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Inside the Natural History Museum's Stinky, Awesome Whale Warehouse in Vernon

The enormous whale skeleton suspended in a glass enclosure at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles in Exposition Park is, of course, not the museum's only collection of bones from an enormous ocean mammal. In fact, says Smithsonian, NHMLA has about 5,000 pieces in its marine mammal collection, making it the nation's second largest collection. (The Smithsonian's is number one.) All those bits and pieces from the ocean—all the dolphin skulls and strange things floating in murky jars and enormous bones—live in a warehouse in Vernon, just a few doors down from the Farmer John packing plant. It's known by staff as the Whale Warehouse, and KPCC got to snoop around inside.

The warehouse is a lot like the hidden stacks at a library, explains NHMLA's "main mammal guy" at the facility—like a library, the museum can't possibly hold and display all the specimens in its collection, so some of them have to go off-site, into this second, not-open-to-the-public museum. (Despite its name, the Whale Warehouse holds lots of other mammal specimens too, as the drawers and drawers of flat, peaceful-looking, squirrel-like creatures show.)

The warehouse's far-flung location also helps out for the kind of work that gets done here—cleaning skeletons of flesh using funky chemicals and hungry little bugs is probably best done away from the public arm of the museum and closer to big meat factories. The whole building has a "unique aroma" that's a mix of rancid oil and decomposing meat. And it only gets worse in the summer.

The video is perfectly inoffensive smell-wise, but just a heads up: At about 3:50, there is a graphic demonstration of how the museum builds its wealth of dolphin skeletons. (Spoiler: they take the ones that wash up on the beach in LA County.) Those who don't want to see blood or a dolphin, um, "sleeping" would do best to fast-forward up to about 4:44.

The Whale Warehouse - AudioVision Ep. 1 from KPCC on Vimeo.


· In L.A. There's a Warehouse Filled with Whale Bones [Smithsonian]
· The Whale Warehouse [Vimeo]