Whale bones too soiled to make trip to England

Posted: Friday, March 22, 2002

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- It could take another month before a pair of whale jawbones from Barrow are flown to their destined home in Whitby, England.

The 17-foot bones had been scheduled to depart from Anchorage Thursday. But they turned out to be too soiled and will have to be cleaned first, said an official of the Anchorage Sister Cities Commission.

The bones are coated in places with a greasy substance that ''lived up to our worst expectations,'' said Chris Kennedy, a member of the commission, which is coordinating the transfer. An alga and possibly a fungus have attacked the bones beneath their plastic wrapping.

The bones are from a bowhead whale taken by a Barrow whaler in fall 1996. They lay on the beach at the butchering site for about four years, until the Anchorage commission asked the North Slope Borough Department of Wildlife Management in Barrow whether any well-preserved jawbones were available.

The commission was acting on behalf of Whitby, a sister city, whose famous whalebone arch at its harbor was crumbling. The Barrow agency said yes.

That was 18 months ago. At the time, the bones were steam cleaned of most remaining tissue, said Benny Akootchook, a research coordinator for Wildlife Management. Akootchook and another man then covered the huge bones in ordinary plastic wrap.

Complications from federal and international law delayed the shipment while the plastic-wrapped bones languished outdoors. Whale bones like these contain enough oil that they can seep for years, Akootchook said. So it's no wonder they've become contaminated.

Kennedy said the permits from Britain specify the bones must be dry, cleaned and bleached. He said the cleanup work is expected to be completed by next month.

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