Volunteers make headway excavating whale bones in Lubec

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LUBEC — There’s nothing quite like the smell of rotting whale flesh to make sure your olfactory senses are working properly.

A group of volunteers excavating the remains of a whale Saturday worked in muddy, smelly conditions on Mowry Beach in Lubec and planned to resume their efforts on Sunday.

The group, mostly college students, was digging up the bones of a 54-foot finback whale that was stranded on the beach in 1994 and buried at the site. Organizers of the project want to recover the bones, clean them and reassemble the skeleton to display it in Lubec.

The group “probably will not finish” its work this weekend, according to Rhonda Welcome, one of the organizers of the effort. She added that the leaders behind the effort will “regroup and talk.”

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Rosemary Seton, a research associate and marine mammal stranding coordinator with the College of the Atlantic’s marine mammal research group, Allied Whale, and Gayle Kraus, a professor of marine ecology at the University of Maine at Machias, were overseeing the work.

Seton and Kraus also were down in the shallow hole with the others, digging with shovels and clam rakes. Like the students and volunteers, by early afternoon, they were suitably smeared with mud. But the crew was dressed for the occasion, most of them wearing boots, hip boots, chest waders and rubber gloves.

A vast expanse of mud had been laid bare by low tide. In the distance was the Lubec Channel Light. A red pickup truck was parked on the mud down the beach, and the owner was digging clams nearby. Near the excavation area, the beach was covered with rocks about fist-size and slightly larger. The volunteers worked under overcast skies and in a stiff breeze.

Seton said that the work was like digging “cement” and “really, really difficult.”

The group was concentrating on removing the skull, vertebrae and ribs, said Seton.

She had a couple of students with her, and Kraus was accompanied by about a dozen students in a marine mammal class. There were about 20 people total, and there were a few onlookers.

Bill Ramsdell, a contractor, donated the use of an excavator to unearth the whale remains, and he assisted the group with the machine.

Volunteers did some preliminary work at the site in September.

The leftover remains will be re-buried before the group leaves Sunday, said Welcome.

The bones that were recovered were going to be taken to an undisclosed location to be buried in manure to hasten the process of decomposing the remaining whale tissue.

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