Whale workers unfazed by overpowering stench

  • Nit Lemley, a volunteer from Mendocino, pulls a large section of blubber from the carcass of a 70 ft. blue whale killed in an open ocean collision with a research ship last week. The whale washed up just south of Ft. Bragg researchers from Humboldt State will haul away the pieces and bury the skeleton for a time before digging it back up and reassembling the bones. (John Burgess/The Press Democrat)

A bone-chilling wind Tuesday carried the putrid odor of decomposition up a gulch near Fort Bragg where scientists, students and volunteers continued the daunting task of slicing up a massive blue whale and preparing it for burial.

“It smells,” said Connie Scherer, a master of understatement who has a vacation home nearby.

The overpowering odor grew exponentially in the early afternoon when workers cut into the gargantuan belly, spilling a mountain of white intestines onto the rocky shore. It grew again when they cut into the intestine to examine its contents.

“I'll never eat bockwurst again,” said one observer.

Meanwhile, thick long slabs of foamy blubber were sliced and pulled off the 72-foot whale, then winched up the cliff above the inlet where the carcass of the female blue whale — the world's largest mammal — came to rest.

The whale was mortally wounded when she tried to surface under a research vessel off the coast of Fort Bragg a week ago Monday.

It's was still unclear Tuesday afternoon how the tons of blubber would be disposed of, said Sheila Semans, a Coastal Conservancy official. She's an organizer of the mammoth effort to salvage the whale skeleton so it someday can be displayed in Fort Bragg, where it could provide educational opportunities and serve as a tourist attraction.

Semans said a person had offered to take and compost the fat, but that's not an allowed use for parts of a federally protected species. Like everything else about the salvage project, solutions to problems are continually in flux.

When the blubber — roughly 7 inches thick, is removed from the whale, the task of cutting the animal into manageable sections will begins she said.

Those will be taken to an unidentified location in a private forest and buried in deep holes filled with a mulch that includes sand and manure to enhance decomposition. It will take up to five years for microbes and bugs to clean the bones.

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