Additional Information. Table of Contents. Cover p. Title Page, Copyright pp. Contents pp. Acknowledgments pp. Introduction pp. Introduction to the Second Edition pp. I: Out of the Vinyl Deeps pp. Dylan pp.
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But we do know that at some point, T44 swallowed the pound seal, claws and all. He had chased down about 15 harbor seals in the week before this catch. The whale had been born there about 30 years earlier, and had never left the area. Its huge body would be salvaged and its bones stripped of flesh and oil. Mike DeRoos and Michi Main, two of the world's top skeleton articulators—people who rebuild an animal's bones into a scientifically accurate skeleton—would reassemble the cleaned bones in their workshop.
From an inert puzzle of bone and steel, the couple would resurrect T44 in a true-to-nature pose for a local museum, giving the killer whale a second life.
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Modern scientists are just beginning to study and understand the animals' culture. The northern Pacific Ocean is home to three killer whale ecotypes—populations that are genetically, behaviorally, and geographically distinct from one another. Endangered resident killer whales mainly eat salmon, while little is known about offshore killer whales , which prowl the edge of the continental shelf. T44 was a transient killer whale , the ecotype that specializes in hunting marine mammals. Groups of transients are known to take on gray whale calves and minke whales.
When hunting, transients rely on stealth. Traveling in small groups of four or five, they passively listen for the splash of a seal, the whoosh of a minke surfacing to exhale, or the call of a mother gray whale to her calf. One transient group may signal other transients with quiet clicks at specific intervals, inviting them to join the hunting party; biologists believe transients share a limited vocabulary to aid communication between unrelated groups. Then, the killers attack with shocking ferocity. They seem to like playing with their prey before tearing it to pieces. A soft-voiced biologist who speaks thoughtfully about cetacean murder, DeRoos has been studying orcas and rebuilding their bones for more than 15 years.
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Born in , T44 was the 44th identified whale in the transient population around the northern end of Vancouver Island. Crowded by dense cedar forest on one side and Johnstone Strait on the other, the former fishing and cannery village is now a seasonal hub for eco-tourism. Most tourists hope to glimpse the orcas as they chase pound Chinooks or punt hapless dolphins into the air.
The center exhibits skeletons of cetaceans common to local waters, including a foot fin whale and a gray whale, whose carcasses were found floating near Telegraph Cove. It was Borrowman who received the phone call on March 31, , about a dead killer whale in Johnstone Strait.
The Canadian Coast Guard had identified it as an orca and called Graeme Ellis, a local killer whale researcher and Borrowman's friend. But he definitely wanted to do a necropsy [to find the cause of death]. These are very rare finds and very important finds. Major decomposition had yet to set in, and Ellis recognized it right away. T44 had a big nick on the back edge of the dorsal fin. As they towed T44 behind the boat toward Telegraph Cove, the 7-ton whale snapped the tow line, but Borrowman managed to rehook it. They waited out the storm overnight on shore.
A light snow was falling the following morning when they arrived in Telegraph Cove, where 18 scientists were waiting with flensing knives in hand. The first step in preparing T44 for his second life took days. First, the scientists, who came from the island's Pacific Biological Station, "spent all day cutting all the bones completely apart and trimmed as much of the meat off as we could. T44 appeared to be a healthy, mature year-old male, about The average lifespan of a male orca is about 30 years, while females live for an average of 50 years, and some much longer.
Researchers were unable, however, to point to a cause of death based on tissue samples. When the necropsy was complete, the biologists turned the carcass over to Borrowman. He and a few others continued cutting the skeleton apart for several more days.
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Every morsel of rotting muscle and blubber, every cartilaginous tendon and bit of skin, would need to be removed from the exterior of the bones. Every pint of oil, which helps keep live whales buoyant, would have to be drained from their porous tissue. From his earlier experience denuding the foot, ton fin whale, Borrowman had determined that sea scavengers—fish, crabs, shrimp, and microbes—are the best cleaners for the job. The fish and crustaceans pick off the flesh, while marine bacteria burrow into the bone. In the cold waters of Johnstone Strait, the oil would solidify into a wax for them to devour.
Pectoral fins—which were so heavy it took four men to lift them—were secured in large fish totes and weighted down. They tied all of the loose ribs together in bundles and strung about three dozen star-shaped vertebrae on lines.
Then, they heaved everything into Telegraph Cove harbor. In the spring of , Borrowman brought up the bundles and barrels, encrusted with barnacles and anemones, and pried off the lids. Later, he put some of the individual bones on display in the Whale Interpretive Centre for a few years. DeRoos and Main, a husband-and-wife skeleton articulating team , operate from their home and workshop on Salt Spring Island, just down the main highway from Telegraph Cove. Both are trained as biologists; DeRoos learned the art of putting skeletons together as one of the first student workers hired at the Whale Interpretive Centre in In September , Borrowman delivered T44 to the workshop.
The heat of the composting process transforms the oil from a viscous, coconut-oil consistency to a flowing liquid, and microbes in the manure will consume most of it. To get bones completely oil-free, DeRoos will employ an industrial-strength vapor degreaser—a type of machine originally used in aerospace manufacturing facilities to clean out aircraft engines.
The degreaser uses solvents to dissolve any remaining oil in the bones in a few hours.
Cleaning the bones of every speck of oil and tissue is essential, because whale guts in any stage of decomposition are not pleasant. The tusk-like ribs spooned on a tarp. As biologists, they have spent the summer months out on boats in the glacier-hewn channels and straits of British Columbia, monitoring marine mammals and watching how they behave.
The details help shape the final narrative of the skeleton, which DeRoos and Main evoke through its posture and the setting where it will eventually be installed. That can really be a good hook to draw people in. We decided [on] this really dynamic rolling, diving hunting posture with its jaws wide open—so when people walk into that exhibit, they walk right into the mouth of this killer whale.
You can almost imagine yourself as the prey. After talking with Borrowman about how he wanted to fit the skeleton into the museum, they decided on positioning the whale in a sharp, banking right turn, diving down as though he were chasing escaping prey. Back in their workshop, DeRoos and Main faced the challenge of correctly assembling T44 as he was in life. There is no standard manual for orca anatomy, and scientists still aren't sure how many bones an orca is supposed to have.
Most killer whales have about bones; within that number are between 53 and 58 vertebrae, 11 to 12 pairs of ribs, and a widely varying number of flipper bones, plus the skull, jaws, and teeth. The bone totals vary among individual whales even within the same species. That makes articulation based on previous models and skeletons a guessing game. For T44, DeRoos and Main drew scaled-down sketches to make sure their vision for the skeleton was actually something a living whale could do.
First, they created the steel beams to hold the heaviest pieces—the pound skull and jawbones—in place.