Australia’s Largest Cetacean Bone Collection

It definitely takes a strong stomach and a nose peg – but the work that goes on at SA Museum’s Bolivar facility puts South Australia on the world stage for research into whales and dolphins, it’s also Australia’s largest cetacean bone collection!

Meticulously ordered on storage shelves in the collection shed are 13 or 14 hundred specimens….  Anything from a single bone from one marine mammal to the entire skeleton, carefully dismantled, packed and stacked. It’s considered amongst the top ten collections in the world.

The facility is located on a back block in Bolivar… where the museum’s Dr Cath Kemper is leading a dissection of a Pygmy Sperm Whale, which was beached near Whyalla. From cause of death, to anatomy, reproduction or diet, this work is vital to the understanding and hopefully conservation of these mammals, and is shared with the scientific community worldwide.

Whales that are too big to be transported whole have to be taken apart wherever they’ve washed up, and brought to the facility piece by piece.  Once everything that can be gleaned from a carcass has been carefully recorded, the bones are put into maceration tanks, where warm water is used to remove the last of the flesh… a process that can take months, if not a year or two for the very large specimens.

Every so often, the South Australian Museum holds open days at Bolivar so the public can come and see these treasures – keep an eye on their website for future opportunities.