From: George Desalvo, Associated Press
Published May 23, 2005 12:00 AM

Bonaire Teens Reconstruct Skeleton of Whale Impaled by Cruise Ship

KRALENDIJK, Bonaire — It wasn't until the cruise ship Nieuw Amsterdam docked in Bonaire that the captain discovered why it was making headway so slowly.


"The bow of your vessel has impaled a whale," the port captain said.


The unfortunate January 2000 episode turned into a rare opportunity for 20 Bonaire high school students who got to reassemble the 40-foot (12-meter) skeleton of the Bryde's whale.


The skeleton went on display this week on a stainless steel frame in front of a museum at the entrance of Dutch Caribbean territory's Washington-Slagbaai National Park.


Organizers said it was the largest reconstructed whale skeleton in the Caribbean, exceeding a sperm whale in Dominica by 6.5 feet (2 meters).


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"It is a symbol of the cooperation within the Bonaire community to present the importance of the sea and nature in Bonaire culture," said Jay Havisier, the director the Bonaire Archaeological Institute, which guided the project.


After its arrival, the 11-ton (10-metric ton) carcass was taken to rot at the Cargill solar salt evaporating facility -- the largest swath of unpopulated land on the island. A crane had failed to raise the whale, forcing marine park rangers to float it onto a ramp and heave it onto a truck.


In November, Cargill turned over the skeleton to archaeological institute, providing a shipping container for the bones. It took months to clean away the rotten flesh and mend and label the bones.


The task of reassembling the skeleton fell to the high schoolers in a project financed by the Bonaire Rotary Club and the Prince Berhard Culture Fund and Platform, a non-governmental organization.


Biologist Kalli DeMeyer, the manager of the Bonaire Marine Park at the time the impaled whale arrived, said the animal's stench suggested it was already dead when the cruise ship struck it.


Researchers have become increasingly concerned about large ships striking whales, especially the highly endangered right whales. A U.S. federal report released in August 2001 recommended ways to protect the right whale from ship collisions.


The Bryde's whale belongs to the rorqual or razorback whale group, which does not have teeth. It feeds mostly on krill and plankton and small fish.


Bryde's whales are coastal rather than deep-sea creatures and tend to travel in small groups of five or six.


Officials said the Bonaire whale was probably a male between nine and 12 years old.


Source: Associated Press


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