Who was Rosie?

Rosie was a young male Gray whale (Eschrichtius robustus). He was born in the Sea of Cortes, in Baja California. At birth he was 15 or16 feet long. He nursed for seven or eight months on about 50 gallons of milk per day. His mother's milk was 53% fat (human milk is 2% fat). In early spring, two or three months after his birth, Rosie and his mother headed north, to the Bering or Chukchi Seas. Perhaps they came into Puget Sound so that Rosie's mother might feed. She would dive to the bottom, roll on her side and suck mud and water into her mouth. As she closed her mouth the water and sediments were expelled through the baleen plates, leaving the food, mostly tubeworms and shrimp, trapped on the inside. The massive tongue gathered the prey to be swallowed. The process leaves a long pit 2 or 3 feet deep in the bottom muck. A number of Gray whales seem to stay for two or three months in Puget Sound in the spring, feeding off Whidbey and Camano Islands.

Rosie's body was found on the southwest side of Whidbey Island, north of Lagoon Point, in early December 1998. His blubber thickness was only about three inches compared to the normal eight to ten inches. As whale deaths occur most often on the long migration in the spring it appears Rosie died on his journey south. At 32.4 feet (9.9m), he was most likely almost three years old when he died. Had Rosie lived a full life of 50 years or more, he may have grown to a length of 40-45 ft (12-14 m) and would have weighed around 30 tons.

When US Navy Wildlife Biologist Matt Klope heard of the dead whale, he contacted Susan Berta who was the Coordinator for the WSU/Island County Beach Watchers. With the permission of the National Marine Fisheries, work on Rosie began. Named by Klope, he became the workers' Christmas Rose. For four days, in cold weather and high tides, volunteers cut away the flesh, numbered each bone, then carried them nearly a mile down the beach to waiting trucks. The larger vertebrae, big as beach balls, took two men to carry. The skull was ferried down the beach in a boat.

After the bones reached the storage area, they were packed in barrels and sunk at the US Navy fueling dock on the Seaplane Base in Oak Harbor. The baleen was carefully separated into individual plates, 168 on each side. For three months, crabs, eels, urchins and sea stars cleaned the bones. The next step was to leave the bones in the sun to bleach and dry. Then began the tedious job of painting them with a mixture of water, Elmer's glue and latex paint to preserve them. Painting, sanding, painting again occupied the next few months.

When the skeleton was ready for assembly, the bones were moved to a large storage building and the next stage began. Volunteers visited a number of museums to look at other whale skeletons, studying the best way to attach bones.

The Town of Coupeville and the Coupeville Port Commission pledged money and help, the Port Commission allowed Rosie to have a permanent home in the Coupeville Wharf.

Finally, one evening, workers stood back and stared at the massive shape over their heads. Rosie's skeleton was complete. It was lowered, the preserved baleen placed in his jaws, and strong suspension gear constructed by the Canvas Riggers. In November 2000, the US Navy SeaBees brought him to Coupeville wharf, the end of his long journey, and the work of 200 people who gave thousands of hours to bring Rosie and his story to you.

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