Dick Hilton: Recalls Story of How Gray Whale Skeleton Arrived at Sierra College Natural History Museum

July 1, 2016

If you have ever visited the Natural History Museum located on the Sierra College campus, you may have noticed the large whale bones hanging from the ceiling of one of the long hallways. But many people don’t know the heroic and comical story behind the accrual of those bones. Dick Hilton, Professor of Earth Science, took a moment to tell us of this unique story.

“One of our big exhibits is the largest gray whale skeleton on display anywhere. This was done by Charles Dailey, a biology professor from Sierra College. He heard on the news that there was a gray whale that died in the San Francisco Bay and washed up near Benicia. He called the proper marine mammal authorities and the Coast Guard and managed to get the whale towed to Vallejo. Then he went with a group of students and took all the flesh off this rotting, smelly whale and trucked it up to Sierra College. It eventually ended up in his yard.”

Charles Dailey steam cleaning whale bones
Charles Dailey steam cleaning whale bones – SIERRA COLLEGE ARCHIVE

You’ve got to give the guy a lot of credit. He got it hung from the ceiling of our museum within that year. And it doesn’t stink which is pretty nice.

Dick Hilton
Professor of Earth Science

After taking it home, much to the dismay of his neighbors, he continued to remove more flesh, buried it and allowed nature to naturally decompose the whale. He then took the bones back to Sierra College where he steam cleaned them. The whole process took a year.

Gray whale skeleton at the Sierra College Natural History Museum
Gray Whale, Sierra College Natural History Museum – DAVID BLANCHARD