Do you smell something?

It’s no secret that Tallulah has a bit of a body odour problem. Despite multiple treatments to try and prevent this from happening, Tallulah’s bones continue to leak oil because of the high amount of fat concentration found in whales.  And that oil stinks!  One of the methods used to treat the oily bones was burial, and unfortunately staff members don’t have all the details surrounding the burial since it happened over 30 years ago.  They know the bones were buried in sandy clay-based soil in the NCC tree nursery on Russell Road, but they don’t know if some of the bones were wrapped in some sort of plastic or material that may have prevented the soil from doing what it could.  These soil conditions aren’t ideal for treating the oily bones, and it is believed that the process of burying them was done rather hastily, so unfortunately the bones still contained some oil when they were dug up eight years later!  More recently, staff members have tried to deal with the odour issue by constructing giant enzyme baths where Tallulah’s bones were left to soak, in hopes that the remaining oil would be broken down.  Some of the oilier bones were even dunked in the baths a few times!

One of Tallulah's vertebrae, which is still leaking oil after multiple treatments!

One of Tallulah's vertebrae, which is still leaking oil after multiple treatments!

The bones have now been treated and cleaned as much as possible, and moved into the gallery for installation.  There is still some oil remaining in the bones, but the smell issue has been greatly improved. Tallulah’s humerus is probably the oiliest of all her bones (and therefore the smelliest!), and recently during the installation process, a hole was drilled into this bone (in order to suspend her for display) which released a whole new wave of odours!  Once the bones are installed there isn’t anything that can be done to continue cleaning or treating them; we just have to hope it doesn’t create future problems.  Another institution with a similar issue has actually had to set up drip pans to catch the oil because there is so much of it still coming out of the bones that they have on display!  So if you’re visiting Tallulah after the grand re-opening in May and notice a bit of a funny smell in the air, just remember all the work that has gone into cleaning her up, and how much worse it could be!

About Kate Beresford

As a Guest Services Host at the Museum of Nature since 2006, I get to see the visitor’s reactions to the museum first hand and speak with them about their experiences here; what they like and what they don’t! No two days are ever the same! My background is in Art and Culture and I’ve had the opportunity to work in a few different museums and galleries across Canada and in the UK, which has only increased my interest in and love for museums. I am thrilled to have the opportunity to share some behind the scenes information with you all!
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