NEAH BAY (Dec. 1, 2005)– For Makah whaling crew member Andy Noel, the hanging of the skeleton of the gray whale harvested in 1999 in the Makah Cultural and Research Center is a beginning, not an end.
“It’s great to have our bones here. But we need more bones to add to them,” said Noel during the installation Nov. 28. “We need our whale bone graveyard going again,” he said, alluding to the continued legal obstruction to the tribe’s treaty-reserved right to harvest whales since the single successful harvest in 1999.
The hanging of the 600-pound, nearly 30-foot long whale skeleton in the museum is the culmination of several years of effort by Neah Bay High School students and staff to preserve the symbol of the tribe’s resurrected whaling culture.
“Whaling means a lot to Makah people,” said Janine Bowechop, executive director of the Makah Cultural and Research Center. “The skeleton is a tangible representation of the success of our resumption of whaling. When I look at it, I think about all the effort that the whalers and the community put into reviving whaling and what the students did to make this a reality.”
Neah Bay High School students and their teacher, Bill Monette, took on the necessary and stinky chore of cleaning the bones and cataloguing them in preparation for their assembly.
“To see it now in the museum is awesome,” said Jeanie Thompson, 20, a Neah Bay High School graduate who worked on cleaning and cataloguing the bones for two years. “Cleaning it was a different experience, but I liked learning it. I helped supervise the project by keeping track of who was doing what jobs along with cleaning and cataloguing,” said Thompson, who is now working at the museum.
More than 1,000 hours of student work went into preparing the bones for final assembly. “It’s a pretty nice feeling seeing it hang there,” said Monette, who is taking a leave of absence from teaching. “I’m still in touch with a lot of the kids and I think they are going to be pretty impressed. It’s one of the nicest mounts I’ve seen of a whale skeleton.”
Skulls Unlimited International of Oklahoma City assembled the bones after Nathan Pamplin, marine mammal biologist for the tribe, saw their work at a conference. “They were a very professional outfit and they’ve just done an incredible job with this skeleton,” said Pamplin.
Skulls Unlimited specializes in assembling and mounting skeletons of all kinds for museum exhibits, universities and private collections as well as selling a variety of bones and skulls.
Principal assembler Clark Griffith of Skulls Unlimited put more than 170 hours into the whale project. “I did a lot of research into whale skeletons and I read some background about the tribe and their whaling history,” said Griffith. “I feel really privileged to put this whale together.” At the tribe’s request, Griffith preserved the history of the hunt in the skeleton, including harpoon strikes.
“It’s living proof that we’re whalers – not only then, but now,” said Ben Johnson, Makah tribal chairman.
“Everything about this seems so right,” said Bowechop. “The whale was harpooned near the village of Ozette where most of the artifacts in the museum were excavated. It’s just a perfect fit.”
For More Information, Contact: Ben Johnson, Makah tribal chairman, (360) 645-3234; Janine Bowechop, executive director, Makah Cultural and Research Center, (360)645-2711; Skulls Unlimited International, (405)794-9300; Debbie Preston, coastal information officer, Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission, (360) 374-5501