Dead Dolphin ashore May 2016

Dead Dolphin ashore May 2016

Thursday, 31 March 2011

Gypsy Arrow

Over the past few days I have been looking at ancient designs of items that have been made out of Whale bone with the intention of reproducing them from the small fragments of Whale bone I have in my possession. Without the aid of anything mechanical I made this crude arrow head by carving which is about 50mm long from the tip to the end of the shaft. I haven't got a bow or a arrow to test it. However I do know how to make a Gypsy Arrow and I can with a bit of practice land one in a circle 12ft wide from 200 yards. In the time before everything came in a packet from Tesco a Gypsy arrow was designed for hunting. They are easy to make as they are like a normal arrow but with larger flights and are more weighted at the tip. They do not need a bow, they are thrown by wrapping a piece of string with a knot on the end wrapped around the shaft. It is possible to reach 300 yards and it is possible to take out a rabbit or a gull . Like modern day archery such activity is now confined to being a leisure activity, but out of interest I will arm one with a whalebone arrow head just to see how it flies.

At present my Whalebone collection is getting on well, I have know produced two replicas of a Sperm Whale tooth which stand at 40 mm. Of the bone I have kept, the fishy oily smell is now starting to fade and within a few weeks I will have probably made something from every piece based on ancient designs.

A few days ago I looked at the bits of bone I took back to the Hoverport site and there is no change there, the smell is still atrocious. The Whale fat is now starting to disperse on the rocks to the left of the Hoverport but some of it has turned to a black looking tar and in places there is still this coloured looking slick from Whale Oil on the surface of the small pools of water even now after a month from when the Whale was cut up.

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

The waiting game.

Following last weeks reply from DEFRA telling me what a naughty boy I have been collecting small fragments of Whale bone after the Sperm Whale clear up operation at the Pegwell Bay Hoverport. So last week I contacted the Receiver of Wrecks as the Whale is, or should I say was crown property and I have also contacted my MP Laura Sandys to get some clarification as to whether I have been acting legally or illegally. Well to date I have received no reply from either, but then to be fair to my MP I doubt if someone having a few pieces of Whalebone away is high on her list of priorities. Then on the other hand this doesn't help me either as I have a agenda with the bits of Whale in my possession so it is a case of getting on with it and worrying about the rest later. My aim is to put to together a small collection of bone samples that maybe some time in the future be exhibited at a local level as a items of interest. Now considering the Thanet Coast is gaining national and international interest I think collections of the extraordinary from our coastline is something worth considering as it all adds to the bigger picture. I do have this vision that unique items collected from our foreshore to form a collection is something worth pursuing and a collection along these lines is long overdue. Above is a clip from youtube of survey work being carried out on oil rig apparatus at 3000ft only for a Sperm Whale to appear for a Cameo performance.

Saturday, 26 March 2011

Full steam ahead at the Margate Museum ?

In Friday's Gazette (25/03/11) there is an article on the proposed opening of the Margate Museum to coincide with the opening of the Turner Center, something that is well overdue. As to whether the decision to open the Museum is influenced by the up and coming District Council elections I will leave the reader to decide.
I would like to think that this is a massive u turn by the Conservatives at TDC who have finally realised that the history and heritage is important after all. Then as the Thanetlife blog quoted Margate culturally is now going through a "Renaissance" and I wonder where the author picked the "R" word from.
Four years ago the Museum was a going concern and as the voters went to the polls nobody was aware of the terrible financial mess that was going on behind the scenes and if re elected the Conservatives were going to stop the grant and close the facility.

I am pleased there is a friends group, I am pleased the museum will be open in time for Turner, but most of all I love the enthusiasm of the volunteers. However, we are dealing with Thanet District Council and being a ex member myself and involved with the Museum for many years I just cannot help feeling a bit cynical.
Even reading the quote in the article by Thanet District Council "There are some items which were collected by the East Kent Maritime Trust for the Margate Museum and discussions are ongoing about the future of these items" is a touch inaccurate. It is true that the EKMT purchased and collected certain items that belong to them. However, there are many items that were donated under EKMT management to the Margate Museum by Margate people for the Margate Museum. Also there are Ramsgate items in the Museum that have been accepted into the Margate Museum collection simply because they do not have a home, yet that is. So it is a question of who owns what and once this is sorted it will be full steam ahead.
Even though this is a technical issue, I am starting to think that this summer season could be one of the best the Museum has ever had thanks to the army of volunteers. The biggest concern will be when the season ends and the new TDC administration looks into the issue again especially if it is a Conservative one.

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

The draining of the Walpole Bay pool 22/03/11

This morning the Walpole bay tidal pool was drained which was for those interested is a interesting site and a opportunity. Present were a group with metal detectors and a group of volunteer coastal wardens from the Thanet Coast project taking photographs and collecting data. It was nice to see a familiar site, that being the remains of a cartwheel that was something I stumbled across 32 years ago.
Everything was very much the same as last year with large oysters bedded around the back of the wall. There were so many anemones present giving this feeling as if a huge aquarium had been drained out. Around the back ledges I found a small squat lobster and came across a few small Velvet Swimmer crabs that had survived the winter that killed so many off. In the remaining water at the back of the pool Flounders could be seen scurrying about. I did manage to catch a fish with my hands which was a male lumpsucker roughly around 9 inches long. The colours were amazing a mixture of flame red flanks and a pink under belly which is the breeding colours for this species this time of year. After the lumpsucker had been photographed by those present I did return it to the exact spot where I caught it as it may have been guarding eggs. Unfortunately I was unable to photograph the lumpsucker as my batteries went dead in my camera after the first photograph I took off the back wall.
At the back of the pool I came across a piece of interesting driftwood which I kept. I also came a across small lead battery and lead fishing weights which I also took with me.

I did have a chat with the other coastal wardens about the beached Sperm Whale at Pegwell Bay as I am trying to work out how the Whale was cut up. To my amazement it appears that one person in particular took 500 photographs and was present at Pegwell Bay at every opportunity to record everything in detail which I must admit is some doing.

Sunday, 20 March 2011

Article 10

To days high tide 20/03/11 was especially high and I expect the last of the Whale blood on the Pegwell Bay hover port slipway will now be washed off by the tide taking with it all remnants of Whale fat off the rocks. As mentioned in a previous posting my tally of white Whalebone is expecting to weigh in at less than 10 Kilo as some pieces are still being drained of blood and fat.
Somehow I do feel that I am probably the only person in Thanet that has something tangible from the Whale that at some point in the distant future will qualify as a museum piece as a natural history specimen. However, not all my pieces of bone are that good as an exhibit as they are splinters and fragments from when the Whale's carcase was cut up with a chainsaw to be dumped. I know that a dead Whale is a potential health hazard because due to the thick layers of blubber that insulates the Whale the rate of decomposition is rapid as inside the Whale is kept warm even after death. It is just that I am just really amazed that after the scientists took the specimens they required that nothing was removed and kept for local interest and it was just cut up and dumped like rubbish on landfill. Then this is Thanet after all I suppose.
A beached Whale is exceptionally rare and people are interested in this coastal story as 1500 page views on my first Whale posting does confirm. Such a incident tells the story of the Coast and the incident is now part of our history an I expect there must be many photographs of the Whale that will surface in many years to come.
From my side of things I do have this Whalebone which I need to utilise, so to check the legal position of owning pieces of a protected species, I am now checking with the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs the correct course of action as part of the EU CITES agreement article 10 that regulates derivatives from protected species. That even includes the Whale oil that I have.
Working with the bone is so easy and came be shaped well, it has this nice waxy feel and does polish up well. I have now given a few small pieces to someone doing a repair to a old guitar plus I have given small rectangular pieces to someone making Runes, plus to see how well it can also be engraved and carved.

Friday, 18 March 2011

How not to get rid of a Whale.

This past fortnight I have been looking at everything to do with worldwide Whale strandings on the Internet, including YouTube which has many interesting clips. This one really made me laugh, instead of cutting it up or opting to bury it. Someone made the decision for the quick option to blow this one up scattering decomposing smelly Whale blubber over a area of a quarter of a mile.

Pegwell Bay after the Whale - Survey 3

At daybreak this morning (18/03/11) I surveyed Pegwell Bay at low water walking the entire Bay from end to end looking for anything related to the recently beached Sperm Whale. On the site where the Whale was beached, the only evidence left was the disturbance in the sand caused by the JCB's involved in moving the Whale. Up against the cliff close to where the Whale was found and on the strand line back towards the hoverport there was the occasion large lump of whale meat to be found. The lumps of Whale meat still had this remarkable elasticity even after two weeks since the Whale had died and was cut up.
Back on the Hoverport site, Whale oil was still present along with the Whale fat which is a indicator that the ecosystem will take a long time to break it down. Looking for Whale bone I came across this solid lump of white Whale bone which weighs in at over 5+ Kilo in a wet state which I have photographed and posted above. To give some idea of scale I have included a 400g tin of Batchelors cream of chicken soup. I think by now I must have picked up all the white bone to be found, leaving only the porous looking lumps for nature to break down. Recently, I have given out a few samples of white Whalebone to see how well it can be worked artistically.

Elsewhere in the Bay there were many lugworm casts in fact there were hundreds of thousands of them which really is a good indicator how the lugworm has recovered from the extensive bait digging and fresh water influx in the area. Also present were cockles all living and healthy. Finaly, I did come across a carapace of a Chinese Mitten crab, so it does look as if I will be back at the Western Undercliff carrying out recorded surveys for the Thanet Coast project looking for this invasive species.

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Pegwell Bay Whale - Salvaging remains

Over the past week I have made frequent short visits to the site at Pegwell Bay Ramsgate where the recently beached Sperm Whale was cut up for disposal, the purpose being to salvage anything from the Whale that may be of interest. After a week everything does seem to be breaking down into the eco system. The whale fat still remains and it is starting to smell however I am getting use to it so it is not much of a problem. I have collected many small pieces of white whalebone and collected some of the hardened balls of white fat. The white bone in most cases is splinters which can be salvaged into the smallest of workable pieces. Of the large pieces of which I have two, including a section of damaged vertebrae both are needing a bit of attention to remove excess flesh and draining the blood from the bone.
Looking up many sites on the internet and reading old books I feel as if I am pretty much on top in preparing the bone for craft, scrimshaw or just for exhibiting. Considering the rarity of the occasion I am keeping every piece of bone down to the size of the matchstick until the time I meet up with someone who is artistic or skill full enough to do it justice.

I have been exchanging witness accounts with people asking them what they saw plus I have collected the local newspaper cuttings. As I was working part of the time I did miss the moment when they started to move the whale and I am curious how they did it. If anyone saw this I would appreciate any information.

Wednesday, 9 March 2011

The Pegwell Bay Whale - a ramble

It does come as no surprise that the beached Sperm Whale made front page of the Thanet Times (08/03/11) on Tuesday , the article which is an exclusive is very informative quoting the findings of the scientist Rob Deaville of the Institute of Zoology who led the team investigating the stranding. The conclusion being that the Whale took a wrong turning, instead of turning West at Ireland the Whale turned East, went up the English Channel got lost, eventually to die of hunger and dehydration.
I found it interesting that the Institute of Zoology have records of Whale strandings dating back to the 16th century. Locally, perhaps the most famous stranding being the Whale that was beached at Broadstairs in February 1762 which was recorded as weighing 70 tons. There is a tangible reminder of this stranding as a pair ribs from the Whale are displayed on the Harbour masters office at Broadstairs Harbour.
The recent stranding of the Sperm Whale was definitely a media event. However, the stranding of a Sperm Whale two hundred years ago would have made a important contribution to the local economy. As soon as the Whale had been sighted and come ashore it would had been Flenched which is basically cut up and every single piece utilised in some way and Whale meat would have defiantly have been on the menu for the local population.
Whale oil would also had been extracted as a valuable commodity which in 1810 would have been valued at £126 a ton. There are four grades of oil in a Sperm Whale oil the most prized being Spermaceti oil found in the head which was used as fuel for oil lamps, producing soap and manufacturing candles. The Whale oil was extracted by boiling down the blubber in cauldrons, with oil being also extracted by boiling down the skeleton, tongue and innards. To give a indication of how much oil can be extracted from a Sperm Whale, the only statistic I can come up with in my archive is a large male Elephant seal produces around 210 gallons of oil.
Ambergris another valuable commodity used in perfume making would have been extracted from the Whale innards.
Whale bone and teeth would have been another useful commodity used to make beads, corsets scrimshaw, handles etc., Over the past few days I have been gathering as much bone as I can from the Pegwell Bay hoverport site where the Whale was cut up and disposed of. To find the bone I had to pick through Whale innards, cut through lumps of Whale meat and tread trough Whale fat to find as many pieces as possible. Photographed above is some of the pieces I have retrieved so far, the largest piece measuring around 600mm x 450mm. I have boiled down the small pieces and have found that it is easy to work, so with any luck I may be able to produce Thanet 2011 scrimshaw.

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

Pegwell Bay Whale - After the Whale survey 2

This morning (08/03/11) I went back to the site where the beached Sperm Whale was cut up on the old Pegwell Bay hoverport slipway. This time I concentrated on the base of the slipway where the tracks of the JCB's that brought the Whale to the slipway are still clearly visible in the mud. Like the left side of the slipway Whale fat and bone fragments were everywhere to be seen. I did come across a large piece of the Whale's innards which were bobbing about in the water and as I stepped on the innards all this grey like fat came oozing out. I am not to sure which part of the Whale it came from but I was amazed how rubbery and resilient the whole thing was.
I took two photographs for those of you who may be interested and I have kept a large tyre in the photograph to give some idea of scale.