Skeleton of 'mini-whale' goes on display in Kodiak

Six-foot-long Dall's porpoise hangs from park office's ceiling

Posted: Sunday, November 27, 2005

KODIAK - A Dall's porpoise carcass shipped to Kodiak in a surplus casket and allowed to decompose has been resurrected as a nature display and installed at Fort Abercrombie State Historical Park.

"It's like a mini whale," said Kodiak District ranger Wayne Biessel.

Installed Monday, the intricate, bleached skeleton measures 6 feet long and hangs from the ceiling of the park district office. The skeleton, nicknamed "Dalli," becomes part of a permanent display in late December.

The $4,000 rearticulation project was funded through the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. A second skeletal reconstruction is planned in 2007 for the downtown office of the Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge when a 37-foot gray whale skeleton will be installed.

Behind both projects is Homer-based bone specialist Lee Post. He worked with Biessel to delicately transport the porpoise skeleton from a basement room at Kodiak's Fisheries Research Center to Fort Abercrombie park.

Kate Wynne of the Kodiak NOAA office began scouting in the spring for a Dall's porpoise for display; colleagues at the National Marine Mammal Lab in Seattle happened to have one in a freezer after a partially decomposed carcass washed ashore on a Washington beach.

The frozen carcass, shipped in a surplus casket, was thawed and its blubber removed. Flippers were placed in mesh bags so their delicate skeletal structure would remain intact and the entire carcass, flippers and all, was returned to the casket which was packed with lawn clippings and manure to speed decomposition.

Post said reconstructing the skeleton took about a week.

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