Down to the bare bones
Zoology student eyes major project

Daniel MacIsaac
Northern News Services

NNSL (Aug 27/99) - Inuvik's Steven Baryluk has a bone to pick.

Indeed he has several -- and they belong to a whale and a seal.

A fifth-year zoology student at the University of Alberta, Baryluk recently acquired the carcases of a beluga and a seal -- with the intention of turning them into skeletons that may be used as part of a much larger exhibition project.

"If the project goes ahead, it will involve all the different animals in the region," said Baryluk last week, "and could include mammals, birds, fish and possibly invertebrates."

Baryluk said the idea for a Western Arctic collection came to him while at school in Edmonton last winter.

"For my studies we use a lot of specimens and have a collection from all over the world, from sharks to a tiger skull," he said, "and the school even has a walk-in freezer with a whole ostrich in it."

But Baryluk said he found the university's collection of Arctic wildlife lacking.

"Maybe what sparked all this is that they do have some skeletons of white fish from Alberta and, being from here, I thought it would be neat knowing what a conni skeleton looked like, but they didn't have one," he said, "and that got me thinking about bigger ideas."

Baryluk said that no single collection of Arctic wildlife currently exists in the Inuvik region and he hopes to change all that. He said he'll submit a project proposal in the next few weeks to the Aurora Research Institute, with which he hopes to work closely in securing funding for his project, organizing permits and in preparing the collection.

"I'll graduate by next summer and this project could be longer term -- perhaps a year of two," he said. "One of the goals of this is to have my own job after I graduate and it would be a great resume-builder, too."

Baryluk has already held a number of summer jobs in his field, including positions with Resources, Wildlife and Economic Development and at the institute. But it was during the 21-year-old's travels with Parks Canada around Tuktoyaktuk and Paulatuk this summer that he came across the beluga and seal carcases.

"I had gone to Tuk and asked jokingly if anyone had any whale bones," he said, "and I was told that most of the kills had been taken out to the island, but that there were still a couple of carcases on the beach."

Baryluk said he shelled out his own money to box up his take-away beluga and another $45 to have it shipped back by barge to Inuvik. The Department of Public Works has already given him permission to leave the 11-foot whale and seal out on the land, where they'll be cleaned to the bone by ravens and maggots and, if Baryluk can manage it, a colony of "muncher" beetles.

"The only thing I'm scared of is a bear coming along and dragging them off in pieces," he said.

Manager Andrew Applejohn said the institute will be happy to work with Baryluk and offer its space, expertise and facilities.

"The collection could be very useful as a static display at the institute or around Inuvik or one that travels -- or something more dynamic where certain components are used for educational purposes," he said. "Part of our mandate is to promote education and research."

Baryluk said the best part of the skeletons will be the "hands-on" approach they offer.

"Having an animal in front of you is different from reading about it," he said. "You can take skulls, for example, and compare their features and functions."