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A whale of a job part III: first impressions

Posted on 23-08-2017 by Becky Desjardins

It has now been a few weeks since we began working on cleaning all the cetacean bones.  We began by doing all the smaller assembled skeletons (mostly dolphins and porpoises) primarily because they are the easiest to access in the collection area and their small size means they are easy to manage. We also have cleaned a couple of loose bones from a larger whales just to see how the techniques work on them.

In many cases, just using the vacuum makes a huge difference!  Bones go from grey in color to whitish. Following up the vacuum with a water rinse, or soap and water works quite well on dusty specimens.  In some cases, the change is really dramatic.


Using the sandblaster is fun, especially when it does a very dramatic cleaning! We have modified the box it is in to include a rack to hang mounted skeletons from which is very handy. It is also easier on the bones, they can easily break if laying on the fragile ribs and vertebrae. Not every skeleton responds to sandblasting, sometimes using water and soap is better.

Greasy bones are a chore. Nice results take a while to get and working with a toothbrush is hard on the wrists. When you think about it, we brush our teeth for a minute or two. Working on degreasing these bones can take an hour! An electric toothbrush is on the list of things we need to purchase for this project. However, at the end after all the brushing and ammonia we have gotten some really really nice results.


The surprising thing is that many specimens are different from each other in animal but also in what cleaning treatment is most effective. Sometimes we have skeletons of the same genus that are equally dirty, but one was better cleaned by a vacuum while the other needed the sand blaster. There have been two skulls that looked greasy but just rinsing them with water and a teeny bit of ammonia made a huge difference: in this case there was  no scrubbing required! There was one lower jaw of a whale bone that looked like vacuum and rinsing would be fine, but turned out to need some time in the sand blaster.  Maybe it has something to do with the age of the specimen, or how it was prepared in the beginning.

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