A rotten whale helps explain how the Aquarium exploded.
Thursday, October 8, 2009
The blood spurted higher than David Packard’s expectations. Intestines flopped like angry elephant trunks. The celebrated “stink” of John Steinbeck’s Cannery Row had nothing on it.
“A geyser of putrid blood,” as Monterey Bay Aquarium Executive Director Julie Packard describes it. “Hot enough it burned.”
“Compared to a well-decayed whale, skunks are perfume,” says Dr. Steve Webster, one of the four marine biologists from Stanford University’s neighboring Hopkins Marine Station – along with Packard’s daughter Nancy Burnett, her husband Robin and Chuck Baxter – who hatched the idea for the Aquarium, which at that point was a few years from opening. “It was hissing like Old Faithful.”
An earlier call led them there: There was a dead whale on a beach to the north. They decided they could use it to help initiate the Aquarium building, which had fallen into disuse as the former Hovden Cannery.
Two tow trucks buried their axles trying to clear the bloated gray from the tides that threatened to take it back. A heavier-duty rig finally pulled it free, where its barnacles and baleen were guarded by a volunteer teen overnight. The next day, a team of volunteers, Aquarium principals and Moss Landing Marine Lab grad students armed with knives awaited a permit to clean it; by 2pm, the sun had swollen the carcass into a drum-tight calzone. “Whatever you do,” one student warned, “don’t puncture the stomach or chest.”
When someone did, Webster says, it looked like “the worst cheap samurai movie ever.” But they persevered, hacking to bones that were soon buried to let sand critters scrub over the coming months, before the skeleton’s slats were piled in a truck, taken through a carwash and lacquered with archeologist-grade goop.
By the time they were hung in the MBA’s Marine Mammal Gallery, their story paralleled the Aquarium’s: Something dead and decaying transformed into a beautiful and powerful learning tool by way of scientists, volunteers and vision.
“The founders wanted to tell the stories of the animals of Monterey Bay,” Julie Packard says. “And we wanted them to be authentic.”
The stories summoned the wonder; the wonder the desire to help; the desire to help a re-imagining of the Aquarium’s mission to both educate and inspire conservation. Here the Weekly assembles 25 of those stories.
-Mark C. Anderson
Creatures Featured Pt. 1
Eels to Chitons
Creatures Featured Pt.2
Sharks to Rays
Creatures Featured Pt. 3
Tuna to ROV
Creatures Featured Pt. 4
Cuttlefish to More Sharks!
Creatures Featured Pt. 5
Jellies to Barnacles
A look at the Aquarium’s sublime structural design, from its acrylic panes to its historic cement skeleton.
Behind the Curtain
peek behind the scenes with the white shark, the seahorses and other aquatic wonders.
Portraits of the legion volunteers and skilled staff that make the MBA splash every day.
25th Anniversary Celebration | Oct. 17-18 Special historic programs, sustainable seafood demo-tastings, live jazz and Caribbean music, family crafts, bilingual presentations and a scavenger hunt fill a busy weekend.
Final 25th Anniversary Community Free Day | Oct. 20 The Aquarium has been opening its doors to locals on the 20th of each month all year; the quarter-century anniversary-to-the day marks the last of the sequence.
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