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A Megaptera Mission: Recipe for scanning a humpback whale skull


  • A one-tonne humpback whale skull, preferably sitting upright on its occipital region for convenience

  • A Creaform Go!SCAN 50 (resolution 2 mm) and targets (also called sticky dots)

  • A five-kilo laptop called The Beast

  • A very, very long wire

  • More sticky dots

  • Two very motivated and physically fit scientists (see examples below)

  • A ladder

  • Coffee and biscuits


  1. Check that the skull is complete enough to be worth the trouble.

  1. Start placing targets all over the surface. You may want to get a bunch of school kids to do that, but you’d miss half the fun, because it’s like decorating a Christmas tree – and you’d have to include them all in the author list when you write the paper. Don’t mind the grubby, oily parts of the skull, as these will leave the best smell on your gloves. Stick the sticky dots all over the place. If you don’t find any sticky dot inside your shoes the next day, then you probably did it wrong.

  1. Set up your scanner. Check that the wires are long enough and that you can reach the tip of the rostrum by standing on the ladder. You may want to set up The Beast on a wheeled table or a cart to make sure you can be mobile if need be.

  1. Start scanning as usual. This step may require crouching, climbing, crawling in the dust, and a variety of uncomfortable postures that will definitely make your scan look a lot better. Mop the floor with you tee shirt while you’re at it. Make sure you have overlap between the different parts of your scan. Add sticky dots as you go, as it may occur that some parts need more than what you originally placed – especially in the grubby areas. While one scientist is scanning, the other will provide them with helpful insights on what’s happening on the screen, such as “lost it”, “found it”, and “nope” – which is why you need two scientists.

  1. While VX is processing, have a cuppa, because you need it, and it’s freaking cold in the collections anyway. Repeat as necessary.

  2. Reconstruct the skull in the lab. Rejoice. Brag about it. Write a silly tutorial.

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