Bhubaneswar, Aug. 10: Visitors to the Regional Museum of Natural History (RMNH), near Acharya Vihar, can see now see the skeleton of a baleen whale that is 47 feet and 3 inches long.
The 80-tonne carcass of the whale was found at Gopalpur on June 29, 2010. The skeleton was de-fleshed on July 8 by the museum authorities and it later underwent chemical treatment. It has 43 vertebrae, seven cervical and 12 rib bones.
Baleen whales are remarkable for their unique eating habit. As they feed on seaweed called phytoplankton and small creatures, they swim with their mouths open and later filter out the water through their comb-like mouths to leave the food inside.
Chief minister Naveen Patnaik today dedicated the gallery displaying the whale skeleton to the people of the state. A new section of marine biodiversity has also been opened at the museum that is celebrating its eighth anniversary. “This new addition and the gallery on marine diversity will inspire students to study marine biology,” Naveen said.
B. Venugopal, director of National Museum of Natural History, New Delhi, the apex body of the three operating RMNHs at Mysore, Vadodara and Bhubaneswar, said: “There are two other baleen whale skeletons at Vadodara and Chennai. But they were collected before Independence. While the oldest one collected in 1874 is at the Government Museum, Chennai, the one at Baroda Museum dates back to 1944. The whale skeleton displayed at Bhubaneswar is the only one in the country that has been collected after Independence.”
“The RMNH people had to remain in tents at Gopalpur to prepare the skeleton for de-fleshing and also transported the entire object with great difficulty. We also had to take necessary clearance from the authorities such as the principal chief conservator of forests (wildlife) before going for the conservation work. It took more than two years to mount the entire skeleton at the gallery,” he said.
Former Sambalpur University vice-chancellor Priyambada Mohanty Hejmadi, a well-known researcher in animal science, said: “With the baleen whale skeleton on display at RMNH, the museum now has skeletons of the largest animals of both the land and the sea — the elephant and the whale.”
“Just as the tiger is considered the most precious animal in our forest-based ecosystem, whales are equally important for marine ecosystem. However, till date, research on the whale has been limited. The whale skeleton will develop interest among school and college students to take up research in this field,’’ said G.N. Indresha, scientist in charge of RMNH, Bhubaneswar.
The gallery on marine biodiversity has carcasses of several preserved sea animals such as starfish, horseshoe crab, sword fish, mackerel, saw fish and Olive Ridley turtles.
RMNH sources said the Indian sea coast had 31 species of marine mammals. The coastal and marine biodiversity includes 844 species of seaweeds, 69 species of mangrove plants, 218 species of hard corals, 2,934 species of crustaceans, 3,370 species of molluscs, 765 species of echinodermata and 2,456 species of fish.