On May 3, the carcass of a young humpback whale was found beached in Godbout. Following sampling for research purposes, the whale carcass was recovered by the Marine Mammal Interpretation Centre in Tadoussac (CIMM). After flensing the carcass in record time at the Ragueneau landfill site, the CIMM team let nature do her job for 22 days before embarking on the next step: cleaning the skeleton.

The Godbout humpback is now at the 5 Étoiles farm in Sacré-Cœur. This long-standing partner is always eager to collaborate in the success of these ventures: cleaning and preparing a skeleton in order to turn it into a museum display!

Soft ground conditions caused by the spring thaw prevented the bones from being transported from Ragueneau back to the present site, where the next steps will be carried out. With permission from the Quebec Ministry of Sustainable Development, Environment and the Fight against Climate Change and the municipal board of Ragueneau, the skeleton continued to macerate for 22 days in a container.

Upon opening the container, CIMM’s Patrice Corbeil and Pierre Olsen found that the insects had done a remarkable cleaning job. Thousands of insects and maggots gorged themselves on the whale flesh.

After overcoming their squeamishness with a couple of deep breaths, Pierre and Patrice arranged the bones in the sun.  In another two weeks, a second team will perform an additional cleaning treatment. Preparing bones for long-term preservation requires long hours of work and waiting. Indeed, whale bones contain enormous quantities of fat, which must be completely removed from the skeleton to prevent the latter from rotting.

Pending its debut display at the CIMM, here is a video of the assembly of a humpback whale skeleton at the Center for Coastal Studies in Provincetown, Maine. Known by the name Spinnaker, this whale died in 2015 after getting lodged in fishing gear. In her 11-year life, Spinnaker got herself entangled three times and was released each time by the Center for Coastal Studies. Putting the skeleton on display will help raise public awareness of the impacts of human activities on whales. For the humpback in Godbout, the cause of death remains a mystery.

Field Notes - 2/6/2017

Marie-Ève Muller

Marie-Ève Muller is responsible for GREMM's communications. As Editor-in-Chief for Whales Online, she devours research and has an insatiable thirst for the stories of scientists and observers. Drawing from her background in literature and journalism, Marie-Ève strives to put the fragile reality of cetaceans into words and images.

Recommended articles

Catch Me If You Can: A Week at the Saddle Island Haulout

6:30 a.m.: The alarm goes off, sounding the start of a new day in the field. I’m not in Tadoussac,…

|Field Notes 13/2/2020

Skeleton Preparations Move Forward

At the time of his most recent interview with a Whales Online intern in the fall of 2018, Michel Martin,…

|Field Notes 3/2/2020

Is ice a significant natural threat to blue whales in the Gulf?

Revisiting the photos I took this past summer, I pondered some of the specific markings I had observed on blue…

|Field Notes 2/12/2019