Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Finally, a real live whole dead whale

The Long Marine Lab here in Santa Cruz has a couple of whale skeletons mounted outdoors, and Nick got permission for us to measure them. I'll start with the pathetically tiny one, a Gray Whale (Eschrichtius robustus, foo'). By "pathetically tiny" I mean a shade over nine meters long and probably not massing more than 10 tons (incidentally, 10 tons is Mike Taylor's threshold for considering something interesting). Some other things that are nine meters long are the Supermarine Spitfire and the neck of a good-sized (but not record-sized) Brachiosaurus. Gray Whales get up to about 15 meters long and about 35 tons, or so Wikipedia tells me. That's a little longer than a big T. rex--"Sue" is only 12.5 meters--and probably about as heavy as a good-sized Brachiosaurus, like the mounted skeletons in Berlin and Chicago.

Whoops, sorry, I'm trying to resist the siren song of sauropods for a few posts here, but it ain't easy. A-ny-way, the Gray Whale skeleton at Long Marine Lab is still under construction. It's mounted at an oblique angle because Gray Whales use their baleen to strain small crustaceans out of the sand and muck at the bottom of the ocean, and they turn on their sides to do it. Like almost everything under the sun, the whales show "handedness" and tend to preferentially feed on one side (other examples that I know of include elephants, crocodiles, and turtles--how has Darren not blogged about this yet?). The skeleton hasn't been weatherproofed yet, but hopefully it will be soon.

Anyway, I hope you can look past the animal's extremely small size and find something of interest in the pictures. This next picture is kinda cool on its own, but it will be a lot cooler after I get the next batch posted, so you'll have something truly impressive to compare it to.

As we were working, flights of pelicans kept zooming past, on their way who knows whither.

Stay tuned for the mother of all sea monsters. For real this time, not like my crab confusion episode.

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