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Maine Company to Preserve Skeleton of Whale Beached on Cape Cod

Last week, many New Englanders were sad to hear about the death of Vector the whale.

The female humpback, tracked by scientists for more than 30 years, was found lifeless in Cape Cod Bay.

The whale was beached in Sandwich, Massachusetts, as scientists performed a necropsy.

Afterward, Vector's remains were brought in three truckloads to a wooded plot of land in Tremont, Maine, near Bar Harbor on Mount Desert Island.

That's where Dan denDanto, a marine scientist at the College of the Atlantic, runs a business called "Whales and Nails."

Since the 1990s, denDanto has prepared whale skeletons for articulation or anatomical presentation the way you'd see a whale skeleton in a museum.

When he heard Vector had passed away, denDanto rushed to Cape Cod to ask to recover her skeleton.

He says Vector's age and her story make her an ideal candidate for preservation.

Monday, he began the monthslong process of cleaning her bones of all tissue so they can be handled indoors and displayed.

He and a team of two other people used a small excavator to pull large pieces of the whale carcass to a clear area of soil.

They will be covered in mulch and left outdoors for half a year.

"It'll take six months to do the decomposition using mostly maggots and other invertebrates that eat flesh," he said.

It's a grisly, smelly process.

Although Vector's necropsy reduced her remains by half, the pieces still weigh about 20,000 pounds.

As nature takes its course, denDanto expects an additional 15,000 pounds to decompose.

Courtney Vashro was one of denDantos co-workers hoping not to get "snarged" Monday, a term that describes getting blasted by whale remains or moisture from a living whale's blowhole.

She says the many hours of labor to process the skeleton and eight months of work articulating it are all worth it once a whale has been placed on display.

"When we you see people walk in for the first time, when you hang them, it is a pretty special moment," she explained.

For denDanto, the opportunity to add Vector to the list of 18 or so whales he's handled was one he could not pass up.

He wants the whale's story to be remembered so she continues to foster learning for decades to come.

"This whale was not just a dead whale," said denDanto. "This was a known individual, revered and loved by scientists, conservationists and the public alike. It's more than just the display of a humpback whale, but a memorial to this individual and what we've learned about her and the opportunity have her continue inform educate and inspire future generations."

His eventual hope is that Vector's skeleton will be put on display in the Maine State Museum in Augusta, paired with the skeleton of a calf humpback he recovered years ago.

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