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Dalhousie researchers building unique 3-D model of blue whale skeleton

In 2017, an 18-metre juvenile blue whale washed up on the shores of Nova Scotia. Two years later, now that the flesh has decomposed to reveal the bones underneath, biologists are putting it to use
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The blue whale bones laid out near Dalhousie's Truro campus. (Photo via Dalhousie)

In 2017, an 18-metre juvenile blue whale washed up on the shores of Nova Scotia.

Two years later, now that the flesh has decomposed to reveal the bones underneath, biologists are putting it to use.

"We want that skeleton for everybody to see," says Chris Nelson, a senior instructor at Dalhousie University's Faculty of Agriculture at the Truro campus.

"If you've ever seen one, they're spectacular and awe-inspiring," he adds. "Just the size of these things."

For months, the team of students and researchers has been piecing the whale skeleton together, with the hope of displaying it in an exhibit at Dalhousie's Steele Ocean Sciences Building in Halifax by 2021.

Nelson has been working with Dr. Chris Harvey-Clark, head of animal ethics at Dalhousie in Halifax.

"[He] got a hold of us here in Truro. He's very interested in all things marine, and saw what we had the capacity of our facilities," says Nelson.

Although the Agricultural campus deals with animals all the time, Nelson says they weren't prepared for the scale of the project.

"It caught us by a bit of a surprise, out of the blue. We've got this dead whale, can you guys help us with it," Nelson tells NEWS 95.7's The Todd Veinotte Show.

"That's where the vision started. Wouldn't it be something to have this skeleton in Halifax at Dal for the public to view? So here we are trying to make this happen."

Ease of access is one key component for Nelson, so anyone who wants to learn about the whale is able to.

In that regard, the team is hoping to build a 3-D model of the whale, so that researchers can learn from it without seeing it in person.

"A 3-D scanner is a good way to take real world data, and bring it into the digital world," Nelson explains. "Say you're in another part of the world and you'd like to do research on a blue whale but you're way inland. We've got a database or a library of data that then they can go access."

Nelson says they are creating the 3-D model in tandem with the physical model that will be housed at Dalhousie.

"It's really hard to draw things that are organic and lots of curves, and that's really where 3-D scanning comes int oits own," he says. "You can really, quickly and easily bring in a really good representation of the real world into a digital suite, and then you can start manipulating and doing things with it."

Nelson says that this technology helps everyone from researchers like himself to filmmakers creating state-of-the-art CGI movies.

"The sky's the limit with what you do with it. Producers and directors are using this kind of technology now to make avatars," he says.

The project is well underway already, but Nelson says they are holding a fundraiser to continue the compilation of the whale, dubbed Dive In: The Blue Whale Project.

"There's quite a bit of time and energy that goes into making this sort of thing," he explains. "The number we're shooting for right off the bat is somewhere over $300,000."

As part of the project, donors are able to name one of 230 bones that make up the whale skeleton.

You can name a finger bone -- or phalange -- for just a $100 donation, while larger bones like vertebrae and ribs range up to $2,500.




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Victoria  Walton

About the Author: Victoria Walton

After graduating from journalism at King's, Victoria Walton now works in the film industry and as HalifaxToday.ca's weekend editor.
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