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Skeleton Articulation Class At
Kenai Peninsula College - UAA

The local branch of the Kenai Peninsula College of the University of Alaska made a major score by hiring Professor Debbie Tobin for Marine Science classes. She also is a major player in the local marine mammal stranding network. Besides documenting and helping with necropsies, she, with her students and local volunteers, had collected bones from a gray whale and a complete Bering Sea beaked whale skeleton (I got to help). This led to various other marine mammals over the years being collected, necropsied, and the skeletons cleaned, usually by composting in horse manure.

Click on the first picture to see the slide show. There are more photos than just these nine

Skeleton Articulation Class - UAA

I teach a skeleton articulation class at the local branch of the Kenai Peninsula College of the University of Alaska. Debbie was typically too frantically busy (as were her students), to ever get very far in the articulation of any of these cleaned skeletons. So I offered to help her with an articulation class and she turned it around and instead offered to help me if I would teach one. So in the fall of 2014, I signed up to be an adjunct teacher for a one-credit class called Marine Skeleton Articulation Class - not really thinking I'd get enough students. Instead, it filled to overflowing with thirteen students. Seven of them were from out-of-state and were here for The Semester By the Bay Program that Debbie piloted for the KPC.

We had a 14-foot young female Stejnengers beaked whale we had collected and cleaned a few years prior. The big unknown was if nine, three-hour classes was enough time to get the whale built. It wasn't. But it got done anyway because many students started coming in on Saturdays and other open time slots to work on the skeleton. Time for formal teaching was limited to a couple lessons and note-taking opportunities were even more rushed. But on December 5, 2014, the whale was carried down the hall and suspended from a beam in the student services room. The whale, named Fancy, swims again. The class has been continued for the following 4 years.


Click here to see an article from the Homer News regarding this class.

             * * * A special thank you to Michael Armstrong for the use of a few of his photos as indicated below. * * *     

Following are photos taken from the first class.

Click on the first photo to start a slide show.  There are a lot more photos than just these nine.
UAA Page
The following photos are of the finished skeletons from different years.
Click on the first photo to start the slide show.
Click the link below to see a timelapsed video of the sea lion articulation.
Skeletons in a Box

The beluga whale is one of the skeleton-in-a-box kits we have done. An aluminum frame that comes out of a box and

snaps together and a full skeleton that can be assembled on the frame in an hour or two. Then it all goes back in the box.

One was also made for a sea lion skeleton. 

Click on the first photo to start a slideshow

This year, being year 2 of Covid, we didn't really work on a full class skeleton articulation. The students did

excavate a beaked whale and worked on a photographic bone atlas of that whale skeleton.

UAA Students digging up a beaked whale

UAA students unearthing the skeleton of a beaked whale. The skeleton had been buried in horse poop to clean the bones.


Beaked whale skeleton (minus flippers) in the classroom - roadkill fashion.


More Unearthing

Super  interns Abbie Flowers  and Mikayla Zylich, repaired a lynx skeleton that had been on display at the

Center for Coastal Studies and  pretty much totally rebuilt a bald eagle skeleton that had done a crash landing

within the Pratt Museum some time in the past. They did fantastic on that.

UAA students repairing and eagle skeleton
UAA students pose with eagle skeleton
UAA students pose with eagle skeleton
Eagle displayed in the Pratt Museum, Homer, Alaska


This year brought extra challenges. It was the largest class yet with seventeen students, all double-Xed in the chromosome department.

We split the class in half each day after the "Bone Bytes Talk," with Dr. Tobin taking half to another room to work on photographing bones for a bone atlas. This made the class more manageable.

The skeleton was that of a beluga whale. The bones came to us in three totes from the Museum of the North in Fairbanks, Alaska. The challenge was to build the fourteen-foot-long skeleton such that it would fit into the six-foot-long camper shell on my little pickup truck so we could deliver it back to Fairbanks, almost 600 miles away.

Backbone Bending

Josie and Serena making the steel backbone pipe follow the desired curve they plotted out.

Vertebrae Boring

Caroline and Kenna boring holes in vertebrae to fit over the backbone pipe.

Phalange Fabricating

Jamie fabricating missing phalange bones. (She was always smiling.)

Skull Attention

Jess doing something to the skull. She and Kenna had the skull, mandible, teeth, cervical vert., hyoid bone, and some metal work for their project.

A Tail to Tell

Carson and Jordan, two best friends who started out on the project silent and scared looking. They took on the tail bones, including the metal work and did a fantastic job.

Silicone Queen

Samantha, one of my two interns. They did the rib cage and a lot of finishing and organizing and helping outside of normal class hours. Sam is doing silicone magic here where the cartilage used to be.

Skeleton on a Frame

This is Libby. Libby first wrote to me when she was ten-years-old about some deer bones. She wrote the most entertaining letters ever, and kept in touch through the years. After four years of college, she took an extra semester so she could come to this program to be my intern for the semester. She and Samantha put in a lot of extra time finishing the skeleton. Here she is selling it to an imaginary bone collector.

Walk on Water

A highlight for some of the students is when they get to walk on water for the first time ever. Samantha, Josie, and Libby doing just that.

Moon Watching

Waiting for that moon to do its thing.


On the first day of snow, the class took a field trip eighty miles up the road to excavate another beluga whale skeleton for next year's project. A lot of dirt moving.

Say Cheese

A group portrait of most of the class that had articulated this whale skeleton.

The Professors

Dr. Debbie Tobin and myself with the skeleton just before we started to pack it up for transport.

Saying Goodbye

Jess giving her section of the skeleton a goodbye kiss.


Aren and Noah at the Museum of the North, adjusting a temporary support for the newly delivered skeleton.

Final Resting Place

The skeleton will go on exhibit in the same building as this bowhead whale skeleton the museum staff and I articulated a couple years previous. Museum of the North, University of Alaska, Fairbanks, Alaska

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