Alaskan whalebones find home in England



Two bowhead whalebones from Barrow, Alaska, have been installed as an arch at the seaport of Whitby, on the northeast coast of England. The town wanted a new whalebone arch to replace one that had stood as a landmark commemorating its whaling history, dating back to the 1700s.

But getting the huge bones from Barrow to Whitby was no easy task. Because the bowhead whale is an endangered species, it was very difficult to export its bones under the U.S. Endangered Species Act.

Permits required that the bones be dry and clean. In the fall of 2000, the bones were steam-cleaned and covered in plastic wrap in Barrow, but algae and mildew developed as the bones waited there through 18 months of permit problems.

When the bones were inspected after arriving in Anchorage, Alaska, last year, they were discovered to be soiled with algae, rancid whale oil and whale tissue. The bones arrived in England last spring but still suffered from leakage of whale oil from their marrow. The bones were buried in horse manure for several months to draw out the oil.

Finally, last month the town of Whitby took down the old arch and put up the new one on a cliff above the North Sea, tying the bones together at the top with an ancient harpoon tip.

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