35-foot Humpback Whale Skeleton To Go on Display in Provincetown

May 19, 2017

The skeleton of a 35-foot whale is being installed for public display at the Center for Coastal Studies in Provincetown. It’s not just any whale, either. It's the skeleton of an 11-year-old humpback that researchers followed from when she was a calf. 

Researchers had named her Spinnaker.  

"She was named based on a marking on the underside of her flukes," explained Scott Landry, Director of the Marine Animal Entanglement Response Team at the Center for Coastal Studies. "Sailors will know the shape of a spinnaker: a bowed-out sail to catch wind. Spinnaker had a beautiful spinnaker marking on the underside of her flukes."

Researchers had disentangled her three times during her life. One of those disentanglements left a line of fishing gear in her mouth that's believed eventually to have caused her death, as revealed by a necropsy.

"What we found was, the rope that was lodged in her mouth, was actually lodged in her skull," Landry explained.

She had actually survived for at least a year with, essentially, her skull nearly cut in two.

The rope had cleaved halfway through the bones of her upper jaw.

"She had actually survived for at least a year with, essentially, her skull nearly cut in two,"  Landry said. 

Now Spinnaker's skeleton will be displayed, with the entanglement still lodged in place, at the Center for Coastal Studies.  

Landry believes this will be the first fully articulated large whale skeleton on display anywhere on Cape Cod, and the first in the world that is displayed with an intact entanglement.

"She's going to be part of continuing research," Landry said, explaining that the whale's eyes, which were recovered at the necropsy, will be used to help in studies to age whales, and stress hormones laid down in the baleen can be used to answer question about portions of her life previously unknown to researchers, such as whether she had ever been pregnant. 

"The research is ongoing, and this is just the beginning," Landry said. "But we're definitely inviting everyone to come take a look."