Tragedy transformed

A closeup view of Sooke skeleton, on exhibit at The Whale Museum.   - Contributed photo / Colin Blevins
A closeup view of Sooke skeleton, on exhibit at The Whale Museum.
— image credit: Contributed photo / Colin Blevins

By Steve Wehrly, Journal reporter

The Whale Museum has brought Sooke back to her home territory — for good.

On Thursday, Feb. 14, the new display featuring Sooke’s cleansed and rebuilt skeleton will be opened to the public in the new exhibit hall on the first floor of the Whale Museum’s venerable home on First Street. The second floor is being overhauled, too, with reorganization and upgrading of the exhibits completed and planned.

SookeSooke is the 3-year-old Southern Resident orca found washed ashore at Long Beach, Wash. in February 2012. Since then, she has been necropsied by Dr. Joe Gaydos of the Sea-Doc Society.

Nobody is saying more about possible causes beyond that she died because of overall trauma to her body, mostly on the right side and head area.  Earlier reports noted damage to her head and nerve systems consistent with sonar-induced effects on the inner-ear.

According to Jenny Atkinson at the Whale Museum, many researchers and laboratories across the country are working to understand Sooke’s death fully.  If her death is found to have been caused by naval sonar, local orca advocates are expected to redouble their efforts to move naval sonar testing from areas frequented by orcas.

The museum issued a statement answering the question, Why?: “After the Museum learned of her death, we requested her body come ‘home’ to San Juan Island. We hope that by telling her story people will be motivated to become more active stewards, thereby helping Sooke’s family.”

Sooke exhibitThe exhibit has been created by a team of professionals, including Albert Shepard, sculptor Matthew Gray Palmer, and Peter and Zach Chan. Danielle Dean Palmer is creating a time-lapse video of the process, and Matthew Palmer, who is known for his full-sized animal sculptures, is creating a life-size model of Sooke.

On the second floor, a new exhibit of Gray Whales has been installed, telling the Gray Whale story from birthing to feeding grounds. Eberhard Eichner of the ReStore in Bellingham created the exhibit’s stand out of re-purposed materials.

The Whale Museum, founded in 1976, is located in Friday Harbor at 62 First St. N. More information can be found at


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