s stairwell as a centre piece for marine education. It will weigh nearly 2,000 pounds.
For Brian Kingzett, June 8 marked “a milestone” in a project he has been working on for nearly half a decade.
“This is certainly the craziest project I have ever undertaken,” said Kingzett, manager of the marine station who has been spearheading The Whale Project since the beginning. “Digging up whales isn’t exactly something you get experience doing.”
Kingzett said because the whale has been underground for the last four years, he had no idea what to expect until the team of volunteers started digging.
“Over the last few years I’ve heard countless horror stories about digging up (decomposed) animals only to find a pool of acid or mush,” he told The NEWS from the sacred First Nations ground where the whale was buried.
“I wasn’t sure what to expect but all the bones are in great condition,” he said with a sigh of relief, overlooking the site where volunteers clad in rubber boots carefully uncovered bone after bone of the whale like an archaeological treasure hunt.
Scia’new First Nation member Sharon Cooper called the day “emotional.”
Cooper was the first to see the grey whale washed up on the shore of East Sooke Park in 2010. She said within one week the young whale was disrespected by passerbys carving their initials into its body and taking pieces of the deceased animal home as a souvenir.
“It made me sick,” she recalled.
It was shortly afterwards that Cooper and Kingzett teamed up with a plan to protect the whale by burying it, letting it decompose, digging it back up and using the bones for education about marine biology and First Nations culture.
Cooper blessed the site with sacred water before volunteers began digging their way to the whale on June 8.
“I’m so overwhelmed,” she said, holding back tears. “The magnitude of what we’re doing is huge.”
Cooper said watching how carefully each volunteer handled the bones was “just amazing.” She said the project gives the whale “the honour he deserves.”
Scia’new First Nation has made an agreement with VIU that they will retain ownership of the whale, however, it will be on permanent display at the marine station.
According to Kingzett, the volunteers who came to Sooke for what he called “a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity” were people close to the project including marine station staff, VIU students and professors, media, a retired radiologist and a Qualicum Beach couple who sponsored the whale’s skull by donating $5,000 to the project.
Organizers have taken a unique approach to raising the $75,000 needed to bring the project to fruition — instead of looking for big grants and donations, they put the call out for people to sponsor individual bones of the whale in an effort to allow people to feel more connected to the project. Bones vary in price with the two jaw bones priced at $2,500, the sternum at $400 and each of the ten phalanges at $200. There are still bones left for sponsorship.
Kingzett said $55,000 has been raised so far. While he said the bones still have a major cleaning process to undergo, he thinks the skeleton could be hanging by this December.
To follow to the progress of the Whale Project visit www2.viu.ca/deepbay/whale/. For more information or to make a donation, contact 250-740-6611 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.