Risk & Compliance / Extreme Logistics / Extra Mile

One Whale of a Move

November 1, 2013
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When the University of Georgia’s Museum of Natural History needed roughly 100,000 animal specimens, including the skeleton of a whale, moved from Northeastern University in Boston to Athens, Ga. within 11 days, the project seemed daunting.

Moving fragile and ancient specimens more than 1,000 miles, let alone one of the largest marine mammal collections in existence, is no small feat. Nevertheless, when the museum reached out to UPS Express Critical they were ready; Express Critical is a UPS division providing customized solutions for customers requiring specialized handling, unique transportation requirements or high security.

“The shipments… were broken up into two separate phases, each requiring special handling,” says Randy Samson, business development manager for UPS Express Critical. “It’s very similar to an original work of art or something of that nature. It’s irreplaceable.”

For the first phase of the move, there were several challenges to successfully prepare and transport the collection. The biggest concern was physically getting all of the specimens, housed at a WWII-era artillery bunker on a remote island, onto trucks where they would live until arriving at their final destination. “Initially, we planned to transport the collection on a tractor trailer, but since there was no lift gate or loading dock at the facility, we had to come up with another plan,” says Samson. “Rather than using a tractor trailer, we used multiple smaller vehicles to get the job done.”

“When making a move like this happen, we want to be sure that the materials are loaded with care and transported safely,” says Bud Freeman, director, Georgia Museum of Natural History at UGA. “We’re not transportation experts. We’re biologists loading our precious specimens, and we want to be sure they arrive quickly and safely.”

Additional challenges to be overcome involved time and space. “Time was ticking, and if the museum didn’t move quickly enough, the collection would no longer be available for their use,” says Cassie Dyer, Director of Enterprise Accounts for Government Sales at UPS. “There was a high likelihood the collection would have been given to another university and we weren’t going to let that happen.”

As for space, there needed to be enough room in the trucks to store and transport three refrigerated freezer systems, multiple whale skulls and ribs that measured 14 to 17 feet long, a 7-foot long whale jaw and thousands of marine and terrestrial animals, including the largest collection of Minke whales in existence. UPS Express Critical worked hand-in-hand with museum staff to ensure everything was packed and stored in the proper fashion so all fragile and one-of-a-kind pieces made it to Athens safely and intact.

The second phase of the move required transporting — in liquid-filled containers — the last few marine specimens remaining from phase one. That move, which included roughly 30,000 to 40,000 specimens, took place in August 2013, three months after the first move. The Smithsonian Institution also played a role in the second phase of the move. They donated 80 cases of specialized containers for the preservation of the specimens. UPS scheduled a pickup of these cases around the same time as the move of the marine specimens.

“I’m breathing a lot easier now that these very heavy and fragile Humpback and Fin whale skulls are sitting safely in the museum,” says Freeman.

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