Otto’s bones are back

AFTER 17 years in storage a blue whale skeleton will be put on display at the new WA Museum.

This week the McGowan government announced the iconic bones would hang in the museum’s Hackett Hall when it opens November, suspended in a dynamic “lunge-feeding” pose based on recent research into whale hunting behaviour.

The skeleton has been named “Otto” after WA Museum taxidermist Otto Lipfert who prepared it 123 years ago when it washed up near the mouth of the Vasse River.

“The WA Museum’s blue whale skeleton may be more than 120 years old, but the technology and research behind its spectacular new display is ground-breaking,” culture and arts minister David Templeman said this week.

“The foresight of the Museum’s taxidermist Otto Lipfert back in 1897, collecting and preserving the skeleton for the benefit of future generations, for us and for our children, was extraordinary.

“Moving the skeleton up a beach by horse and cart to the Busselton Train Station, then packing it onto a train for Perth, where he reassembled it for public display is nothing short of incredible.”

Canadian whale skeleton specialists Cetacea worked with local engineering firm CADDS Group to create the pose with technology usually used in the mining industry to design and engineer metal frames.

In the ‘70s Otto was craned into the museum’s Francis Street building while the roof was off. The asbestos-riddled building was closed in 2003, and the bones moved to a research centre in Welshpool.

When Otto was previously on display he was not quite a complete skeleton and was missing tiny hip bones that float amid the blubber. Whales’ ancestors once walked on land and have tiny nubs of bones left as their legs disappeared over about 55 million years.

The museum’s Renae Woodhams told the Voice Otto’s original hip bones “probably washed away in the late 1890s”.

But the new Otto has been made whole: “We replicated and 3D printed the bones so our whale is complete. When visitors come they have to look closely to see the bones — they are relatively small compared to the massive skeleton.”

by DAVID BELL

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