The sperm whale skeleton – a floating puzzle

Welcoming you to the museum are the whale skeletons floating high above the foyer of the OZEANEUM. The imposing triumvirate of the sperm whale, fin whale and minke whale spark visitors’ curiosity about the exhibits and aquariums.

The sperm whale bull, whose skeleton is shown here, became stranded and died along with two other sperm whales in the Bay of Meldorf in the North Sea in January 2002. As a globally recognized whale research center, the German Oceanographic Museum in Stralsund was one of those to receive the enormous carcasses.

Before making their way to the exhibit, the whale bones had to undergo a series of necessary preparation steps. In earlier times, they used to be placed in the sea temporarily so the remaining flesh and fat could be eroded by small animals. However, the German Oceanographic Museum has developed its own method. This method requires the skeleton to be stored in a special container. Over a period of up to 12 weeks, bacteria gradually decompose the flesh, leaving only bare bones. This process is called maceration.

Before the individual vertebrae could be strung along a curved steel rod, all the bones had to be correctly organized, like a giant puzzle. Due to space restriction, the anatomical preparators had to expand their operation to the NAUTINEUM on the island of Dänholm. The specimens were finally hung in 2008 under difficult site conditions. The skeleton is 14 meters long, 2.50 meters wide and appears to float despite its 1,200-kilogram weight. The enormous size of the sperm whale’s skull, with its long mandible full of massive teeth, is striking.


  • Title: Whale skeletons in the foyer of the OZEANEUM
  • Location: Ozeaneum Stralsund, Stiftung Deutsches Meeresmuseum
  • Rights: photo: Johannes-Maria Schlorke

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