6-metre blue whale skull unboxed at MUN's new science building

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The 18-foot skull of a blue whale was unboxed in a ceremony held Tuesday at MUN'S core science building. (Mike Simms/CBC - image credit)
The 18-foot skull of a blue whale was unboxed in a ceremony held Tuesday at MUN'S core science building. (Mike Simms/CBC - image credit)
Mike Simms/CBC
Mike Simms/CBC

Officials unveiled the final piece of Memorial University's new core science building on Tuesday after almost six years of construction.

A six-metre skull taken from the carcass of a blue whale that washed ashore in Rocky Harbour in 2014 — alongside its 355-piece skeleton — will be installed in August in the building's Blue Whale atrium.

University president Vianne Timmons, Premier Andrew Furey and MP for St. John's South-Mount Pearl Seamus O'Regan, among others, touted the ceremony as a christening of the new core science building, which will officially open its doors in the fall.

"One of the very last things that we're going to do in this building is hang the whale," said Mark Abrahams, provost and vice-president, during the unveiling ceremony. "So really, it's the end of the beginning."

Getting the carcass from Newfoundland's west coast to its current home on Prince Phillip Drive took a little time, Abrahams said, and a lot of preparation.

The carcass was first cut into more than 300 pieces, then flown to Trenton, Ont. to be buried underground for two years. Once the flesh was removed from the bone through natural composting, the deoiling process began.

"If you don't do that, they smell really bad," said Abrahams.

The skull alone weighs as much as an adult elephant, he said.

Mike Simms/CBC
Mike Simms/CBC

The skull also had to be restructured, much of it having been crushed by the weight of the ice in which it had been lodged.

All costs incurred in transporting, preparing, and erecting the display were covered by private donation.

Furey said MUN's new $325-million core science building — paid for in part through a $225-million provincial government investment — will be "a cornerstone to the rest of the world to attract students and professors alike."

Officials and politicians had previously hawked the building as a competitive advantage on a global stage. But in recent weeks, the province's ability to draw and retain international students has been thrust into the spotlight, after university leaders almost doubled tuition for 2022.

Mike Simms/CBC
Mike Simms/CBC

The changes mean MUN will go from being the cheapest university in Atlantic Canada for international graduate students to one of the most expensive.

The increases come on the heels of the Liberal government's 2021 budget, which stipulated that MUN's $68.4 provincial government subsidy would be phased out over five years beginning this fall.

The budget also prohibited construction of new buildings on MUN's campus.

Abrahams is confident, despite a projected 20 per cent decrease in enrolment as a result of the tuition raise, that the whale installation will turn more than a few heads in the new facility.

"I might be a bit of a whale geek," he said, "but I can't imagine who wouldn't want to come and take a look at the largest animal that has ever existed on this planet."

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