whale rearticulated

January 4, 2004

Woke up in Rhode Island. Went to New Bedford again. Walking down the cobblestoned street with my Modern Library edition of Moby Dick under my arm I'm pretty sure this is either a pilgrimage or a compulsion. Tourism's got nothing to do with it. Come to think of it, what on earth were those tourists from New Jersey that we ran into at the Hetty Green Museum yesterday doing in New Bedford in January? Why weren't they at Disneyworld or on one of those "It's way more than a cruise! So get out there!" cruises they advertise constantly on TV? Who knows?

The crowd is much bigger this morning.

The malassadas taste remarkably like donuts. I have this memory of having really good malassadas at the marathon some year or other but these ain't them. Of course, now that we've had the best malassadas outside of the Azores at the Blessed Sacrament festa in Providence, we'll never be satisfied again.

Upstairs in the room where the Purrington & Russell panorama of a whaling voyage around the world used to be on display they're rearticulating the bones of a sperm whale that washed ashore dead on Nantucket. It's 48 feet long and weighed 90,000 pounds. The first thing I noticed is that there is absolutely zero whale oil smell. The bones are unbelievably dry and white. Remembering back to when they were rearticulating KOBO and how the smell of whale oil permeated the entire museum, and how even now KOBO's bones ooze a little oil I wondered what was different about this whale rearticulation project.

A museum docent appeared, showing two visitors who appeared to be friends of hers around the sperm whale. They said they hadn't understood what she meant when she told them they're rearticulating a sperm whale but now they do. As sometimes happens when I have a question, I couldn't wait patiently so I walked over and asked the docent how come the sperm whale's bones aren't oily like KOBO's.

She explained that the whale rearticulation experts had advised a different method for removing the flesh and treating the bones this time. KOBO's body had been lowered into the sea to be stripped of its flesh naturally, then the bones brought back to the museum and rearticulation begun. The sperm whale's body was towed, by boat and flatbed truck, to New Bedford, where it they flensed it.

Then they buried the bones in manure and straw for cleaning. As the manure decomposes, the high temperature (it can reach up to 160 degrees F) kills any insect infestations and forces the oil out of the bones. Then, after they dug up the bare, cleansed, bones they put it outside to bleach in the sun. That explains the whiteness as well as the dryness. So the bones were already clean and dry when the rearticulation began.

The spine just got put together a couple of days ago, and it's up on saw horses stretching to its full length. Looking thru the spine where all those nerves and stuff of life would be as if it were a tunnel or some weird kind of kaleidoscope felt disorienting. A lot like walking through its rib cage in a Bower in the Aracides, come to think of it. In my imagination anyway...

Today's Reading
Moby Dick by Herman Melville

Last Year's Reading
2003 Book List


Looking thru the spine of the sperm whale


Journal Index



Copyright © 2004, Janet I. Egan