Kayla Brossoit and Brent Williams of Royal Bank help assemble the rib cage of a killer whale at the Build-A-Whale exhibit that opens June 29, 2017 at the Alberni Aquarium. SUSAN QUINN PHOTO

Build a whale at the Alberni Aquarium

Strawberry Isle Marine Research is bringing a whale skeleton to Alberni’s waterfront

Who knew that when the carcass of whale No. 0120 was discovered 31 kilometres off the coast of Tofino in 1997 that it would become such a popular teaching tool?

No. 0120 was a female offshore killer whale. Although no cause of death was ever found, researchers with Strawberry Isle Marine Research Society estimates she was older—her teeth are heavily worn, and when discovered her blubber layer was thin.

This Thursday, June 29, 0120 comes to the Alberni Aquarium and Stewardship Centre as part of Strawberry Isle’s Build-A-Whale exhibit. It is the aquarium’s first outside exhibit, says summer staff member Jenny Fortin.

“We are super excited,” Fortin said. “It will be our first exhibit coming in. We did our beaver lodge (out of milk jugs) so we had a practice run showing people what we can provide.”

The aquarium was built with a moveable wall to accommodate displays, and Fortin said the wall will be removed for this exhibit. “Fingers crossed that it’s going to fit in here. It’s a real, live whale skeleton.”

A room full of volunteers filled the aquarium Wednesday night, ready to spend hours assembling the skeleton. In reality, “we were done in about 10 minutes,” said Sheena Falconer, executive director of West Coast Aquatic, which runs the aquarium. The skeleton is numbered, and bones are mounted on a wooden form that depicts where the whale’s organs would be.

The head took three adults to lift into place, and the bones from the pectoral fins are delicate enough that they won’t be moved during the rest of the exhibit. However, the public will have a chance to build this whale, at 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. daily when the aquarium is open. Admission is $5 per person, and children under five years of age are admitted for free.

The aquarium staff hopes this will be the first of many exhibits they will be able to bring to the Alberni Valley in the future. It’s one reason why they are running a raffle for a 16-foot boat, motor, trailer and other fishing goodies sponsored by Port Boat House. “If we want to bring future exhibits here we need the community’s support,” she said.

Tickets for the raffle are $20 each and will be capped at 4,000 tickets; the draw will take place Sept. 24, which is World Rivers Day.

Volunteers were at the aquarium on Wednesday night practicing their whale building techniques, to prepare for the public exhibit.

The Build-A-Whale interactive educational display will be at the aquarium at Harbour Quay until July 15.

It will be back in January 2018 for school groups.



The skeleton of a killer whale is on display at the Alberni Aquarium until July 15. Members of the public can come and help build the whale at 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. daily with admission to the aquarium. SUSAN QUINN PHOTO

Brent Williams of Royal Bank attaches one of Whale 0120’s ribs in the Build-A-Whale exhibit at the Alberni Aquarium. The whale skeleton and curriculum comes courtesy of the Strawberry Isle Marine Research Society. SUSAN QUINN PHOTO

Tyler Robinson, left, and Kayla Brossoit of Royal Bank help assemble a killer whale skeleton as part of the Build-A-Whale exhibit at the Alberni Aquarium, Thursday night. SUSAN QUINN PHOTO