The first phase of a multi-year project is underway as a team from a
A crew from the
In a few days, they will go to the nearby town of
Both carcasses are expected to then be transferred to nearby
The two blue whales Engstrom's team is recovering were among nine killed by unusually thick sea ice, Engstrom said, adding that number represented about five per cent of the population in the North Atlantic.
The chance to preserve some record of a highly endangered species, he said,
"I'm sad that the whales have died. I think that's a real tragedy," Engstrom said in an interview from
Engstrom said 10 to 12 people will assemble in
It's a dirty, time-intensive process, Engstrom said, adding that the crew will be working through the stench of what he describes as one of the worst smells on the planet.
The team will spend about two weeks stripping the corpses of all skin, blubber and skeletal muscles before taking the skeletons apart and packing them up for transport.
Backhoes attached to specialized lines may speed up the skin-removal process, but if the machinery is not available the messy task will be completed by hand, Engstrom said.
Once the roughly 60-tonne bodies are prepared, they'll be loaded onto two 18-wheeler trucks and driven to
While the tissue samples collected in
The skeleton will be packed in soil and manure for a year to help compost any remaining flesh. Then comes the process of stripping the bones of the substance that allows the giant mammals to survive in the world's deepest oceans.
"They contain a lot of oil which keeps them from becoming crushed if they do deep dives," Engstrom said of blue whale bones. "It helps in buoyancy and so on. So the bones contain a lot of oil, and you have to get that oil out ... which is probably the hardest part of the whole process."
Engstrom said scientists will likely drain the bones by soaking them in water until the oil rises to the surface, adding that process can take up to two years.
But amateur marine biologists shouldn't start marking their calendars for a museum exhibit in 2017, he said. The bones would be extremely expensive to prepare and mount for display, and it's no guarantee the necessary funds would be available.
Engstrom said the time-consuming project is primarily for the benefit of the global scientific community. He believes it's worth spending "tens of thousands of dollars" to maintain a record of a historically significant species on the verge of extinction.
"There are very few of them in collections because they're so large, yet they're a very important part of the Canadian fauna and they're all very highly endangered. So if someone doesn't go about doing this kind of work now, it may not be possible to do it in the future."
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