Whale Skeleton Display House

 

The idea of reconstructing a whale skeleton for display on the grounds of the Westport Maritime Museum was first proposed in 1985 - the same year that the museum opened - by former Westport City Councilman Harry Hokanson, then current City Council member Lynn Trotter, then Freshman Washington State Representative Bob Basich and Rollie Schmitten, director of the National Marine Fisheries Service.

The group felt that a whale display would greatly increase visitor traffic to the museum and, by association, to Westport, as well as be an excellent educational tool for Grays Harbor and Pacific County citizens. They pitched their idea to the Westport City Council, and that group voted unanimously to finance the Whale House project using funding from the City's Hotel/Motel Lodging tax. 

FINDING A WHALE 

Hokanson and Trotter first investigated retrieving the bones of a whale that had stranded on the beach in Grayland in front of the former Dunes restaurant and buried there several years previously. 

While that excavation and retrieval project was still in its formative stages, the men learned of a whale skeleton retrieved by the Strandings Network, a volunteer group of scientists, naturalists and others from Washington and Oregon interested in studying stranded whales to try to learn more about this phenomenon. 

Washington State Department of Fish & Wildlife marine mammal expert Steve Jeffries, a member of the Strandings Network at the time, originally stored in his garage the unassembled skeleton of a 30-foot, 3,500 lb. yearling gray whale found stranded on the beach at Wauna, a small town near Purdy on South Puget Sound's Case Inlet. 

Arrangements were soon made to transfer the bones for storage to the Burke Museum of Natural History on the University of Washington campus. Following discussions between the Burke Museum and City of Westport officials, the bones were made available to the Historical Society for display at the Maritime Museum, and the Whale House project got underway. 

 

SKELETON RECONSTRUCTION

The Westport South Beach Historical Society and the City of Westport brought together a work force to reconstruct and articulate the whalebones using students from teacher Don Peck's Ocosta Jr/Sr High School biology classes (who earned not only high school, but also college credits for their work), members of the Strandings Network and Historical Society volunteers. 

 

EXHIBIT DEDICATION

On Saturday, July 12, 1986, Wauna the Whale's skeleton, on display in her new glass-walled house, was officially unveiled at a celebration on the Maritime Museum grounds that was attended by a large crowd of well­wishers and participants in the project. All the agencies involved in bringing the new addition to the Maritime Museum grounds were represented at the ceremony. 

In his opening remarks at the dedication ceremony, Rep. Basich, spoke of the relationship of tourism to historical and educational attractions. He said in part, "At least 70% of the tourist trade responds to exhibits of historic and educational significance such as the museum. Economic development strategy up and down the coast is the promotion of tourism. The tourist trade is now, and they will keep coming." Basich commended Westport City officials on their efforts to promote economic development, saying, "They're really doing a great job." "Westport is to be commended for following through a good idea and providing something for tourists to enjoy," said Basich. "All our coastal communities should be doing this type of thing." 

Jeffries, representing the Strandings Network, accepted a $500 donation toward its strictly volunteer work from the Westport South Beach Historical Society. 

SECOND DISPLAY BUILDING

The mammoth whale skeleton in the Whale House building was only the first in a display that eventually grew to include the addition of the second even longer glass-walled building that stretches from east to west, forming the long arm of the two-building 'L'-shaped configuration. In April, 1998, a matching funds grant was awarded from the state Department of Ecology for a second whalebones display building. In mid­May, the City of Westport approved the necessary matching funds to complete the $72,000 project, which also included remodeling the garage building on the grounds to create a meeting hall with a small kitchen and two restrooms. The building was constructed the following year along the northern edge of the property between the lecture hall and the gazebo. 

In January of 200 1, a large whalebone vertebrae that was displayed for many years on the grounds near the front entrance to the Maritime Museum was moved into the Whale House to protect it from the elements.

© 2018 WESTPORT SOUTH BEACH HISTORICAL SOCIETY All rights reserved.

Header photo by Pete Lerro © 2018