Museum treasure hunt unearths whale skull
Museum treasure hunt unearths whale skull

Crawling with maggots and dripping with oil, the skull of a Shepherd's beaked whale was painstakingly exhumed from a burial pit in the heart of Welshpool's industrial area last week.

Metres from the congestion of Leach Highway, a group of lab coat-clad youths had uncovered skeletons of no fewer than 18 animals from around the globe.

They had not stumbled on some inexplicably rich area of zoological history - WA Museum staff interred the skeletons years ago. By burying the animals, they had allowed nature to take its course and strip the flesh from the bones.

The oily, elongated skull of the whale, which was stranded at Shark Bay in 2011, was the first adult specimen found in WA.

Museum head of terrestrial zoology Mark Harvey said only a handful of Shepherd's beaked whales had been seen in the wild.

"We don't know where they breed, we don't know whether they migrate, we don't know how big the pods are - we know virtually nothing about them at this stage," Dr Harvey said.

He said the people who buried the specimens had moved on to different jobs, so staff had been forced to follow a rough "treasure map".

"All of us work in the natural history side of things because we're fascinated by animals and biodiversity," Dr Harvey said.

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The West Australian

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