"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.
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."
Jeff Green, one of the heavy equipment owners and operators who volunteered time and tools, said helping out is the natural thing to do. "I'm part of the community," he explained.
The whale has garnered attention of people far from the Mendocino Coast.
A scientist in South Africa wants the whale's larynx. One in Boston wants its ears.
Liz Wheeler of the Marine Mammal Center of Marin County, was collecting bodily fluids on Monday to check for domoic acid, a toxin secreted by algae.
Non scientists from near and far also have flocked to the coast just to catch a glimpse of the world's largest mammal. It's behind a locked gate on private property, but that hasn't stopped the persistent.
About 60 people talked or sneaked their way to the secluded cove over the weekend, Zari said. A busload of school children from Leggett also visited.
"They were darling," she said.
A couple of enterprising pre-teens took advantage of the attention to sell maps and directions to the whale, Zari said.
The saga began last Monday when the blue whale apparently tried to surface under a ship that has been mapping the sea floor, an effort that will help choose future fish sanctuaries.
The Coastal Conservancy, which will benefit from the study, is contributing money to the recovery effort as is the company that was conducting the study.
"Everybody feels horrible about this," Colbert said.
The recovery effort is expected to take at least another two days.