By Bekka Joslin, Nature Lab Curator and Science Faculty

Is that from a prehistoric bird? Is that part of a dinosaur? What IS that?! These questions are frequently overheard as students enter the new Murray Science Center and peer through the Atrium glass where a 10-foot long skull now resides in the Bromley Nature Lab. The skull belonging to a gray whale, Eschrichtius robustus, is on loan from current Waterford parents, Trina and Brandon Sheranian. Stranded on a nonpublic beach on the coast of Washington state during an unusual mortality event (UME) in 2019, the whale was one of over 200 gray whales that died of unknown causes that year along the west coast of North America from Alaska to Baja. Covered by sand and worked by tidal action, the decomposition of the whale was handled by arthropods and other decomposers on the beach for about 10-14 months, after which time the bones had been cleaned of all flesh and oily remains. The many remaining bones, including a complete skull, were transported to Utah to be prepared for educational purposes. After residing at the Sheranian residence and educating neighborhood kids for several years, the family was excited to share this resource with Waterford School.

This fall, Mr Owens’ Marine Biology students had the opportunity to inventory, organize, clean and assemble the remaining gray whale bones while learning the extraordinary biology of a large marine mammal. Students helped count and identify the vertebrae, of which remain 29 of the 56 total vertebrae in a gray whale. For reference, humans have 33 vertebrae. The students helped to lay out the vertebrae in the correct orientation relative to the skull and determined which pieces were missing. They followed a similar process with the ribs and arm bones, in both cases, also making comparisons to their own Homo sapiens anatomy.

On October 23, 2023 with the help of Waterford’s amazing operations team, the whale skeleton was delivered to campus and placed in the Murray Science Center. Students helped clean each piece before moving them into the Nature Lab.

The excitement continues as the first year of Waterford students are digging into whale biology, exploring their shared ancestry with marine mammals, comparing the anatomy of tetrapod limbs including a whale flipper, celebrating a conservation success story in the Pacific Ocean, holding baleen and learning about filter feeders, contrasting the skull of a large swimmer with that of a quadruped or a biped, and so much more. The students of Waterford are fortunate to observe, appreciate and learn from such an extraordinary animal. Thank you Sheranian family!

More From Our Blog

Return to Blog

Subscribe to Our Blog

Stay up to date! Receive email notifications whenever a new blog article is published.

"*" indicates required fields

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.