Students dig up bones of buried killer whale

Anchorage Daily News / adn.comOctober 11, 2013 

Two years after a marine mammal observer on St. Paul Island buried a young killer whale that had washed up dead, students from St. Paul High School dug up the skeleton.

During the annual Bering Sea Days event earlier this month, Mike Etnier, a zooarchaeologist from Western Washington University, led the students through the excavation. The students removed almost every bone themselves, then numbered, tagged and bagged them.

"That's the best way to insure that they'll be able to get everything back together again in the right order," Etnier, who participated as a volunteer, said in an email.

The four students "really got into it," he said.

The observer, or island sentinel, who buried the whale and two school staff members also helped dig it up, according to the ecosystem conservation office of the St. Paul tribal government.

Some blubber was found near the dorsal fin. A sample was taken so that a DNA analysis can be performed and the whale compared to another orca calf that washed up on St. Paul Island in August.

The Bering Sea Days educational program, held Oct. 1-4 this year, was developed by the school and the tribal government with funding from the Central Bering Sea Fishermen's Association. It brings scientists to the island to teach students about marine science and about careers in the field.

This year, the students also learned about fur seal tagging, seabird foraging and crabs.

The orca bones were taken to the St. Paul school, where they were cleaned and laid out to dry.

The school plans to articulate the entire skeleton and put it on display.


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