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From Phee Shore to BC – A whale of a tale

Author Anita Miettunen will discuss her book Big Blue Forever, at public libraries in O’Leary, Alberton and Tignish on Wednesday. The B.C. author’s tour is arranged through the Hackmatack Children’s Book Awards committee. She has been nominated for an award.
Author Anita Miettunen will discuss her book Big Blue Forever, at public libraries in O’Leary, Alberton and Tignish on Wednesday. The B.C. author’s tour is arranged through the Hackmatack Children’s Book Awards committee. She has been nominated for an award. - Contributed

Author of Big Blue Forever to visit West Prince libraries Wednesday

NORWAY, P.E.I. —

For more than 20 years, she lay buried, and almost forgotten, on a lonely stretch of P.E.I. shorefront.  

Today she has prominence above the adoring crowds that pass through the atrium of the University of British Columbia’s Beaty Biodiversity Museum. 

She’s Big Blue, the big blue whale. 

An author from Vancouver will be visiting libraries in western P.E.I. Wednesday to talk about her children’s book, “Big Blue Forever.” 

Anita Miettunen’s book tells the story of Canada’s largest blue whale skeleton. The skeleton of the 25-meter adult female blue whale has been on permanent display in the Beaty Biodiversity Museum on the University of British Columbia campus since 2010. 

The story actually has its beginning in Prince Edward Island, where the body of the huge marine mammal washed ashore in 1987. It was buried just off the beach from Phee Shore in Norway, P.E.I., and that’s where it remained until UBC assembled a team in 2008 to dig it up and collect bones which, after nearly 21 years, were still encased in flesh. A team from the Atlantic Veterinary College assisted with the exhumation. 

The bones were trucked to the west coast, cleaned up and reassembled. The skeleton, in a lunge-feeding pose, is suspended from the ceiling of the museum’s two-story glass atrium, the centerpiece of a collection that numbers more than two million specimens. 

So is it a P.E.I. whale or a B.C. whale?  

“Whales travel great distances. It’s hard to say where the whale came from; where was it born,” Miettunen answers cautiously.  

“It came from the Atlantic, had a sad story. It died, beached on Prince Edward Island soil and was buried there. 

“I think P.E.I. people will really feel close to that story.” 

“Big Blue Forever” includes fiction and non-fiction writing techniques, but Miettunen points out the book is inspired and based on facts.  

The blue whale is the largest species to ever exist on earth and the skeleton in Vancouver is the largest one on display in Canada. 

Although she had heard of Big Blue, she first saw the massive skeleton after she moved back to Vancouver and started volunteering at the biodiversity museum.  

Anita Miettunen discussing her book, Big Blue Forever, beneath Big Blue’s skeleton at the Beaty Biodiversity Museum on the UBC Campus. - Photo by Derek Tan, Beaty Biodiversity Museum
Anita Miettunen discussing her book, Big Blue Forever, beneath Big Blue’s skeleton at the Beaty Biodiversity Museum on the UBC Campus. - Photo by Derek Tan, Beaty Biodiversity Museum

“Her immense size drew me in of course, and every time I saw her, hanging from the museum’s ceiling, I wondered about her life in the wild, and how and why she came to be there,” Miettunen said. “As a writer, I felt kids would love to learn about Big Blue and a book would help connect others to her story.” 

The research and writing process took about six months. Big Blue Forever was published in 2017 and has since been nominated for a 2019 Atlantic Canada Hackmatack Children’s Book Award in English non-fiction. 

Her tour, which includes a visit Tuesday to Eliot River school and stops at the O’Leary Alberton and Tignish Public Libraries on Wednesday, has been arranged through the Hackmatack Children’s Choice Book Awards. 

“The book has a really strong connection to P.E.I.,” Roseanne Gauthier, Youth Services Librarian for P.E.I. Libraries acknowledged. 

“I couldn’t believe it; I was so excited, really,” Miettunen said when she learned late last year that she would get to discuss her book in the province where Big Blue had rested. “It’s pretty special.” 

‘I’m very grateful at the opportunity the nomination brings me, including connecting with young readers in Atlantic Canada, sharing the story about Big Blue, and raising awareness of endangered species in Canada. 

She will talk about the research and the work that goes into writing a book, and she will talk about the significance of the Big Blue display. 

 “It’s really a book for a wide range of ages,” Miettunen said. 

Miettunen admits she’d like to visit the Phee Shore whale burial grounds if time permits.  

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