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Whale odyssey comes to an end at Foss Waterway Seaport Museum

Finishing the humpback whale skeleton at Foss Seaport

Students from Stadium High School help with the final assembly of the skeleton of a Humpback whale at Foss Waterway Seaport. It is from the young animal that washed up on a beach near Gig Harbor a year ago.
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Students from Stadium High School help with the final assembly of the skeleton of a Humpback whale at Foss Waterway Seaport. It is from the young animal that washed up on a beach near Gig Harbor a year ago.

A year ago, the body of a young humpback whale washed ashore in Gig Harbor. Today, the whale’s skeleton hangs from the historic trusses of the Foss Waterway Seaport Museum.

A group of Stadium High School students pieced the whale together and debuted their work to family and friends Wednesday at a private gathering at the museum.

On Thursday (Dec. 15), the public is invited to see the whale for free as part of the museum’s Third Thursday event.

The students embarked on what is likely to be a once-in-a-lifetime journey three months ago when they were accepted into an after-school program and tasked with piecing together the skeleton two days a week.

Involving the students in the reassembly was always the plan, said Jan Adams, the museum’s director of education.

“This is a dream come true,” she said. “It is a very unique learning experience.”

Now that we’ve learned so much, looking at it it’s obvious how the pieces all fit together.

Cassie Lynch, Stadium High School student

The program was more than learning about which bones connect and how to make the whale look natural hanging from the exposed trusses.

Students received a hands-on primer in marine biology as well as engineering. They had to calculate how the weight of the 23-foot-long whale would be proportionately distributed across the trusses and the load they could bear.

On Tuesday, students were at the museum fine tuning presentations they planned to deliver the next day to friends and family.

Topics ranged from humpback whale life cycles and feeding habits, to the effects humans have on the species, including Native American whale hunting traditions.

Looking up at the skeleton hanging above her head, Cassie Lynch said that when the class started, none of the students knew about whale bones or how they fit together.

“Now that we’ve learned so much, looking at it it’s obvious how the pieces all fit together,” the high school junior said.

Marine biology and biology teacher Phil Hertzog oversaw the after-school program and acted as adviser to the students. After the whale was hoisted into the air, Hertzog said, he “probably walked around for 15 minutes,” admiring the students’ hard work.

“It’s been a great journey for us all,” he said. “It’s kind of hard to leave and go back to regular class.”

Brynn Grimley: 253-597-8467, @bgrimley

See the whale

The Foss Waterway Seaport will host an event from 4-8 p.m. Thursday for the public to see the humpback whale skeleton, assembled by Stadium High School students.

Whale-themed programming and events will happen from 4-6:30 p.m. at the museum, along the Foss Waterway at 705 Dock St. in Tacoma.

The evening will feature a new art installation, “Ghost Ship,” by Tacoma artist Matthew Olds, in the seaport’s contemporary gallery, along with a holiday concert and singalong.

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