There aren’t many people with enough beach or inclination to have a dead 42-foot gray whale towed to it to decompose.
But, that’s what Mario Rivera and Stefanie Worwag did. They have a remote beach near Port Hadlock and are members of the West Coast Marine Mammal Stranding Network.
Rivera named the whale Gunther. The adult male, likely 40 tons, died of starvation, and was towed about three miles to their beach in June last year for a necropsy.
“Nobody wanted it,” Rivera said. “The state didn’t want it.”
That’s because it’s costly towing it out to sea. Blowing it up, as was done in 1970 in Florence, Oregon, had unintended consequences.
Rotting whale meat showered down on cars and people who’d gathered to watch the spectacle. The pieces were rounded up and buried.
Here, a little lime and thousands of maggots went to work.
Says Worwag: “90% of the work was done by maggots.”
They now have 158 bones and a reconstruction project stretching to Port Townsend 9½ miles away.
That’s where friends Les Schnick and Ric Brenden are building an internal structure to hold the skull, jaw bones and neck bones in place, and the mounting for the entire skeleton.
“I learned a lot that I didn’t know,” said Schnick, an artist and industrial designer.
The skull’s in his workshop. “It’s the first, and probably the last” such project for him, he says. “But, I like interesting projects.”
Brenden has a long career in marine maintenance and construction.
They’ve built a stand for the 500-pound skull and jaw bones that’s 8-foot-3.
NOAA has granted authorization to Rivera and Worwag to have the bones.
She’s a veterinarian and determined a couple of small vertebrae are missing. They could have been washed away or carried away by a coyote when the bones were on their beach. Or, maybe their ever-curious dachshund, Jack, snatched them.
She and Rivera are using threaded bolts to reconnect the rest of the skeleton.
Instead of bleaching the bones, they’re using acrylic paint called “bone white” to protect them when mounted outside their home.
Poles, anchored in concrete footings, will let the completed project rise in their yard facing the water, with Indian and Marrowstone islands in the distance, later this year or likely in 2021.