Saturday, February 25, 2017

Museum of Natural History, a Santa Barbara Treasure

Donor Stories

Greetings from the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History. It is such a beautiful time of year at our Sea Center on Stearns Wharf and at our Mission Creek campus. And the creek is running after our recent storms!

Beloved Blue Whale Skeleton Gets a Tune Up
The first thing visitors see when they come to visit the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History is our incredible Blue Whale skeleton.  Blue Whales are considered to be the largest animal in the history of planet. The skeleton is a generational icon, so it was fitting that in 2010 Museum Trustee Doug Dreier and his family made a leadership gift to support the exhibit and named the whale “Chad,” which is the middle name of three generations of men in the Dreier Family.

The 73-foot skeleton was originally installed at the Museum entrance after the young male washed ashore near Vandenberg Air Force Base in August, 1980. After a few decades of being on display in the open air, the skeleton had deteriorated and required some much needed "R&R" (repair and restoration) which took place in 2010. Keeping “Chad” in top shape takes some serious effort and more than a little creativity.  Chad is one of only five complete Blue Whale skeletons on exhibit in the United States. It is the most complete with 90 percent of the bones being real Blue Whale bones.

Chris Orr was recently hired by the Museum to help us repair and maintain the whale. Orr has been doing research on improved methodologies and materials to lengthen the time between needed repairs. He is trained as a (human) prosthetic technician and has been building artificial limbs with epoxies and carbon fiber, aramid, fiberglass, and other fabrics for a number of years. After noticing that traditional materials used to protect the bones were prone to failure, Chris decided to try using materials from his prosthetic work to protect Chad. The repairs done to date are dramatically outperforming traditional materials!

After painstakingly removing all the original protective materials, Orr utilizes a fabric called NSP (made from basalt) that is similar to carbon fiber but is significantly more resistant to ultra violet light. It also has a burst/tear strength that is significantly greater than that of fiberglass cloth. Where the original materials cracked as the ribs expanded and contracted, Chris’s solution holds together, keeping the bones protected from the elements.

The restoration project is now about halfway complete and full restoration is expected by summer 2017. The next time you visit, take a closer look and check out our progress. If you are lucky enough to see Chris at work, thank him for all he’s doing to ensure that Chad delights and inspires visitors young and old for years to come.

For more information on the fascinating history of the recovery, transport, preservation, assembly, installation, and restoration of this iconic symbol of the Museum of Natural History, visit our website at

With these monthly communications, I will be providing exciting updates about the renovations that will begin in selected spaces around the Museum this Summer. We have wonderful new programs and exhibitions lined up for this year. The Museum will remain open and vibrant at all times. Additional changes are in store for the Sea Center; the place where the Santa Barbara Channel comes into close view and touch.
Thank You
Once again, thank you for your tremendous support of the Museum and Sea Center. Whether you are a volunteer, donor, visitor, or researcher, we couldn't do it without you!

Warm regards,

Luke J. Swetland
President & CEO

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