When the body of an adult killer whale (Orcinus orca) washed ashore in 2015, the community of Fort Bragg was presented with a unique opportunity. In the wake of a tragic death, a project was born that could benefit the town and further our understanding of the sea creatures that live along our shoreline.
Beached orcas are exceptionally rare and their bodies are a treasure trove of valuable scientific information. In a combined effort between the Noyo Center for Marine Science, the Marine Mammal Center in Sausalito, the California Academy of Sciences, Humboldt State University, and California State Parks, scientists and volunteers acted quickly to perform a necropsy and recover valuable tissue samples. Two years later and the Noyo Center’s Orca Project is on track to reconstruct the 26 foot long skeleton this summer for everyone to enjoy.
Over the next four weeks, the rec center/basketball court behind Town Hall has been transformed into a marine mammal articulation workshop, led by master articulators Mike de Roos, Michi Main, and Lee Post from Alaska. People have come from far and wide to participate in this once in a lifetime opportunity, and there is something there for everyone. Young kids attending summer camp are learning about marine mammals and ecosystems, while high schoolers assemble their own porpoise skeleton. Grad students are taking measurements and gathering data, artists are photographing and sketching bones, all the while locals and tourists walk among them, drinking it all in, amazed by all the activity.
It takes a village to raise a whale skeleton; from recovering, transporting, cleaning, and housing the bones, to assembling the skeleton and raising it up for all to see. Everyone has a role to play, including Thanksgiving Coffee, who is keeping everyone working on the project well caffeinated. We are so enthusiastic about this amazing endeavor that we have also created a special Orca Project fundraising coffee to help support the mission of the Noyo Center.
It seems that our whole community has coalesced around whalebones, and Thanksgiving Coffee is no exception. Upon its completion, our small town will host one of the largest and most complete Orca skeletons in the world; something that the whole community can take pride in, because it took the whole community to achieve.