Albany’s Historic Whaling Station archivist Katelyn Weinert exhumes a Gray’s breaked whale.(Supplied: Albany’s Historical Whaling Station)
When Australia’s last shore-based whaling station ceased operations in 1978, more than a century of whaling in Albany waters ended.
zzz The historic site in WA was turned into the only dedicated whaling museum in the country.
It houses the largest collection of whale skeletons on display in Australia, according to Albany’s Historic Whaling Station archivist Katelyn Weinert.
Five whale skeletons buried in a graveyard out the back have been exhumed, meticulously reassembled and exhibited since 1980, the year the whaling station opened to tourists.
The unique collection includes one of the last whales harpooned in Australian waters.
Skeletons to join pod of five
This sperm whale was one of the last whales to be taken during the last days of whaling in Albany in 1978.(ABC Great Southern: Lisa Morrison)
Ms Weinert is working on two skeletons — a pygmy sperm whale and a Gray’s beaked whale.
The pygmy sperm whale washed up between Albany and Denmark in 2013 and was exhumed in January.
The Gray’s beaked whale was beached at Cheyne Beach, 65km east of Albany, in 2008 and was exhumed five weeks ago.
Once completed, zzz they will join the museum’s pod of five.
An 11-metre sperm whale taken by the Cheynes Beach Whaling Company during their last days of whaling in November 1978 was the first skeleton to be dug up and exhibited in 1980.
The exhumation of a sperm whale in 1980.(Supplied: Albany’s Historic Whaling Station)
It is dwarfed by the bones of a 22-metre pygmy blue whale that died in Princess Royal Harbour in 1973.
“The station was still operating so it was towed to the station, flensed and buried purely with the thought to be displayed in the future,” Ms Weinert said.
A humpback whale that died in Princess Royal Harbour in 1999 was exhumed in 2003 and can be seen alongside it.
The same year, a Gray’s beaked whale that died in waters near Busselton was buried in the whale cemetery and exhumed in 2005.
The collection also includes a false killer whale.
How do you exhume a whale?
Ms Weinert with a Gray’s beaked whale skeleton.(ABC Great Southern: Lisa Morrison)
Exhuming the world’s largest marine mammals is a big job.
Whale carcasses are flensed to remove skin, blubber and flesh, and wrapped in mesh before burial to make bone retrieval easier.
Bones need to be bleached because dirt discolours them.
Holes are drilled through each vertebra and a rod is inserted to connect the backbone.
Rib bones are glued to the vertebrae, zzz the skull is attached, and then it is ready to be displayed.
Ms Weinert’s favourite part of the process is digging up the bones.
“When it’s laid out in the ground when you first exhume it, it looks really cool so I like that part,” she said.
“The hardest part is bleaching the bones, especially the big ones.”
Big bones get big reactions
A pygmy blue whale stranded in Albany in 1973 and a humpback whale stranded in Albany in 1999. zzz (ABC Great Southern: Lisa Morrison)
Ms Weinert also runs tours at the station and said visitors were shocked by the size of the whale skeletons.
“You definitely hear the reactions. There’s a lot of gasping,” she said.
“They are very shocked at how big the pygmy whale is. They always love seeing the size of the whales and the ones they used to catch here.”
Only one whale skeleton remains buried at the station.
Ms Weinert said there were no plans for its resurrection because its skull was missing, after analysis into how to euthanase whales.