________________ CM . . . . Volume XXIII Number 29 . . . . April 7, 2017


Big Blue Forever: The Story of Canada's Largest Blue Whale Skeleton.

Anita Miettunen.
Markham, ON: Red Deer Press, 2017.
64 pp., hardcover, $24.95.
ISBN 978-0-88995-542-4.

Subject Headings:
Baleen whales-Collection and preservation-Juvenile literature.
Marine mammal remains (Archeology)-Exhibitions-Juvenile literature.
Baleen whales-Juvenile literature.
Beaty Biodiversity Museum-Exhibitions-Juvenile literature.

Grades 4-6 / Ages 9-11.

Review by Gillian Richardson.

***½ /4



When the scientists unearthed the blue whale, they discovered there was no left flipper. A blue whale's flipper is more than 10 feet long (3 metres), with over 30 bones. How could they rebuild the skeleton with this huge piece gone? And how could it have disappeared? They guessed that somebody had sawed it off to keep as a souvenir twenty years earlier when the whale had beached. Luckily, once Prince Edward Islanders learned about the missing flipper, a man who knew where it was stepped forward. He led Dr. Trites, the lead scientist, to the flipper bones, some of which had been buried. Together, they found all but a few of the missing bones.

Exhibits of animals in museums are always popular with curious visitors, but one display in the Beaty Biodiversity Museum in Vancouver, BC, is awe-inspiring. The reassembled skeleton of a blue whale, the largest animal that has ever lived on earth, will stop you in your tracks as you enter the building; it hangs suspended as if swimming through the entry hall, visible from all sides and below. Such a prize is tough to come by for scientists, so the task of excavating the gigantic burial hole on a PEI beach, recovering the skeleton and transporting about 180 bones to the west coast was worth all the time and effort involved. This book details how that work was accomplished in about three years.

      The book Big Blue Forever is actually two genres in one. The first half is a story picture book written in present tense that shares how the whale washed ashore in 1987 on a beach in northwestern PEI. It details the burial so that the bones might one day be available to science, their reclamation 20 years later and shipment to Vancouver for reassembly in the museum.

      Following that story, an introductory page begins the second genre, a nonfiction account with more extensive details of the same story. We meet the team of scientists and learn more of what's involved with digging up the bones, moving and cleaning them, and creating the exhibit. Along with new information about how the whale might have died, and how to deal with a carcass that didn't decompose naturally since it had been buried in PEI's clay soil, there is inevitable repetition of some facts presented in the first part of the book, e.g. how missing bones were recovered.

      Biographical information about a few of the scientists (again, with some repetition) includes interesting personal observations about their work. The final third of the book offers general facts about blue whales, about Species at Risk (blue whales are endangered largely as a result of hunting pressure up to 1966) and the specific threats that continue to limit the blue whale population to only a few thousand animals worldwide. The author makes a plea to consider the impact the permanent loss of such a magnificent creature would have on Earth's biodiversity.

      Big Blue Forever is a fascinating Canadian story supported by excellent photographs of the entire process surrounding the whale skeleton's preservation. A page of websites for further information is included, along with an extensive list of acknowledgments to those involved in the recovery process. Due to the dual approach in design, the book will appeal to a diverse audience; young readers can relate to the initial presentation that includes dialogue/questions by children, while older readers will enjoy a deeper look into parts of the operation. This design, however, creates a somewhat choppy feel to the book overall and the unfortunate repetition referred to earlier. Nevertheless, the author has achieved her goal of bringing our attention to the spectacular nature of the blue whale museum exhibit, and she will donate a portion of the royalties from book sales "to support biodiversity-related education, research and conservation initiatives."

Highly Recommended.

Gillian Richardson is a freelance writer living in BC.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.
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