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Whale Bones - 4 - Gåshamna, Hornsund, Svalbard

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The remains of a bowhead whale skull, more specifically the rostrum.  This piece of bone extends from the top-front of the skull with great plates of baleen (whale bone) hanging from either side making up two sides of a triangle. The rostrums are always found detached from the rest of the skull indicating perhaps that they were cut off for ease of processing. This piece is about 3-4m long, the straight end indicates that is was sawn off.

like many of the other large whale bone remains in this area, it has a lush growth of mosses on and around it. This is a result of the nutrients supplied by the bone as it decayed, the surrounding ground by comparison is bare and sterile. The most amazing thing about this is that over 350 years after being left in this position, the minerals that leached out of the bone are still having a significant localized effect on plant growth. A vivid example of recycling on the small scale.

A large open bay to the south of the Hornsund fjord, Gåshamna is the site of whaling activity from the 1600 to 1700's. In these times bowhead and right whales were the target species as they were slow swimming and relatively easy to catch, they yielded large quantities of oil and of whale bone (baleen). The faster swimming rorquals such as blue, fin and minke whales wouldn't be in the whalers sights for another two hundred years.

These remains are left behind by English whalers of this era.


76° 56.7' N, 15° 49.9' E

Picture copyright Paul Ward

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