Step by step guides for the
preparation and articulation of
animal skeletons.
BY LEE POST (a.k.a. Boneman)
Charleston, Oregon, Whale Projects
Nancy Treneman with her exuberance attracted students and adults and was invaluable in making things go in
forward motion at times I was getting frustrated by a lack of materials or some part or other. She saw to it that I got
to and from Charlston and helped arrange for Ester to be picked up. She did her best to keep me fueled when I
ignored things like a daily need of calories. She continued on with the whale after I left and with James, the
maintenance staff, some other volunteers, and saw to it that the last things got finished.

Miss Julia Ledbetter was a one gal entertainment package that came with many extras. Extras such as an endless
digital music and video selection. A cooking repertoire that seemed almost as varied. A tour guide's knowledge of
the area, a beautiful vehicle and enthusiasm to take us places in it, and a never ending smile to go. On top of all
that, she did first rate whale building work. What more could I ask.

Ester Sanchez came all the way from Spain to learn about big bone building. She was dedicated, studious and
adamant that each bone be in exactly the right place. She was determined to learn and practice every step of the
project and quick to correct anyone who got in her way. She and Julia hit it off like two long lost sisters and
together were responsible for completion of major sections of the gray whale.

Both whale skeletons were virtually done by the time I left. This was like finishing two in the time it usually takes to
get one done. The Orca didn't have it's teeth cast and installed yet. The Gray still needed the metal cradle to hold
the skull and jaws up. Both whales were left suspended side by side from scaffolding in a room in the future
aquarium building.

In a 28 day span, I put 280 hours into working on the whales. 22 different volunteers that worked with me
cumulatively put in an estimated 700 more hours. And this doesn't count the necropsy butchering, cleaning of the
bones or the finish work that was done after I left.

Over the years it has come to my attention that guys have been woefully under represented when it comes to
volunteering on or organizing these whale projects. Guys come and go but for whatever reason it is the gals that
stick when it comes to interest in working on these. The women who walk into these projects rarely have a clue
what they are walking into. They are usually totally unfamiliar with the tools and material. Whale anatomy may be
unfamiliar to them, but they come and they come back over and over and over. The work they do is almost always
slow and careful and top notch. I'm not sure what this says about anything. It is but an observation. Of the 22
helpers I had on this project, exactly 3 were guys. (But what they did was crucial, thanks James, Mike and Craig.)

We'll stand by for photos when the whales get displayed in the finished building.
In the winter of 2013, I received a phone call from Craig Young, a university professor, who was also
the director of The Oregon Institute Of Marine Biology in Charleston, Oregon. He wanted to know if I
would consider coming to Oregon to talk to an instructor and a class about how to articulate a whale
skeleton. They actually had two whale skeletons that they would like to have articulated in time for the
grand opening of a new aquarium being built there as part of the institute. They had a retired teacher,
Nancy Treneman, who was interested in leading the project and possibly some other volunteers. They
wanted to do this as a summer class with students. One whale was a 650 centimeter (21 feet) long
orca that had been found dead at Port Orford Oregon in 2006. It was an unidentified Gulf of Alaska
transient whale. The other whale was a 28-foot-long gray whale that had beached in April of 1987 and
had been cleaned and the bones used for classroom use ever since. Neither whale was totally ready
for articulation. Both still needed some cleaning. The Gray whale had numerous skeletal injuries on it
that had partially healed. Nancy was very interested in doing this and had some of my bone building
manuals but had never done a whale skeleton before. Other teachers on campus had worked with
small marine mammal skeletons. But this may have been more than they wanted to tackle.
I was off to San Francisco that spring for a whale project and wouldn't be able to meet the spring class. When I got back, I contacted them and found out the
class and the project wasn't going to happen that summer. We started talking about doing these in the fall. In communicating with Craig and Nancy I started to
get the picture that this was not a totally thought out operation. There were questions about funding. About where to assemble the whales, even what whale
they wanted to have assembled first. It morphed from me advising on the Orca to working on the Orca, to coming at two different times to do two different
whales, to getting the Orca done first and getting a start on the Gray. In the end they could hire me for 4 weeks and no more than 3 of those weeks could be
on the Orca. However it sounded like it was to happen in a beautiful little spot on the Oregon Coast and was going to have some enthusiastic players. I sent
them a materials list for the Orca whale and got a ticket to Eugene.

Just before that I had received an E-mail from an Orca Project Volunteer from Port Townsend, Washington, where I had done an Orca Articulation Project with
several dozen volunteers a few years previous. This person wanted to volunteer if I ever had another whale project she could work on. I forwarded a message
to be passed around some of the key players in Port Townsend that I was likely to be doing a couple whale projects on the Oregon Coast if anyone wanted to
come help. Several possibly did, but circumstances or short notice left nobody that was likely to actually come at that time. One Americore student, Julia, from
that project,who was between jobs and living at home at the moment, wrote to see if she could come help. At about that same time I got an E-mail from Ester, a
gal from Barcelona Spain who I had previously helped through a big bone project she was doing in Iceland. She wanted to know if I had any projects in Alaska
she could come help on. I told her none in Alaska at the moment but if she happened to be near the Oregon Coast I might be working on a couple whales
there she could help with. Three days later she had a ticket to Oregon from Spain to come help. This was 10 days before I was due to leave for Oregon.
Fortunately Craig was able to move me into a cute cottage instead of a dorm room when I
told him it looked like I'd have some helpers showing up.
Nancy picked me up in Eugene and brought me back to Charleston. I met the whale bones, saw the workshop
space and was given a grand tour, including a drive to some coastal overlooks to see the biggest waves I have
seen in my life. Remnants from a big storm that had just passed through. The project took right off.

Nancy jumped in on making the dirty and stained bones way cleaner than they were. She knew her way around
campus and the area and was a major problem solver anytime I came up with something that we needed.
We tried to have a local machine shop bend the pipe (which would hold the
backbone in place) but it wasn't going to work. In the end Craig came through
with a new hydraulic pipe bender and we could continue.

Julia from Portland and Ester from Spain showed up. Students from the
campus started wandering in, some with a desire to help. Nancy was my
problem solving, go-getting, super worker who did magic at getting almost
anything I needed as well as improving the looks of the bones by a great
magnitude. She and I and students who wandered in got started on the Orca
skeleton. Ester and Julia, when they arrived, were plugged into articulating a
couple 6-foot-long gray whale flippers.
Life took on a wonderful rhythm. I would start early, partly to have quiet time and partly so my bone building roomies could have the bathroom and the
house to themselves without some old guy being around. At some point Nancy would show up followed by my roomies and the day would be in full swing.
Usually in the early afternoon I would either offer to go down the street to a local dinner bar with whomever wanted to go, or the roomies would head home to
start dinner there. Some days I followed right behind and other days I kept working.

Rarely did I have helpers on the night shift so I mostly didn't spend a lot of hours on the bones after dinner. When I did it was a quiet time to do machining
and fixing and finishing and planning and cleanup and unless the gals had a movie they were sharing, I usually didn't have anything else to occupy my
evenings. Since the workshop was only 100 feet from the front door of our cottage, I was often drawn back to the bones like a moth to a light.
One Saturday I had 10 gals all working on various whale bone projects and having a good time. One of the male students walked in and saw
the scene. He said “Man, you have to have one of the best jobs in the world.” I agreed. He still didn't stay to help.
We worked 6 day weeks and on Sundays Miss Julia took us out exploring - hiking - adventuring - beach walking. She
had spent time working in this area and knew it well. To Ester and I it was new and exotic. Temperatures were
comfortable (50s) and we had virtually no rain the month I was there.
The Campus had about 30 marine biology
students on it. Eight of them ended up helping
out, and did an excellent job on the skeleton.
One of those was a farm gal who was very
competent with tools. Another was an artistic
type and another was helpful at anything that
needed to happen. Other students learned
that if they came in, I might put a tool in their
hand and they were a little more careful about
when they showed up.
We scooted along and got the orca done by the end of the third week. It wouldn't have fit through the front door with the ribs on,
so before the ribs were attached it was carried into the aquarium building.
Click on photos to enlarge
Click on photos to
the fence with the benches and the
little red far cliff.
Kara and Caitlin pre-drilling
Babes of the beautifully
bent backbone bar.
Ashley the artistic
Julia and Ester and their finished
Most of the whale skeleton building
crew inside one gray whale.
Ashley and Kara - the super skull team.
The orca skeleton as I left it. Finished except for the teeth.
Orca ribs in progress
Gray whale ribs in progress
By now the gray whale flippers were finished. The tail was done. The skull was consolidated. The ribs pins were
installed. The vertebrae were half on. We had a final week to try to get it all done. We damn near made it too. We
ran out of metal workers at the end who had time to work on the gray whale skull cradle. James came in on his day
off and did magic with welding the rib cage metal as soon as we moved it across the street.
Boring big bones  copyright 2005 by Lee Post                                                      Illustrations copyright  by Lee Post. All Rights Reserved                                                                        Merry Web Designs copyright 2005
THIS SITE LAST UPDATED: February 20, 2016