"It's time to dissect," said Humboldt State University biology student Shannon Kresge as she clambered down the cliff, oblivious to the stench.
The students sliced through blubber and flesh with homemade tools, then used ropes to pull back the flesh.
They will collect organs, tissue and other specimens before the whale is cut into more manageable pieces and hauled up the cliff. The remains will be buried for several years in a undisclosed spot in a private forest where microbes and bugs will strip the flesh from bone.
Whale Discovered In Mendocino
The whale then will be unearthed and its skeleton reconstructed and put on display somewhere in or near Fort Bragg.
"It's a whale of a project," said Wilma Zari, who lives on the bluff overlooking the cove just south of Fort Bragg where the carcass became trapped.
The community, determined not to let the whale's death be a total waste, joined forces with fisheries officials, biology teachers and students and marine mammal rescuers to make the effort work.
"It's a struggle," said Sheila Semans of the Coastal Conservancy. She and other organizers have been helping in what has become a constantly changing recovery effort.
She and Abbie Colbert, who lives a short distance from the recovery site, have spent the seven days since the whale washed ashore calling people, asking for volunteer help, equipment, materials and permission to remove the whale, which requires federal permits.
"How do you pull a 70-foot whale up a 40-foot cliff without any money and it had to happen yesterday?" Colbert asked.
"I'm on the phone all day long. No one has said no."