Tag Archives: Jacobs Family Gallery

Quasimodo: The Museum’s Humpback Whale

Story by Lauren Coombes, Education Intern.

The Humpback Whale (Megaptera novaeangliae) skeleton that hangs in the Jacob’s Family Gallery is a 37 foot long male nicknamed Quasimodo, whose estimated age at time of death was 3 years old. He was found in 1932 and was first hung in the museum in 1936. This is his story.

Quasimodo's ribs, on Noman's Land. Photo from NBWM Collection. 1988.6.338.b

Quasimodo’s ribs, on Noman’s Land. Photo from NBWM Collection. 1988.6.338.b

On December 29, 1932 Captain Ralph W. Wood noticed a mysterious black object floating off Noman’s Land, an island 3 miles off the southwest corner of Martha’s Vineyard. He lived on the island with his family and they were the island’s only inhabitants. Captain Wood then took his powerboat Flit out about a mile from the island and discovered that the object was the carcass of a humpback whale. As he arrived, so too did the U.S. Coast Guard. Captain Wood convinced the Coast Guard to help him tow the whale to land, citing it as a menace to navigation. From there they attached a four-inch hawser to the carcass. The whale was difficult to move and, “three such hawsers were snapped before the whale could be beached on the Noman’s Land shore!”

After towing it to shore they fastened the whale to a large rock. Soon after, a nor’easter then tore the whale from the rock, throwing it farther up shore and past the high water mark. The carcass was then left until August, 1933 when Wilbur G. Sherman, an old-time whaleman from New Bedford heard about the whale and arranged a meeting between Captain Wood and William H. Tripp, curator for the Old Dartmouth Historical Society. John B. Smith, a scientist connected with the Boston Museum of Natural History accompanied Tripp on his August visit to the island. Mr. Smith determined that the specimen could be salvaged and set up in a museum. Mr. Tripp then convinced the Historical Society’s board to purchase the whale. Mr. Tripp made the voyage to Noman’s Land accompanied by Captain Wood, Bertrand T. Wood (Captain Wood’s son), Mr. Sherman, Lester Brownell, George T. Plummer and Paul Lynam.

Bones and tent on shore of Noman's Land. Photo from NBWM collection. 1988.6.306

Bones and tent on shore of Noman’s Land. Photo from NBWM collection. 1988.6.306

Throughout September the crew attempted to strip Quasimodo of his blubber, take out his bones, and tag them so they could easily be put back together later. Bertrand Wood kept a detailed journal, similar in style to that of a sea log, of the stripping and cataloguing process. He gave members of the project names that would befit a whale ship. Mr. Tripp was the Commodore, Ralph Wood was the Captain, Bertrand Wood was the first mate, Mr. Sherman was the official whale-cutter, William L. Pierce was the assistant cutter, Herbert Wood was the assistant cutter, and Jerome Fraser was the cook. As they took apart the whale they found that two finger bones were missing, and a news article also reported that the Atlas, the first vertebra of the skeleton, was also missing and never found. Though it is confirmed that the finger bones were in fact missing, there appears to be a proper fitting atlas on our skeleton.

The process of cleaning the bones was the next step and they were buried at Horseneck Beach in Westport, MA for 6 months. They were then uncovered, scraped, and reburied for another 6 months. This burying of a skeleton in sand was not an unusual way to prepare it. The location of the burial was kept confidential and was constantly under watch to prevent thieves and pranksters. After they were uncovered and scraped for the second time, they were left to bleach for several days in the sun, on the roof of the Museum. After the bleaching process was complete the skeleton was assembled and was hung in the Bourne Building in 1936. And curator Tripp quoted “We are no longer a whaling museum without a whale.” The whale was then taken down and reassembled in the 1980s near the theater, and with the completion of the Jacobs Family Gallery in August 2000, it now has its official home.

Quasimodo's spine on shore of Noman's Land. Photo from NBWM collection. 1988.6.301

Quasimodo’s spine on shore of Noman’s Land. Photo from NBWM collection. 1988.6.301

There is no confirmed cause of Quasimodo’s death, but one possibility is that he was killed by an orca (killer whale). This is due to the fact that Quasimodo was found without a tongue. It is a common behavior of orcas to bite off the tongues of other whales and leave them to die. Curator Tripp drew this conclusion when he examined the whale on his first visit to the island. Although not common in our coastal waters, orcas can be found off our coast. At the time this story was being written (summer 2016), an orca had been spotted by a fishing charter operator off the Massachusetts coast.

According to a recent NOAA report, there are fourteen humpback whale distinct population segments (DPS) that have been identified around the globe. Of those fourteen two are classified as threatened, the Central America DPS and the Western North Pacific DPS. An additional two groups are classified as endangered, the Arabian Sea DPS and the Cape Verde Islands/ Northwest Africa DPS. The current population is estimated to be 70,000-80,000, which is still less than 50% of their pre-whaling population. Though their biggest threat of commercial whaling no longer affects this species, they face many other significant threats. These threats include: entanglement in fishing gear, ship strikes, harassment from whale watch boats (especially in countries with little to no regulation), noise pollution and habitat impacts.

Works Cited

The Bulletin from Johnny Cake Hill A Newsletter from the Old Dartmouth Historical Society & Whaling Museum Fall 1987

The Standard-Times, New Bedford, MA Friday, July 17, 1987

Wood, Bertrand. Legends and Stories of Noman’s Land Island. (Jewett City, CT, 1978).

Our Latest ‘Whaling Voyage’. The Standard Times, New Bedford, MA Oct. 15, 1933.

The Standard Times New Bedford, MA, September 16, 1933.

NOAA Fisheries “Humpback Whale (Megaptera novaeangliae). Updated July 12, 2016. http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/species/mammals/whales/humpback-whale.html

 

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Museum Apprentices Create Children’s Stories

The Museum really enjoys highlighting the many ways in which our apprentices get involved in Whaling Museum programming and activities. This summer we’ve tasked them with creating their own children’s stories, so that they can be read during a new summer activity called Lunch Time Story Time.

Starting on Tuesday, July 30, from 1:00 – 2:00pm, and continuing on Tuesdays, August 6 and 13, several of the apprentices will read their stories in the Jacobs Family Gallery, to any children that would like to join them. After the stories have been read, the children in attendance can create and take home crafts that relate to the stories.  The apprentices have done a great job of writing these stories and creating and/or obtaining images to accompany the text.

Photo from Museum's Kendall Collection 2000.100.1838.137

Photo from Museum’s Kendall Collection 2000.100.1838.137

Let our ‘kids’ read to your kids. Bring a lunch if you’d like.  Lunch Time Story Time is FREE. Regular admission applies to visiting the Museum galleries. For more information contact Robert Rocha, (508) 717-6849 or via rrocha@whalingmuseum.org.

Science Tuesdays Start July 24

2011-2012 Apprentices

The Museum’s High School Apprentices returned for the Summer on July 9 and got to work immediately on creating and preparing for Science Tuesday programming. Working in teams of three, they chose the theme of their program, did the background research, created the displays and will lead the activities.

They invite you to join them from 1:00pm – 3:00pm in the Jacobs Family Gallery on July 24, July 31, August 7 and August 14 to learn about Mutations, Soil, Fossils and Sand. These programs are free with Museum admission and all involve activities that allow visitors to create a souvenir as a reminder of their participation.

Their blog entries/promo for their Science Tuesday activities can be found at Museum Greenhands.

Sensory Organ Discovered in Jaws of Rorqual Whales

Blue whale study done by Richard Ellis, in preparation for Jacobs Gallery mural. The distinctive throat pleats of all rorquals are clearly visible in this image. From NBWM collections, 2000.10.

Another exciting discovery has been made by cetacean biologists, this time in one of the four Families of the suborder Mysticeti (baleen whales).  The Balaenopteridae are also called rorquals, a reference to the throat pleats that run from chin to the middle of their bodies.  The term rorqual is based on the Norwegian word royrkval, which means ‘furrowed whale’.

Rorquals are the largest family of baleen whales, consisting of nine species, including the blue and humpback, which are represented in our Jacobs Family Gallery, and the fin and minke, which are commonly seen during whale watch tours in Massachusetts waters.  They all feed by gulping large amounts of water into their expandable throats and then forcing that water through their 500-800 plates of baleen back into the ocean. The animals that are left behind, typically krill or small fish, then get swallowed. This process is also known as lunge feeding. It requires an incredible amount of muscle power, since the whales are working against immense volumes of water. We all know how hard it is to run through water. Imagine trying to swim through it with your mouth open, a mouth that takes up 20% of your body length.

Several articles published on Wednesday, including this one, explain how the newly discovered sensory organ, located between the tips of the mandibles, regulates the feeding process.

The actual scientific paper that reports the discovery was published yesterday in the journal Nature. For those who want a more scientific explanation, the abstract from that paper, authored by the Smithsonian’s Nick Pyenson, and several others, can be viewed here.  Mr. Pyenson was one of the people summoned to the Atacama Region of Chile last year when a highway project unearthed dozens of fossil whale skeletons, and they had to be removed and taken away quickly.

The next time you’re at the New Bedford Whaling Museum, in the Jacobs Family Gallery, take a look at the lower jaws of the blue and humpback whale skeletons. You’ll notice that the lower jaws, unlike toothed whales or humans, are not connected at the tip (symphysis). In between those mandibles would be the organ described in the article. If you look at the North Atlantic Right Whale you’ll notice the same lack of fusing between mandibles. However, since right whales are not rorquals (they don’t have throat pleats) they would not have this sensory organ.