So, how did we get those whale fossils off the rocky intertidal platform?
Step 1: Saw, saw, saw; chisel, hammer, pop; repeat. As you can see from previous posts (here and here), we trenched around the fossils using multiple tools around the skeletons to expose a single block. In some cases it can take exposing several discrete blocks to capture the entire specimen.
Bob and Nick carefully assess the second whale skeleton before cutting with the rock saw. Note the surging tides on this part of the platform, a few dozens of meters away from the first whale skeleton. It all has to be timed right. (Photo: J. A. Goldbogen)
Step 2: Pedestal the block by undercutting until there's enough of a narrow connection between the block and its supporting column of rock that a few well-placed chisel hits along the bedding plane will dislocate the block, usually with a wonderful pop. Then pose next to the thing of beauty -- what was once seafloor locked in place, now free to return to the museum.
NDP holding the intact block of the second whale skeleton. Happy guy. (Photo: J. A. Goldbogen)
Step 3: Haul the block away from danger -- in this case, oncoming tides. Also, collect any shards or remaining bone fragments that you may have missed.
We brought heavy rope for many reasons, including lashing it a block and then skidding it across the intertidal platform back towards the beach. There are many ways to wrangle a fossil whale. (Photo: J. A. Goldbogen and R. E. Shadwick).
All too important to label, document, photograph and archive all field activities. The Smithsonian's Field Book Project is a devoted to chronicling and preserving this fundamental aspect of natural history research. Here, a few shards from the second fossil whale skeleton are organized before being packed back to the lighthouse. (Photo: NDP and J. A. Goldbogen)
Step 4: Wrap the block of fossils in a plaster jacket, labeling everything carefully.
Back up on the beach head, on the West Coast Trail, we jacket the blocks using medical plaster bandages -- same ones for broken arms. (Photos: NDP and J. A. Goldbogen)
Step 5: Then, get it off the beach! In our case, we were so remote and a shore-boat transition with heavy (>200 lb blocks) was too risky, so we called in a chartered helicopter to lift our fossils (and gear) back to the nearest point of civilization (in this case, Port Renfrew).
While the team was motoring back to Port Renfrew aboard the return trip of the Michelle Diana, Jerry Etzkorn helped coordinate the pickup of the jackets and heavy field equipment from the beach near the site. We originally though the jackets would need to be slinged underneath the helicopter, but we did a good job trimming rock (and thus weight) while digging. Big thanks to Westcoast Helicopters on Vancouver Island. (Photo: J. Etzkorn)