Inside an unassuming L.A. warehouse, a bearded man in rubber gloves and a bloodstained t-shirt is pulling bodies apart. The stench is powerful, but conveniently masked by the fleshy funk of a nearby meatpacking plant. He removes a glistening lump of muscle and plops it on a table. "There's the heart" he says cooly. "It's not beating, so it's dead."
The warehouse in question belongs to the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles. The second-largest collection of cetacean specimens on Earth (second only to the Smithsonian), The Whale Warehouse, as it's called, is home to all the "oversized mammal" specimens that are too big to shelve away inside the museum's primary storage facility. In this fascinating short, KPCC's Mae Ryan and Grant Slater reveal this facility for what it really is: a second, hidden museum, "sprawling in scope, full of character and occasionally gross."
The man in the gloves, by the way, is curatorial assistant David Janiger. If a dead marine mammal washes ashore in L.A. or Orange County, Janiger gets the call. He retrieves the animal, brings it to the warehouse and performs a series of measurements before dissecting its body and shipping off its various parts to be analyzed. The head, however, stays, to be stripped of its flesh and archived for further research.
The Whale Warehouse contains mostly dolphin skulls, which researchers can use to study speciation, make sense of ocean ecology, and even investigate mysterious dolphin die-offs. Its biggest specimen, however, is a blue whale skull. For close to three decades it's sat in the warehouse oozing oil, contributing to what collections manager Jim Dines calls the facility's "unique aroma" of "rotting mammal."
The Whale Warehouse is the first installment of AudioVision, a member-supported service of Southern California public radio station KPCC. Learn more at audiovision.scpr.org.