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The big reveal

Blue whale skull unveiled at Memorial’s Core Science Facility

Campus and Community

By Ryan Howell

Senior university leadership, along with members of the provincial and federal governments and donors, were on hand Tuesday morning for a sneak peek of the blue whale skull that will be a cornerstone of the Core Science Facility.

A blue whale skull is shown inside a wooden crate. Senior leadership members are to each side pulling back a black curtain.
Sandra and Lisa Dobbin and Minister Seamus O’Regan pull back the curtain on the blue whale skull in the Core Science Facility. Minister Tom Osborne and President Timmons are pictured at right.
Photo: Rich Blenkinsopp

The 480,000-square-foot building was made possible by nearly $100 million in funding from the federal government and an additional $25 million from the provincial government.

“Our government believes in this province and the work that can come out of this facility,” said Seamus O’Regan, minister, Natural Resources. “This is how we retain and attract top talent — to give the brightest minds the tools to succeed in a world-class building like this one.”

Designed to fit

The atrium of the facility was designed specifically to display the whale, with a ceiling height measuring 30 metres.

The entire skeleton will measure 25 metres when hung. The whale will be posed as if it is swimming to reflect Memorial’s motto Provehito in Altum, Latin for “launch forth into the deep.”

Heavy sea ice crushed at least nine blue whales in 2014; two washed ashore on the west coast of Newfoundland.

“It is … very personal and meaningful for me and my brother.” — Mark Dobbin

A generous donation from Mark and Sandra Dobbin, and Craig and Lisa Dobbin, in honour of their late mother, Eleanor “Penney” Dobbin, allowed Memorial to acquire one of the whales to display.

“This will provide for science, education and art and will be a must-visit item for any visitor or resident,” said Mark Dobbin. “It is also very personal and meaningful for me and my brother. It reminds us of our mom’s side of the family and spending time together in Burin, particularly the time we spent touring the old whaling station on Great Burin Island.”

Lisa, Michael, Sandra and Mark Dobbin stand in front of a blue whale skull in a wooden crate.
From left are Lisa, Michael, Sandra and Mark Dobbin. The family made a generous donation towards the recovery and installation of the blue whale in their mother’s and grandmother’s honour.
Photo: Rich Blenkinsopp

Bone puzzle

A partnership with the Royal Ontario Museum, where the other whale that washed ashore is displayed, ensured the skeleton was cleaned and prepared before shipping it back to Newfoundland and Labrador.

Experts took the skeleton apart piece-by-piece. The assembling of the 356 bone puzzle will take Research Casting Inc. two weeks of precise work.

“This display is not just a decoration — it showcases Memorial’s leadership and expertise in ocean sciences.” — Seamus O’Regan

A marine mammal, the blue whale is the largest animal that has ever lived and was hunted almost to extinction up until the mid-1900s. The Northwest Atlantic blue whale is listed as endangered and is protected under the Species at Risk Act.

“The loss of nine blue whales was tragic, but I am so appreciative that something positive was able to come from that loss,” said President Vianne Timmons. “The whale is so rare and majestic — this will be appreciated across our province in countless ways and is an amazing addition to Memorial.”

“An impressive facility deserves an impressive display piece, and the whale skeleton being unveiled today is more than fitting,” said Premier Andrew Furey. “It is a symbol of not only the Atlantic Ocean that surrounds us and impacts our daily life, but also of the ocean industries that have sustained our province and will continue to do so into the centuries to come.

“I would like to thank the Dobbin family, for their commitment to ensuring the “Rocky Harbour whale” stayed in this province, right here in this brand new, world-class Core Science Facility at Memorial University,” Premier Furey continued.

A group of people stand in front of the blue whale skull in its crate with masks on.
From left are Lisa Dobbin, Michael Dobbin, Sandra Dobbin, Mark Dobbin, Premier Andrew Furey, Minister Seamus O’Regan, Minister Tom Osborne and President Vianne Timmons at the July 27 event.
Photo: Rich Blenkinsopp

Inspire to protect

The whale is meant to act as inspiration for the next generation of scientists and researchers, while also highlighting the importance of protecting animals and their ecosystems.

“This whale will be incredibly important to this building,” said Dr. Mark Abrahams, provost and vice-president (academic). “How can you walk in this atrium and not be fascinated?”

Added Minister O’Regan: “This display is not just a decoration — it showcases Memorial’s leadership and expertise in ocean sciences, for which they are recognized internationally.”

The construction of the Core Science Facility was designed to resemble an iceberg, underscoring Memorial’s position as a world-leader in ocean research. It houses laboratories and teaching spaces and will be open for the beginning of the fall 2021 semester.

A full building opening will be scheduled for this fall.

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