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A whale of a job part 7: Introducing Stumpy

Posted on 04-10-2017 by Becky Desjardins

A whale of a job part 7: Introducing Stumpy

Stumpy is a very famous whale. But, she is not part of the Naturalis collection, in fact, she is not even in Europe! She can be found on exhibit at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences (NCSM), which is where I will be working this fall.  NCSM has borrowed me from Naturalis for a few weeks in order to help out with a bunch of different collections projects, mostly bird related, in exchange for a number of  American birds and mammal specimens. I hope to learn how to better prepare mammals, which is a strong point of the collections staff at NCSM. Should be a fun few weeks*!

So, the story of Stumpy.  Stumpy is an North Atlantic Right Whale, one of only 400 remaining in the world. They were decimated by whale hunting and the numbers have never recovered. Because there are so few, Stumpy was tracked her entire life: she was 29 years old, and pregnant with her 6th calf and when she was killed by a ship collision somewhere off the east coast of the US in 2004. She washed up on the North Carolina Coast.  But that is not the end of Stumpy’s story….

Stumpy’s bones when on to be tested by a marine biologist, Regina Campbell-Malone, who wanted to know, what does it take to break a whale bone? Since 1970 more than half of the 40 Right Whale deaths have been from ship strikes. These animals migrate up and down the East coast of the US, which also happens to be a very busy area for ship traffic, and slow moving whales are no match for fast moving metal hulled cargo ships.

Campbell-Malone and her colleagues took the bones and subjected them to many many different kinds of stress tests. From the results they developed computer models of ship strikes to try and determine how fast a ship would have to go to kill a whale. After all this was determined, the marine biologists made recommendations to policy makers in the US government. As a result, in 2008, a law was passed restricting speed limits of ships within certain areas where they are likely to encounter whales. Since then, Right whale-ship collisions have dropped by more than half.  So from something so sobering as losing a whale from a tiny population, the positive effects of her death have been far reaching.

*Because of my trip to North Carolina, the whale bone project is taking a hiatus. You can follow my adventures on a different blog: https://science.naturalis.nl/en/about-us/news/onderzoek/blog-1-naturalis-meets-north-carolina-bugfest/ 

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