I’m a collector of bones… no, not in a horror film form of approach… extra like in a Victorian period naturalist, gentleman scientist form of approach. I’ve a number of whale vertebrae in my assortment, for instance. One fossil vertebra was mundanely added: I purchased it at a kind of mineral/fossil reveals that I frequent on occasion. As soon as, in Newfoundland, I traded a large pyrite crystal for a sperm whale vertebra. However, by far the good and positively the smelliest methodology by which I obtained a vertebra was by really accumulating it straight from a whale, in a Victorian period naturalist, gentleman scientist form of approach.
In the future, about thirty years in the past, I noticed a TV information report a few useless juvenile Proper Whale that had washed ashore on Lengthy Island (on the Southwestern Shore of Nova Scotia). The information report described how some scientists have been taking samples and investigating what had killed it. Apparently, they surmised that it had been hit by a ship and its again had been damaged. (On the time, there have been solely 300 North American Proper Whales left on the planet, so this was an essential scientific and environmental occasion; nicely, 299 North American Proper Whales left, I suppose).
I assumed, “hey, I’m a scientist of kinds.* Possibly I can go there for samples too.” Off I went, a three-hour drive and a ferry journey away from my then house in Hants County. I had ready my gentleman scientist specimen accumulating package – which consisted of a rubbish bag – and my gentleman scientist accumulating instruments – which consisted of an axe and my mom’s greatest kitchen knife – and my gentleman scientist clothes – which consisted of an previous jean shirt, previous blue denims, and previous rubber boots. After the lengthy drive, I climbed right down to the place the whale had washed ashore. Truly, in hindsight, I’m undecided how I knew precisely the place the whale can be, because the street was a long way from the hidden seaside. Uncharacteristically, I will need to have requested some locals. I do keep in mind that, fortunately, there was a path right down to the seaside that was maybe a half a kilometre lengthy. And so, there it was, hemmed in by some rocks, a mass of flesh on the seaside, about 10 metres lengthy, if stretched out, and a few metres excessive at its highest. The whale was bent in two, again on itself. Even to an beginner Victorian period naturalist, gentleman scientist like me, it was pretty clear that its again was damaged. Extra importantly, it was additionally clear that the mass of flesh had been rotting for fairly a while.
Nobody else was there, the actual scientists having lengthy since departed. Solely the seagulls gathered on the periphery of that little seaside and warily watched me. I’m sure they have been pissed at this massive apelike creature stealing potential meals. Proper, so I needed to get a vertebra for my assortment. To try this, I needed to climb over the slimy mess to the most effective spot to get at a vertebra (the damaged again having partially uncovered a number of). Belief me, it’s a scent I received’t ever overlook. The blue denims and shirt that I had worn that day sat draped over a patio chair exterior my of us’ house within the rain and the snow and the sleet and the wind for the entire winter earlier than I dared even ponder contaminating the washer with them.
Now, a vertebra is clearly a reasonably essential part for a again so, not surprisingly, they’re nicely anchored by sinews and flesh and muscle mass and numerous different unidentifiable however rot-able issues. I stabbed and minimize and hacked away at that whale again for what appeared like an hour, with my mom’s greatest kitchen knife. (My different accumulating device, the axe, was successfully ineffective as a result of the flesh was too gooey). Lastly, I pulled my prize from the outlet: a contemporary yellowy-white, nonetheless moist, exceedingly uncommon Proper Whale vertebra. Practically on the finish of my power, I climbed again over the slimy mess, and dragged my vertebra and my accumulating instruments up the little path again to my automotive, noticing distinctly that this route was up hill. As greatest I might, I put all issues smelly into the inexperienced plastic “specimen bag” and drove house.
The vertebra itself sat exterior on my of us’ balcony within the rain and the snow and the sleet and the wind for 2 years earlier than I dared carry it inside.
Epilogue 1 (on remembering smells): Odor is the sense most intently hooked up to reminiscence. The rotting whale on the seaside jogged my memory of a scent from the acute earliest fringe of my reminiscence. Blandford, on the South Shore of Nova Scotia, had a whaling plant that was purposeful up till the 1960’s. I bear in mind my mother and father taking me there as soon as. I will need to have been fairly younger as a result of the reminiscence is so distant that I solely have two fleeting pictures: a dramatic image picture of flensing an enormous whale carcass mendacity on the dock and a horrible scent picture of the rendering of whale blubber into oil. And, right here’s the logical conundrum. If you happen to’ve smelled it, you realize what I imply and I don’t have to elaborate. If you happen to haven’t smelled it, then I’m sorry, for I’m basically at a loss to explain it… assume burning rubber crossed with rancid butter with, how do they are saying it for vintages?, excessive notes of… rotting seafood.
Epilogue 2 (one other try): A number of years after my Lengthy Island Diced Whale episode, I heard of one other juvenile whale carcass – this time of an unidentified species – noticed within the Stewiacke River. It had apparently gotten confused and wandered too far up the tidal river, acquired stranded and died. The information story spoke of the whale carcass being washed down the river. So, off I raced to Stewiacke (solely an hour away) hoping to have a repeat fortunate discover. With fairly superb timing, simply as I arrived on the solely bridge I do know on the Stewiacke River, I noticed this black mass (possibly 5 metres lengthy?) tumbling by, slowly being washed again to the ocean the place it belonged. Alas, it was too removed from shore to be accessible by the “previous rubber boot” methodology, so I simply watched for some time because it tumbled and was pushed by the water and tumbled some extra and finally disappeared round a bend. I used to be a bit forlorn as a collector, however blissful as a naturalist.
Epilogue 3 (extra whale bones): One of many coolest Christmas presents I ever obtained was from a few-exes-ago girlfriend: a set of whale bone sled runners. She was from Newfoundland and her grandfather had been the postman on a small island. Within the winter, he would ship mail utilizing a sled, the runners of which have been product of whale ribs. They’re now prized bones/artifacts in my Victorian period naturalist, gentleman scientist, historic ethnographer assortment.
Written by Mike Wendt
* My doctorate is in a department of arithmetic so summary that even different mathematicians generally name it “summary nonsense.” Personally, I choose the time period “generalized summary nonsense.”