BY LEE POST (a.k.a. Boneman)
Step by step guides for the
preparation and articulation of
animal skeletons.
Portable Porpoise Puzzle Project
In April of 2015, I was invited back to the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco for
another bone project. This one was to be a little different than anything I had tried before. The
(if I accepted the assignment), was to articulate a porpoise skeleton such that it could
quickly and easily be taken apart into a dozen or more sections that could just as easily be
reassembled into a full skeleton on a regular basis. Because it was to be done on a real specimen,
with real bones, the challenge was to try to make it be strong enough that it wouldn't self destruct
under repeated handling. Also it was to be built in full view of the visiting public without the aid of a
workshop, using volunteer interns to do the hands-on bone construction of the Porpoise puzzle.
I had two tables to work on, a rotating group of five bone builders and four engagers (who
explained what we were doing to the curious public), and seventy hours of time over three weeks to
get it finished. I would generally have two bone builders and an engager helping at any one time.
Fortunately these volunteers were veterans of the offshore Orca project from two years earlier and
already knew about the tools and materials we were using and were familiar with the routine of
working with me at that location. Set up - Be careful - Do fantastic work - Keep smiling - and put it
all away at the end of the shift.

This project was being done in conjunction with the New Zealand traveling exhibit,
Giants of the Deep
, that was on exhibit upstairs starting the first day of this project. That exhibit
had a 58-foot male sperm whale skeleton, a 30-some-foot female sperm whale skeleton, a
couple smaller whale skeletons, a couple fossil whale skeletons, a dozen beaked whale skulls
and lots of other exhibit material on whales and whaling from New Zealand. It is a world class
exhibit by any standards and is especially impressive when you take into account that it was done
in New Zealand and is traveling around this country. Most of us are doing good to get a large
whale skeleton together, let alone trying to engineer one that comes apart for travel all the time.

People coming to the Academy would often find our project first and you could see the relief on
their faces when they were told that, "No, this isn't the advertised
Giants of the Deep whale
exhibit. That exhibit is upstairs. It has lots of big whale stuff. This is the other end of the spectrum."

But an interesting sidebar was that Harbor Porpoise had been absent from San Francisco Bay
for most of seventy years since the big building projects of the bridges had started with the
dredging and blasting followed by the submarine nets and activity of World War II, and the
industrial noise and pollution after that. Only in recent years have the Harbor Porpoise started
coming back into the bay. Now they are coming back in substantial numbers giving researchers
unprecedented views of porpoise behavior, even from the Golden Gate Bridge. Evidently San
Francisco Bay is the ultimate pick up spot for Harbor Porpoise to hitch up - the singles scene for
porpoise partnering purposes. . . Thus the assembly of this porpoise which had been found dead
on an outer beach twenty-five years ago and had lived as a clean set of bones in a box in the
Academy collections ever since.

The Porpoise was finished with a couple hours to spare. It was left with the Academy education
people as a 15-piece portable porpoise puzzle that comes apart in one minute and goes back
together in two minutes. Many of the pieces snap together with a satisfying  click as embedded
magnets lock together. Another wonderful whale swimming again.
One morning towards the end of the project, I received a phone call from Moe Flannery, Birds and Mammals Collection Manager, to see if I
could get away for a day.  A 49-foot long sperm whale washed up on a beach just south of San Francisco and they wanted to do a
necropsy on it to see if they could understand why it died. About lower mandible. It took 18 people to carry it on a stretcher made of
tarps with handles all around. The whale can be aged from one of the teeth in that mandible.
49-foot sperm whale on Pacifica Beach
Opening up the whale to look for
Crew getting into the body cavity for
organ examination.
Getting into the mouth - a Jonah's view.
The mandible section.
Meghan and Christine doing
the backbone rod.
Christine working on the first vertebrae.
Doing small repairs.
Phil drilling for mandible attachment.
as opposed to "drilling for oil.")
Kelly finishing the main vertebrae
section - with a smile.
Palma working on a removable
vertebrae section.
Moe making forms for embedding the
flipper bones.
Film by Phil Parker
Palma and Phil figuring out a flipper
Kelly on the sternal ribs.
Boneman's baby.
These sections all come off the porpoise. . .
. . . leaving this main section behind.
Jennifer from education trying out the
porpoise puzzle.
Assembled Harbor Porpoise - all 15 sections.
Click on photos to enlarge
Click on photos to enlarge  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