Thursday, June 2, 2011

The Whale Job, or I Am Ahab

A break from the usual fodder for a while, since I'm slightly out of ideas. Don't worry, the usual supernatural schedule will return in due time. And this is pretty weird as well.

The specimen, as found.
 So, back in mid-April, around the 23rd by my records, I found something weird floating in a stream on North Side Beach, approximately halfway between the towns of Eastport and Clay Cove. Looked like a log at first, but closer examination revealed it to be some kind of biological thing. After the thought of it being a monstrous trout crossed my mind (and was summarily dismissed), I came to the conclusion that it was some kind of whale or dolphin. After a bit of examination, and some searching of references, I determined it to be a long-finned pilot whale (Globicephala melas), locally known as a pothead whale, a fairly common species of dolphin. How it wound up in a freshwater stream continues to baffle me, but I Occam's Razor would dictate that it washed ashore on a high tide and was pushed down into the brook. The first idea to cross my mind was that I'd love to have the thing's skull, which means waiting for a while as it rots away and hope the thing is still there. After some thought, I decided to...uh, retrieve the head myself and keep it safe. On the 26th of April, we went to give it a shot.

The kit.
The first attempt at retrieval was a mess. Both literally and figuratively. Done on a budget of approximately $60, with exactly zero knowledge (practically at least) of what I was doing, I set out on a quest to decapitate the thing. That didn't go so well. The thing proved to be a bit bigger than I'd bargained for, and the tools I'd chosen were not really that great. Specifically, a dull skinning knife and a 21" bow saw were some bad choices. The saw, while preforming quite well on the fleshier bits, snagged as a result of the design on the bone. The knife just sucked. Compounding the issue was the weather. Specifically, it was cold, with a heavy wind off the water, and driving rain. And of course my plans to seal my gear with duct tape failed miserably, so I wound up with half the stream in my gloves and boots. Oh, did I forget to mention the smell? For something that's been sitting in a clean, icy cold stream it stank like...well, like a dead whale. After much sawing and more blubber than any man should ever have to deal with, I struck a problem. The thing's spinal column. The saw wouldn't cut it, and with hypothermia setting in (no, I'm not exaggerating, I actually was mildly hypothermic), I gave up, rather dejected. A second expedition was planned for some time in the future, once I defrosted.

A wonderful glamour shot.
The second try went a lot better. First off, I was better equipped. Saw with unidirectional teeth to reduce snagging, a full suit of chest waders to stay dry, various ropes and grapples, and a V8 pickup truck. We decided that it would be a much better idea to tow the forequarters of the specimen ashore and do the cutting there. A length of braided nylon rope was run through the original incision, as can be seen in the provided image. I managed a crude slipknot into the rope, and by some miracle it didn't snap under 245 horsepower. Of course, all cameras were forgotten on the expedition when we actually got the damn thing. Anyhow, we got it ashore with relative ease, and I went to work. Oddly enough it didn't smell quite as bad. With a significant amount of effort, cutting of a vertebra, and more application of horsepower, we detached the head. Another problem soon presented itself, however. The damned thing weighed over 200 pounds, and all we had was a big Rubbermaid box. Keep in mind this had to be moved from the ground four feet up into the pan of a truck. Lifting it directly in would've been possible, but the box would've split open. Improvisation time. Using locally-available materials (AKA a big stick), we fashioned a crude ramp and grunted it aboard.

The head, as of mid-May.
The next problem was what to do with it. We discussed a number of ideas, but most of them proved rather unfeasible due to the thing's size and horrific smell. We eventually settled on the time-tested trick of "dump it the hell out of the truck, drive like scalded apes, let nature take care of it and hope nobody makes off with it". We picked a location in the absolute middle of nowhere, a nameless woods road halfway between Northern Arm and Point Leamington, a half mile off the highway. Current plan is to allow it to decay naturally for a time, and dose it with quicklime at some point. At present, it's on location. There's been some noted animal activity in the area, including something, likely a bear, rolling it over and away from the box. Checks planned every two weeks, give or take. Updates when I get'em.

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