ROCKPORT — Rockport’s beached whale carcass moved once again in the course of Monday evening’s storm, opening up an opportunity for officials to discard of the body that had previously been left to rot on the beach, with no viable solutions for removal.
The winds of Sandy combined with the high tides Monday night to pull the long-dead, much-visited, finback whale from a Penzance Road beachfront, into the water, and up onto Cape Hedge Beach near South Street. The new location is open enough that crews can now access the whale with heavy equipment, which was not possible before, as the prior beach was only accessible by a narrow foot path.
Tom French, a scientist from the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries now plans to extract the whale’s bones for a museum exhibit. French, who has been salvaging whale skeletons for over 25 years, kept an eye on this whale carcass as it floated from Boston Harbor to Rockport, waiting for the right opportunity to disassemble the body, according to French.
“We wanted to extract the bones when it was in Boston Harbor, and we wanted to when it was on the other beach in Rockport. So when I heard the storm was coming it looked like it wasn’t necessarily out of reach,” French said.
When French extracts the whale bones, a six hour process that he will begin at 8 a.m. Thursday, French will save the bones to recreate the skeleton for an exhibit in the Seacoast Science Center of Rye, New Hampshire. French said whale skeletons can last for 100 years, and many on display in museums now came from whales that scientists hunted down in order to obtain their skeletons for exhibition. As scientists have worked to protect the whales, exhibition skeletons have grown less common.
“From our point of view these are priceless skeletons or specimens to try to save because we have protected whales now and these are so rare and gargantuan,” French said.
French waits for dead whales to turn up on beaches statewide, then jumps at the chance to salvage the bones. He dissected another whale on Cape Hedge Beach about six years ago.
French said he plans to disassemble the whale body with the help of his own staff of volunteers and Rockport Department of Public Works employees. The volunteers will load the bones into a trailer and transport them to New Hampshire where workers will lay a pile of manure over the bones and leave them to rest until spring, in a process that cleans the bones, according to French. In the spring scientists will bleach the bones and reassemble them to recreate a skeleton for display in the New Hampshire museum.
The skeleton, having traveled miles since the whale’s death and rolled along rocky beaches with the tide, may include some broken bones that workers will need to glue back together.
Plus, French said “It’s going to be a hard task to take it apart because it’s very big.”.
After French and his volunteers carefully slice up the carcass, the public works crew will bury the rest of the whale’s body left behind on the beach, mostly blubber and flesh, deep in the Cape Hedge Beach parking lot.
“Our relationship with the town of Rockport right now is we’re going to help each other,” French said. “We want the skeleton because it’s valuable for education and research. The town wants it gone and they don’t have the ability of moving it right now. They get to dispose of the soft stuff, and we get to keep the skeleton, and everybody’s happy.”
Parisi agreed, saying he was glad that French contacted town officials to remove the carcass in a method that would be cost effective for Rockport, with the town needing only to contribute a few workers for labor and a day’s use of town-owned machinery.
Still, everyone involved is crossing their fingers that the frequent-traveler whale will rest easy on the machinery-accessible Cape Hedge Beach until its Thursday dismantling.
“There is a chance that it could wash away again,” Parisi said. “More than likely though, because we’ve seen the highest of the storm surge tide, the tide probably won’t get high enough to wash the whale away again.”
Marjorie Nesin can be reached at 978-283-7000, x3451, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.