SF students get rare look at whale specimen

A biology class is turning out to be a lot of fun for students of George Washington High School in San Francisco as they get a rare look at one of the most interesting creatures found in our oceans. 

A lot of people have read the classic novel "Moby Dick." The description of the whale at the center of that story is unforgettable, but few high school students actually get to see and touch the real thing. Granted, Moby Dick was a white sperm whale. The one these students are learning about is a gray whale, smaller. Still, it's a chance for them to get up close and personal.

"You can put it on a table and that's what I like to see you doing. Don't be afraid of touching," Dan Sudran told students Tuesday. Sudran is the whale's owner and he encourages students to explore by touching it, unlike most museums. "I'd rather that this last 10 years and reach 20,000 kids instead of last 200 years and the only interaction is to see it far away," he told ABC7 News.

The gray whale washed up at Pescadero State Beach in August 2011. With the blessing of the National Marine Fisheries Services, Sudran allowed the sun, bugs, and birds to have their way with the 30-foot long mammal. "So when we went down, it was pretty much skin and bones. It was like cutting a carpet and then pulling the carpet back and then there's just," he said.

Sudran soaked the whale's 56 vertebrae in water along with 26 ribs and the skull. Few people realize the flippers have bones too. "The hand thing was pretty interesting. I thought it was just something flat, not have any bones in it, but pretty awesome," student Chris Ramos said.

The bones look heavy, but they're actually quite light. "The only super heavy bone is the skull," Sudran said. "I thought it would be heavier. I thought it would be harder to pick up and I thought it would be more fragile than it is," student Student Yokabet Paulos said.

Sudran, who heads a science workshop in San Francisco's Mission District, believes this kind of interaction gets students to become more curious about their world. "As far as I know, we are the only people crazy enough to pack up a whale in a truck and take it around and let the kids themselves do it," he said.

The next stop for the traveling whale is Lincoln High.