Friday October 12, 2012
Teething problems at Sarawak Museum
By ZORA CHAN
KUCHING: If one inspects the 100-year-old skeletal remains of a killer whale in the Sarawak Museum, one would notice that many of its teeth are missing.
This is not caused by old age, but theft by visitors!
The museum’s curator of the Natural History and Zoology Dr Charles Leh said the bone of the killer whale was hung from the ceiling but it had to be taken down for safety reasons 30 years ago, and to allow visitors to have a closer and better appreciation for the animal.
“After we placed the bone on the ground, I noticed that some teeth went missing over the years. Some visitors stole them because they are ivory,” he said.
He said he was saddened by the theft because every artefact in the museum was for conservation and educational purposes, and appreciation for all.
The museum had submitted some plans to the state government to install some CCTVs and increase staff patrols to prevent more theft, he said.
“F A Kortright, a mariner based in Labuan, found and handed over the adult killer whale Orcinus orca which was washed up the shore in Miri in May 1912,” he told The Star here on Wednesday.
An older whale skeleton in the museum is called Bryde’s whale Balaenoptera edeni, said Leh.
He said the whale was found beached in Pusa in January 1909. It was handed over to the museum by N L Owen.
“Parts of the skeletal remains of this whale were also stolen. Some of the bone ribs are shorter than others because visitors broke and stole them,” he pointed out.
He hoped that visitors to the museum would respect all exhibits and treat them with great appreciation asall had high conservation value for posterity.
Leh said both whales were not native to Borneo but normally found in the Pacific Ocean.
“Sometimes when migrating, whales got lost and beached on our shores,” he said.
In research notes prepared by the museum’s volunteer co-ordinator Louise Macul, the killer whale is now classified under the dolphin family of Delphinidae, while the species - orca - has remained the same.
Killer whales are called such because of their teeth and the fact that they feed on other marine animals including small whales. They were originally called “whale killers”.
Their habitat covers all oceans and most seas and they prefer higher latitudes and coastal areas rather than the deep blue sea.
The highest number of killer whales can be found in the northeast Atlantic around Norway; in the north Pacific in the Gulf of Alaska; and in the south, off the coast of Antarctica. They are rarely sighted in this region.
These whales can grow up to between eight and 10m long with males being larger than females and weighing up to 10,000kg. This species eat squids, sharks, otters, sea lions, penguins, birds, octopi, dolphins and fish.
On Bryde’s whale, Macul’s notes stated that it is of the baleen whale family and considered one of the great whales or rorquals. The Bryde’s whale is pronounced “broodus”.
Baleen refers to the inside of the whale’s mouth and how the whale eats. Baleen whales do not have teeth but a series of fringed, overlapping plates that hang from the upper jaw where teeth should be. The plates are composed of a fingernail-like material called keratin that frays out into fine hairs on the ends of and inside the mouth next to the tongue. Bryde’s whales have 250 to 350 baleen plates on each side, which are about 40cm long.
Their habitat cover tropical, subtropical and warm temperate waters worldwide. The smaller form of this species may prefer waters near the coast and continental shelf.
Bryde’s whales occur in tropical and warm temperature oceans such as Atlantic, Indian and Pacific. They can be found globally in all oceans from 40 degree south to 40 degree north.
Some Bryde’s whales may migrate seasonally, moving towards higher latitudes during the summer and towards the equator during the winter. Others are residents and do not migrate.
Adult males measures up to 15.5m and weigh about 20 to 25 tonnes. The females are slightly larger than them.
This species normally are fish eaters, often feeding on schools of anchovies, sardines, herring or mackerel. While feeding, the whale displays regular up-and-down pattern, frequently arching its back quite high and diving for five to 15 minutes.
According to the Sarawak Gazette 1895, “Notes on the Cetacea Whales and Porpoises Found On The Coast of Borneo” by the third museum curator and zoologist Edward Bartlett (1893-1897), the first whale sighting documented in Sarawak, was the Sei whale by a man surnamed Flower, said Macul. Sei whale is now known as Bryde’s whale.
Since then, more sightings of marine mammals and their remains found were documented such as the Irrawaddy dolphin, Sousa chinensis, Finless black porpoise, Indo-Pacific humpback dolphin and Pygmy sperm whale in Sarawak’s shores.