Cleaning Omega: Giving Old Bones a New Look

A visit to National Aquarium, Baltimore is incomplete (and nearly impossible) without sighting Omega, the finback whale skeleton that has been at the Aquarium since we opened more than 30 years ago.

Conservators carefully vacuuming the whale skeleton.

Conservators carefully vacuuming the whale skeleton.

The scaffolding and lid needed for the construction of our new Blacktip Reef exhibit have given us a unique opportunity to bring in a expert team of conservators to give Omega a proper cleaning.

Due to its location, the skeleton (which weighs approximately 5,000 pounds!) has been mostly inaccessible for adjustments and cleaning. Over the years, Aquarium staff have cleaned the skeleton by using a small vacuum and soft brushes, however, this deep-cleaning will give a team of four conservators the opportunity to carefully clean Omega and tend to any chemical and physical deterioration to the skeleton.

A bit of history on Omega…

Omega was most likely born around 1870 and developed into a 50 ton, 58 foot finback whale living in the Atlantic off the coast of New England. In the Spring of 1883, Omega was harvested by a small whaler and towed to one of the small ports on Cape Cod for rendering. A finback of Omega’s size would yield only eight barrels of oil, the rest (including the whale’s bones) was considered scrap. Henry Ward, a conservator who prepared large animal skeletons for P.T. Barnum, Buffalo Bill Cody and similar exhibitions, acquired Omega’s skeleton in 1884 and prepared the large skeleton for display.

Omega was purchased by the state of New York and remained packed away in the basement at Rochester University until 1979, when it came to the National Aquarium on permanent loan from the New York State Museum in Albany. She has been graciously hanging over our exhibits since 1981!

Stay tuned for more updates on our Omega cleaning project! 

9 Responses to “Cleaning Omega: Giving Old Bones a New Look”

  1. 1 Lisa Green-Cudek March 21, 2013 at 11:26 am

    Is it possible to volunteer to help with Omega’s cleaning? And, if so, might a 14 year old volunteer?

  2. 2 Lisa Green-Cudek March 21, 2013 at 11:28 am

    Is it possible to volunteer to help with Omega’s cleaning? And, if so, might a 14 year old volunteer?

    • 3 National Aquarium March 22, 2013 at 9:43 am

      Hi Lisa! Thanks for your interest in helping with Omega’s cleaning. At this time, we’re not able to have volunteers, just our team of conservators up there. There are some safety risks involved 🙂

      But, we really appreciate your interest in the project and will be sure to keep everyone updated as the cleaning progresses!

  3. 4 airweaver March 21, 2013 at 8:47 pm

    Appreciate the history on the skeleton, in all the times I’ve gone by it, I never gave it enough thought. I will now.

    • 5 National Aquarium March 22, 2013 at 9:41 am

      Next time you visit, you’ll know a little bit more about her! And she’ll be looking like a new whale skeleton 😉

  4. 6 Chris March 22, 2013 at 10:21 pm

    I literally dropped my jaw when you said the skeleton weighs 5,000 pounds! Holy crapOLA. I can’t get passed the fact that you guys have a whale skeleton… =0 Have you found any parts of the skeleton that need “chemical” restoration like you said?

    • 7 National Aquarium March 25, 2013 at 10:13 am

      Not yet, Chris! We’ll give everyone an update on the project soon.

      It’s pretty crazy to think that the skeleton is only 5,000 pounds when it’s estimated that the actual whale weighed around 50 TONS!

  5. 8 AC March 27, 2013 at 9:35 am

    It’s great to get this glimpse behind the scenes! Who are the conservators working on this project?

    • 9 National Aquarium March 28, 2013 at 1:50 pm

      We’re happy to give everyone any behind-the-scenes glimpses when possible. However, this is actually happen where the public can see! We have a team of specialists that have come in from across the country to help with this project!

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