The skeleton of a great blue whale that washed onto the rocky Mendocino Coast Oct. 19 is now safely buried in a secret place deep in the woods.

"We did it," said Abbie Colbert, one of the driving forces behind the recovery.

The skull and bones of the 72-foot behemoth were lowered into the ground on Tuesday, ending two weeks of dirty, smelly work by an army of volunteers from around Northern California.

"We broke out a bottle of champagne, drank a couple of cervezas and went home," Colbert said. But there's still work to be done.

Over the next few years, while microorganisms clean the whale's bones, Colbert and others involved in the salvage operation will be raising money for its final resting place, yet to be determined.

Colbert envisions a maritime and natural history museum at Noyo Harbor.

The effort to save the whale's body for science began shortly after it washed into an inlet just south of Fort Bragg.

Initially, the task of getting the 80-ton whale up a 40-foot bluff was considered next to impossible. But area residents were unwilling to give up.

A week after its death, a dozen biology students from Humboldt State University in Arcata, their teacher and other volunteers descended upon the whale with sharp instruments and began slicing, hacking and pulling back layers, first the skin and blubber, then the meat and muscle. Fresh troops of volunteers, including students from Sonoma State University, arrived to help. Local businesses volunteered time and heavy equipment to the effort.

Once the tissue was removed, the skeleton was dismantled and hauled up the cliff.

"It was kind of like peeling an onion," said Dawn Goley, a Humboldt State University associate professor of zoology. The college holds the federal fisheries permit required to salvage the endangered marine mammal.

Anyone interested in assisting the next phase of the whale project can contact the Friends of the Blue Whale at 18350 North Highway 1, Fort Bragg, 95437, Colbert said.