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New blue whale skeleton exhibit lives up to promise over LNY holiday

02/17/2024 06:34 PM
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A blue whale skeleton. Photo courtesy of the National Museum of Marine Biology and Aquarium
A blue whale skeleton. Photo courtesy of the National Museum of Marine Biology and Aquarium

Taipei, Feb. 17 (CNA) When a blue whale skeleton was displayed in Taiwan for the first time in an exhibition that opened in Pingtung County on Dec. 15, the hope was to raise awareness of marine conservation and spread knowledge about marine life.

The early results have been positive, if recent attendance at the National Museum of Marine Biology and Aquarium in Checheng where the skeleton is being shown is anything to go by.

Nearly 40,000 people visited the museum during the Lunar New Year holiday from Feb. 8 to Feb. 14, according to museum figures, more than double the museum's average weekly attendance in 2023 despite unusually low visitor numbers to southern Pingtung during the holiday.

Even before the exhibit opened in mid-December, there was already plenty of anticipation for this rare sight, only the 25th blue whale skeleton displayed anywhere in the world, and many visitors described what they saw as "spectacular" and "moving," the museum said.

What visitors were probably not aware of was how ambitious the exhibition was given the inherent difficulties in putting it together.

The exhibition, titled "Reborn: the blue whale's journey," goes beyond the skeleton of the endangered marine creature, telling the story of how Taiwan first discovered the young blue whale on the coastline of Taitung County in January 2020.

The whale was already dead when it was found stranded on a beach in the coastal town of Changbin after being caught in buoy ropes.

A dead blue whale is washed up ashore on a beach in Taitung County in 2020. Photo courtesy of a private contributor (台東山豬)
A dead blue whale is washed up ashore on a beach in Taitung County in 2020. Photo courtesy of a private contributor (台東山豬)

Chen Chi-hsiang (陳啟祥), director general of the museum, said the skeleton's overall length is 20 meters, weighs up to one ton, and has a total of 63 bone fragments.

To put together the bone fragments correctly and display the skeleton in a position that conformed to scientific standards, Chen said, the museum had to draw on advice from experts from Taiwan and abroad and repeatedly seek out, discuss and compare evidence to finally complete the skeleton accurately.

The youth of the blue whale only made recovering its skeleton more difficult, the museum said, forcing it to apply methods that caused the least amount of harm to the young calf's bones.

The museum also made a significant effort to recreate the scene of the blue whale being stranded as well as highlight how other marine life has died in the same area due to similar causes.

It has displayed the fishing lines and ropes that wrapped around the whale's mouth as part of the blue whale skeleton, and showed samples and specimens of other stranded and deceased animals collected by the Marine Animal Rescue Network.

Getting tangled up in fishing lines and nets is among the major causes of marine mammal death, and the museum said that only by recycling fishing gear can the threats humans pose to marine animals be reduced.

(By Lee Hui-ting and Evelyn Yang)

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