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A Whale Tale - Thar She Blows in Brampton

Taxidermy team dives into rush project to build whale to scale

Shawn Galea has crafted his fair share of fish. But the Caledon-area taxidermist hooked his biggest commission yet: A life-size reproduction of a humpback whale. That he had only three weeks to build the massive mammal from scratch- something he says no other artist has attempted- didn't trouble him. "We're always up for a challenge, even a big one," laughs Galea, co-founder of Advanced Taxidermy and Wildlife Design.

And so Galea, his partner James McGregor and their team of 10 began working around the clock to painstakingly reproduce the whale. They got a Brampton barn- the project was too big for their workshop- and moved in saws, scaffolds, piles of wood and steel and other bits and pieces needed to recreate a whale to scale. Galea and his team worked from a clay model of a humpback dissected into quarters, stenciling a life-size outline of the whale onto dozens of sheets of plywood. They then welded together 1.600 lbs. Of steel to create a metal skeleton that was encased, like a cocoon, with thousands of feet of plastic shrink wrap.

Next, they sprayed 2,000 lbs. of expandable foam over the structure. After it had hardened, the team began chipping it away, sculpting the features into the whale. "The carving details, the muscle tones, these are the things that bring the whale to life," says Galea, adding that his team spent hours boning up on whale biology. "Every ounce of the whale had to be investigated."

Just days before the whale, now 50 feet long and 37 feet wide, was shipped to Boston- Galea can't identify his client because he signed a confidentiality agreement- the team opened up the paint cans. They used production guns, the same ones used by the auto industry, and air brushes to cover the whale with 45 gallons, expertly mixing grey, blue and black with white, green and yellow. As the paint dried, the team glued more than 300 hand-made barnacles onto the whale's underbelly.

"We looked into where they mainly appear on humpbacks and went back and air-brushed each one individually," Galea says. "Barnacles will be different in colour, from white to yellow to brown, depending on where the whale rubs along the bottom. "We finished it Sunday night, late," he sighs.

"The carving details, the muscle tones, these are the things that bring the whale to life," says Galea, adding that his team spent hours boning up on whale biology. "Every ounce of the whale had to be investigated."

For Galea, the final challenge came yesterday as they set about loading the whale, finless and wrapped in plastic, on the back of a flatbed truck and out the barn door. It took four hours, but my mid-afternoon the whale was ready to hit the road. And local trucker Robert Dewar was confident he'd be able to deliver on schedule. "Oh," he chuckled, pointing at the torpedo-shaped whale on the flatbed, "I'm sure we'll get some pretty strange looks going down the road."

By: Megan Ogilvie
Staff Reporter, The Toronto Star

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