3 photographs from the Sarawak Museum:
15th of June, 1956

A young Bryde’s whale lies on its back on a sampan, a long wooden boat barely wider than its body. Three men stand at the front of the boat. One holds an oar. Another wearing a sarong, white hat and shirt stares at the photographer, not the camera. Behind them, other sampans pull up alongside, men, hats, oars, boats. A rattan mat. A stretcher made of bakau wood. A man moving between boats pausing to smile at the camera, one foot on either sampan. Spots of ink are dashed across the negative. A man smoking a cigarette stands with one foot on the whale’s stomach, the whale is upside down.

Night time, and 23 people are gathered around the whale.  Five of them are staring into the camera. 14 of them are looking at the whale’s body. 2 of them are young blonde girls, around 7 years old, wearing polka dot dresses and black mary jane shoes, standing at the head of the whale. The whale is tied with a series of ropes: long ropes that run the length of its back then, one around its jaw, another behind the fin, one around its belly, another at the base of its tail. The ropes cinch the whale in bulging segments. The whale’s baleen is just visible through its opened mouth, but its eye is shut. From behind one of the young blonde girls, someone is crouching holding a torch pointed at the whale’s face. Of the men, some are dressed in white shirts, white vests, rolled up trousers, shorts. One smokes a cigarette. The whale is black, oily shiny, pocked and scarred. Its belly is deep ridges.

Daytime behind the museum building. Thirty-six museum staff of varying ages and backgrounds are clustered around the whale: among them, curator Tom Harrisson, assistant curator Benedict Sandin, museum collector Sulaiman bin Salleh and museum assistant Tama Pasang. Two staff members are smoking cigarettes. One man’s fly is undone. Seven wear hats, one wears a pair of spectacles. The whale is in the process of being rolled onto a tarpaulin covered table, balanced on planks of wood with its ridged belly to the sky. The men standing at its head tilt the planks towards the table; behind the table other men stand readied to catch the whale. In the distance at the back entrance of the museum stands another uniformed museum staff, out of focus. The Museum Curator stands with one leg on the tarpaulined table. Behind the group of men stands a white woman with her arms folded, staring at the curator. Everyone wears white shirts, t shirts, or the beige museum uniform. The assistant curator stands at the head of the table, his hair in a neat side parting. The whale’s mouth is flopping open, its baleen in a toothbrush grimace. The belly is gelatinous: lumpy white ridges. Someone’s hand rests on its belly, fingers curled.