WWU Divers Assist with the Recovery of Fin Whale Skeleton off San Juan Island
The cranium of the juvenile fin whale is brought ashore for study.
Staff at Western Washington University's Shannon Point Marine Center assisted colleagues at the University of Washington's Friday Harbor Laboratories in recovery of bones from a juvenile fin whale that had been previously placed on the ocean floor at a site off of San Juan Island.
Members of the SPMC scientific dive team were assisting in a research program aimed at documenting the natural decomposition cycle of whale carcasses and the pattern of use of the resulting skeletons by other marine creatures. The research is being conducted by scientists at Friday Harbor Laboratories and the University of Hawaii. The topic is of ecological interest because it has been hypothesized that whale falls in mid-ocean regions may serve as important refuges for organisms that have few other sources of food and shelter as they move from island to island across the vast expanses of ocean.
The dead whale was found at the Port of Everett in late 2006 and was transported to the site off San Juan Island and sunk. As dictated by the research plan, parts of the skeleton are now being retrieved for study and eventual display at the University of Washington's Burke Museum of Natural History.
Three SPMC scientific divers - Nathan Schwarck, Karl Mueller, and Robert Williams - along with Friday Harbor diver Kurt Long, took high-definition video of the site and retrieved both rib bones, vertebrae, and the cranium for further study. Recovering the several hundred pound nine-and-a-half-foot-long cranium took the most effort and time planning.
"Since the cranium was located near maximum depth we usually work as scientific divers, we limited our time on the bottom for safety reasons," said Schwarck, WWU's scientific diving safety officer.
The Shannon Point Marine Center is a program of Western Washington University. Its mission is to support marine science academics and research at the university. In 2003, the marine center received the Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Math and Engineering Mentoring. More information about Shannon Point Marine Center facilities and programs can be found at www.wwu.edu/~spmc.