The Santa Barbara Natural History Museum will celebrate the homecoming of “Chad” the Blue Whale skeleton on Wednesday, after a nine-month restoration of the specimen.
Conveniently located outside the museum, the rare blue whale skeleton has attracted more than two million visitors since it’s installation over 25 years ago. However, museum authorities said the skeleton suffered damage from water and ultraviolet rays during its time on display and had to be repaired this year. The restoration project gave the museum an opportunity to change the positioning of the skeleton — actually composed of bones from four different blue whales — so it now features a more anatomically correct diving pose. Members of the public are invited to see the reinstallation from Nov. 10 to Nov. 19 every day, from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Curator of Vertebrate Zoology Paul Collins said the full blue whale skeleton is a unique and coveted part of the museum’s possessions.
“This animal is one of about five or six skeletons located in the United States,” Collins said. “With the refurbishment it will be one of the most accessible specimens to the public, and it will be the most anatomically correct mountings of any of any skeletons on exhibit now.”
To restore it, nearly all of the bones were dissembled and transported to a studio in Northern California where they were treated with marine epoxies designed to stop them from degrading and given a fresh coat of paint to protect from sunlight and moisture, before being transported back for reassembly on a new steel support structure.
According to Collins, “Chad” is made of 98 percent real bone collected from two different blue whales, one of which washed ashore in Ventura in 2007 and another that washed ashore at Vandenburg Air Force Base in 1980. The skeleton’s redesign was completed by adding five vertebrae casts taken from another skeleton on exhibit at the Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History.
According to Jim Cooper, an associate professor of molecular, cellular and developmental biology at UCSB, the skeleton is a way to get people interested in the life sciences and offers visitors an educational experience they cannot find in a classroom.
“In some ways it is like having a Rodin sculpture in an art museum,” Cooper said. “It’s an impressive thing — it doesn’t cover all of Western art but it draws people into the museum. That whale skeleton provides a different kind of education from what is available at a university to kids and adults; any way you can integrate artifacts like this with public education is great.”
The restoration project cost approximately $500,000 and was made possible by generous private donations and the museum’s ‘buy a bone’ campaign — a fundraiser that allowed donors to pay for the renovation of individual bones.
“The refurbishment was entirely privately funded,” Collins said. “It comes from larger donors all the way down to the buy a bone project. I think the public will really enjoy the restoration; it came out really nice.”