Field Notes
U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
Field Notes Entry   
KODIAK: We Dig Whales!
Alaska Region, August 19, 2004
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Bare Bones Education: Stacy Studebaker, a retired Kodiak science teacher, found a dead gray whale in May 2000 and saw an opportunity instead of just a tragedy. She obtained permission from the National Marine Fisheries Service to keep and bury the whale for a community educational project. But, where could she find a home for the 35-foot skeleton? Enter Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge, which is planning a new visitor center in downtown Kodiak. While exhibits will focus on Refuge fish and wildlife, the whale will enable Refuge staff to interpret the dynamics of an island ecosystem and the importance of carrion for bears, eagles and other wildlife. The visitor center will display the whale skeleton on a partially enclosed rooftop observation deck, where visitors can see and smell the nearby ocean.

After decaying underground for four years, the whale skeleton is ready to serve its next purpose in life ? as an educational symbol. So far more than 70 volunteers and a number of partner agencies have participated in the excavation process. Sunday, August 15, began with a ceremony to honor the whale and ask blessings for the project. Excavation started Monday morning and by mid-afternoon the skeleton was largely uncovered. The last bone, the massive skull, was removed Wednesday. This whale, called "Gordie" after Studebaker's 92-year old father, was found to have eight more bones than expected based on available literature. Volunteers will clean the bones while local experts will re-articulate them. A local artist will prepare a classic scientific illustration of the skeleton to be made available on the web and in poster form. No such illustration presently exists.

All funding for the project is from "in-kind" donations from partners and volunteer labor. Studebaker is writing grant proposals to obtain funding for the assembly and scientific illustration phases of the project.

Photos available.

Contact Info: Kristen Gilbert, 907-786-3391, Kristen_Gilbert@fws.gov
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