Friday, September 2, 2011


This story, reported by the Associated Press and repeated word-for-word on many sites and blogs, makes no sense to me. Follow along and I'll tell you why. According to the very brief news item from Wednesday, a man dressed in black ran away from a museum in Stavanger, Norway, with his big white dog. He had just stolen a whale tooth that was more than 100 years old and valued at around $9,300. The tooth was reported to be 8' (2.5m) long. The image is strange and striking, isn't it? Except that no whale - living or dead - has 8-foot teeth. The largest whale in the world, the blue whale, does not have teeth. The largest toothed whale, the sperm whale, has teeth that are only inches long (see 3rd* and 4th images). Although the name of the town is identified, it has more than one museum. However, the Stavanger Museum has on exhibit the skeleton of a minke whale (example, 2nd image) slaughtered with a scythe in Gandsfjord in 1884. The specimen is old enough to fit the description, but, like blue whales, minke whales have baleen instead of teeth. As you can see from the photo, they do have jawbones that would probably have been within reach. It may have been one of these that was snatched, and it would have been the reported length and light enough to be carried off by the thief (1st image shows a zoologist holding a minke whale jawbone). As my sister said in response to my post about rhinoceros horns being poached from museums, thefts like this "make my blood boil." I hope the man in black is caught and the object is returned. I think I have made some reasonable suppositions here as to what exactly that was, but if readers have anything to add, please do!

*Note that to further complicate things, the whale skeleton in the source article is identified incorrectly as a blue whale instead of a sperm whale.

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