Ric Brenden, left, and Les Schtick, volunteers with the Port Townsend Marine Science Center, work on Thursday to build a permanent platform for Gunther, a gray whale that washed ashore on a beach in Port Ludlow four years ago. The completed skeleton will take a few more weeks to assemble in order to be ready for a new, free public educational display on Union Wharf in downtown Port Townsend. (Steve Mullensky/for Peninsula Daily News)

Ric Brenden, left, and Les Schtick, volunteers with the Port Townsend Marine Science Center, work on Thursday to build a permanent platform for Gunther, a gray whale that washed ashore on a beach in Port Ludlow four years ago. The completed skeleton will take a few more weeks to assemble in order to be ready for a new, free public educational display on Union Wharf in downtown Port Townsend. (Steve Mullensky/for Peninsula Daily News)

Gray whale skeleton erected in Port Townsend

Work on Union Wharf now in progress

PORT TOWNSEND — Installation of a 42-foot gray whale skeleton on Union Wharf, a new exhibit from the Port Townsend Marine Science Center, is in progress.

Volunteers began working Wednesday as pieces were delivered.

Pieces already articulated on an armature structure are being bolted into place.

Installation is expected to continue for about three weeks, according to Liesl Slabaugh, marketing and development director at the marine science center.

Temporary fencing is in place now. Once complete, a permanent short fence will protect the skeleton.

“This display will be a wonderful addition to the educational exhibits that PTMSC provides as part of its mission to inspire conservation of the Salish Sea,” said Executive Director Diane Quinn in a press release.

“Interpretive signage will tell the gray whale’s story and inform visitors about the importance of the species and keeping its habitat healthy, for all marine life and for human life, too.”

An opening celebration is planned for 2 p.m. Aug. 15, Slabaugh said. Speakers are planned and interpretive signs will be in place.

“The story of this skeleton is an example of what can happen when marine science joins with talented and generous community members inspired by the Salish Sea,” said Betsy Carlson, citizen science coordinator for the marine science center.

The gray whale, a full-grown male, died and washed ashore near Port Ludlow in May 2019. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA’s) Marine Mammal Stranding Network was notified.

Nearby residents and marine science center volunteers Dr. Stefanie Worwag and Mario Rivera offered to let the whale decompose on their beachfront property, where scientists and volunteers from Cascadia Research, SR3 and PTMSC conducted a necropsy.

“Worwag and Rivera gained permission from NOAA to prepare the bones and display the skeleton, beginning a multi-year process rebuilding this remarkable creature,” Slabaugh said.

“They were joined by industrial designer Les Schnick and shipwright Ric Brenden, who volunteered to create a mount for the massive skeleton,” she added.

Hundreds of volunteer hours were put into the cleaning, painting, drafting, drilling and welding the skeleton through the pandemic in 2020, Slabaugh said.

Eventually the bones were moved to Dr. John Barrett’s property for final assembly.

Worwag and Rivera suggested the skeleton be put on public display and the Union Wharf site, a port site, was decided upon through a collaboration with the City of Port Townsend and Port of Port Townsend officials, Slabaugh said.

The port has provided surveillance cameras and the city has been helpful in providing police presence during the delivery of the skeleton to protect the public, Slabaugh said.

The marine science center secured $80,000 in donations and the city permits needed to complete the installation “so that this wondrous creature and his story in the Salish Sea could be shared with all who visit downtown Port Townsend,” Slabaugh said.

For the latest information about the nonprofit Port Townsend Marine Science Center, see https://ptmsc.org or Facebook or @ptmarinescictr on Instagram.

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