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The skeleton of a fin whale

Skeleton of a fin whale in the open air. From the album "Old Khabarovsk". Photographer A.P. Lukin. 1903 г.

The collection of natural-scientific collection of the museum began simultaneously with the foundation of the museum in 1894. In May 1894, the museum had "... up to 450 numbers in zoology, not counting 15 boxes with insect collections and up to 100 jars with alcohol preparations, ..., 3 herbariums in botany ...". The replenishment of the collection with natural-scientific objects of the Far East is largely due to the name of Nikolai Ivanovich Grodekov.

In 1900, Count Heinrich Gugovich Keyserling, head of the powerful industrial organization "Pacific Whaling and Fishing Society of Gr. G.G. Keyserling and Co.о"A unique skeleton of a fin whale, the second largest living animal on the planet, was donated to the museum. The whale skeleton arrived in Khabarovsk from Vladivostok in early 1901. However, the skeleton was assembled only in the next year, 1902, and in October, upon completion of the assembly, the donor was telegraphed: "Your Excellency Count Heinrich Gugovich! ...Your gift is the best decoration of the museum, the Priamursky department [of the Imperial Russian Geographical Society] considers it its duty once again to express to Your Excellency sincere and deep gratitude for your interesting donation".

Count Heinrich Gugovich Keyserling, a lieutenant in the Russian Navy, took up whaling in retirement. To begin with, he was hired as a simple sailor on a Norwegian whaling schooner. And in 1893 he registered the company "Pacific Whaling of Count G.G. Keyserling and Co" (since 1899 "Pacific Whaling Fishing Joint Stock Company of Count G.G. Keyserling and Co"). The enterprise was based in Gaidamak Bay. In 1894 G. Keyserling managed to get a subsidy of 125 thousand rubles from the Ministry of Finance. This money was used to build two whaling ships "Georgy" and "Nikolay" in Norway. In addition, a steamship was purchased in England and converted into a floating whaling base "Mikhail". Since 1895, the Count's farm in Gaidamak Bay began to gain momentum. From 1895 to January 1, 1898, for example, 220 whales were caught, which were cut and processed at the Gaidamak base. Moreover, only whales caught in summer off Sakhalin were processed at the Gaidamak base. The winter prey was salted and delivered to Japan in the form of canned food: whale oil, tuk, and salted flippers. Blubber (whale oil) was used at Vladivostok enterprises to make soap.

Whaling was considered a lucrative and romantic endeavor. Whalers would go hunting for long periods of time. The most fortunate ones quickly earned quite a handsome income. Due to the fact that whalers by the beginning of the twentieth century were equipped with harpoon guns, which greatly simplified whaling. A shot was considered successful if the harpooner drove the spear under the fin, where the whale's nerve endings are centered. After that, the whale carcass was pulled up, inflated with air to prevent it from drowning, a "beacon" was attached to it and the whale was hunted further. If the shot was unsuccessful, the epic began. The wounded beast began dragging the whalers across the sea. Tragic situations happened, especially if the whale tried to dive under the whaling ship. The carcass was cut and processed on a special whaling vessel. The fat was cut off the whale along with the skin. Then the carcass was cut up. To get a well-preserved whale skeleton was considered a great success. Hot steam under high pressure was used to easily separate the meat from the bones. It was necessary to keep the bones of the animal intact.

The length of the skeleton presented to the museum was 20 meters (cf.: the maximum length of the Finval body is 27-28 meters).

Skeleton of a whale under a canopy. Glass negative. Photographer A.M. Bodisko. 1913 г.

The skeleton was assembled on an iron base. In his order to N.F. Alexandrov, Grodekov wrote: "Take less care of preserving the skeleton, for even uncovered it will last 30 years, and then a fresh one can be delivered". In the photo of 1903 the skeleton is indeed set in the open air. But already in the early 1910s, the skeleton hangs near the museum under "a special beautiful tent and is enclosed with a wooden lattice of elegant design".

In 1911, the skeleton was whitewashed with chalk and reinforced with plaster by order of V.K. Arsenyev. In the 1920s, the whale skeleton was damaged by a careless ball game. According to the surviving documents, soccer was played near the site where the Fin whale skeleton was exhibited. Since there was no netting, several ribs in the whale skeleton were broken. 

For more than 100 years the skeleton "stood" under its elegant canopy. In 2008, after the construction of the 2nd building of the museum was completed, a covered glass gallery was built to display the valuable object. And if at the beginning of the 20th century fin whales lived everywhere in the Sea of Japan, their numbers were quite high, their skeletons were not considered valuable exhibits in museums of the world. During the twentieth century, due to intensive fishing, their numbers decreased significantly, a ban was imposed on whaling, and the animals themselves were included in the Red Book. Skeletons of these animals more than 100 years old are rare.

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