Whale bones get their due

The jawbone of the blue whale is the largest such bone on earth, yet it is also very fragile.

That is what drove 14-year-old Matthew Hulley to embark on a major project to protect a set of bones at the Pacific Marine Mammal Center.

After a regular family trip to the center, Matthew noticed that what first looked like slabs of concrete and a piece of driftwood lying against a chain link fence were actually a blue whale’s vertebrates and jaw bone.

It was in that moment the Aliso Viejo middle school student decided to create a whale bone exhibit for the center as his Eagle Scout Project.

“Kids were sitting all over them, and the PMMC was afraid that the bones would break,” Matthew said. “Now when people come by they will know what each whale bone is and where it is located on the whale. Now they’re safe.”

In December of 2002, Marines at Camp Pendleton called the center to ask whether it would be interested in a whale’s skeleton that washed up on the shore. After the center obtained the necessary permit, it took 12 Marines to deliver the skeleton safely to the center.

The female blue whale is larger than the male and can weigh up to 150 tons. During summer feeding sessions, the mammal can eat more than 4 tons of krill a day. Any animal of this size on land would be crushed by its own weight without the support of a heavy bone structure; but the whale, supported by water, does not need strong bones; hence, it’s bones are light and high in porosity.

Located at the front entrance, the display spans 22-by-8 feet, with 2,000 pounds of gravel. According to Matthew, his biggest obstacle was finding the custom welders, Boonpay, to make braces that could support the brittle jawbone while following its curvature.

“Matthew has great ideas, and he took so many issues into concern, because he wanted to ensure the longevity of the display at the center. He is a fantastic kid,” said the center’s Animal Care Supervisor and Faculties Manager, Dean Gomersall.

With help from Gomersall and his mom, Liz Hulley, Matthew spent a year on the project’s plans that included drafting the actual design, researching the cost of materials and labor, creating a budget, scheduling scout volunteers from his Troop 700, and fundraising more than $1,200 with some donations made by local businesses like Ganahl’s Lumber on Laguna Canyon Road.

After all his hard work, Matthew had the honor of placing a plaque with his name on it the day of his 14th birthday.

“I felt relieved when it was all finished, not because the project was over, but that it turned out so good.”

Matthew also received an award last week for earning a 4.0 GPA throughout his education at Don Juan Avila Middle School.

“Matthew never quits,” Liz Hulley said of her son. “He is a responsible, hardworking straight-A student that serves as a good role model for other kids.”


SARAH NOONE can be reached at (949) 494-4321, ext. 12 or sarah.noone@latimes.com

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