The most recent post was about the orca skeleton at the Gustavus Library… now here’s one about our other local whale bones—the 45-foot-long skeleton of “Snow” that is currently being installed at Bartlett Cove, in Glacier Bay National Park. The bones arrived last week on the ferry, and within just days the re-articulation is starting to take shape. I went out on Friday with some friends to see the progress, and had time to do a few sketches in the drizzle outside the shelter.
A humpback’s skull, I discovered, is utterly alien territory! I love skulls, and have sketched an illustrated hundreds, but this one had me tilting my head a lot—just trying to locate the analogues of familiar mammalian skull features was a challenge. For example, after observing and drawing for about 45 minutes, I finally realized that areas I had been thinking of as “forehead” were actually more analogous to the hollows between zygomatic arches and nasal opening…
Plus, the whale skull presented such different shapes from different angles! From the side, like a bird, from the front and back, like…?
I realized that I didn’t put anything in for scale in my sketch page, so I’ve also added a photo of the crew at work placing the skull.
For more on the Snow project, you can go to the project page on the NPS website.
Glacier Bay is one of the wildest places on Earth. To visit up-bay by kayak, small boat or foot is to experience a kind of wild purity in all things: purity of light and reflections; the raw power of the glacier-scoured landscape; the integrity of wild sounds.
I really noticed the latter during a kayak trip to the East Arm in July. We were up near McBride Inlet, camped on the beach-skirt of a crumbling mountain. Early one morning, after a night of heavy rain, I woke to the thumps and rattles of a decent-sized rockslide on the mountainside above. The sound seemed so close that I scrambled from my tent into the gray dawn, expecting boulders to come smashing through the brush at any moment. Of course the slide was over, and it had been far away after all. But I paced the beach for a while, walking off my adrenaline rush and looking at our tiny, bright tents against the tangle of beach-fringe alder. We were so fragile, and so deep within the wildness of this place that even the sounds subsumed us: the rush of rain-swollen streams, the reports of boulders smacking into the ocean at the base of White Thunder Ridge, the breaths of seals and whales.
Gustavus naturalist Hank Lentfer has been working on a wonderful project capturing those pure, wild sounds for Glacier Bay National Park. You can hear some of his recordings on his website. Here’s a link to a lovely one of trumpeting humpback whales.