OSU Collections: Largest Wildlife Specimens

We spent an afternoon capturing footage of the most impressive specimens in our collection. (Behind-the-scenes video above.)


ore than 250,000 fish are preserved in the basement of Nash Hall at Oregon State University. Another few thousand specimens make up OSU’s bird and mammal collection. All of these specimens are used in classrooms at OSU, and by researchers across the world who study everything from climate change to evolutionary biology and genetics.

The overwhelming majority of the preserved specimens in OSU’s Ichthyology Collection are found in jars of various sizes. Most of the bird and mammal specimens fit neatly into cabinets — from fully intact animals to bones, skulls and pelts. But for this photo shoot, we brought our wide angle lens to get the full scope of the collections’ largest specimens. Some of the sharks are stored in large stainless steel vats on wheels. Except for the largest item — a recently collected juvenile thresher shark, which is kept in an industrial walk-in freezer.

Thresher Shark

Our top two largest specimens are both thresher sharks. This juvenile thresher is 11 feet long and weighs about 350 pounds. It was collected from the beach near Waldport, Oregon, on July 22, 2019, by Peter Konstantinidis, curator of the vertebrate collections at OSU. With its long tail, the thresher shark is perfectly designed to devastate its prey. The shark uses the tail like a whip to stun or kill its prey, typically by swimming into a school of fish. The tip of the tail can reach speeds of 50 miles per hour.

Adult Thresher Shark (Head and Tail)

There is not much known about how this large specimen got into the collection. It was caught on June 1, 1979, near Florence, Oregon. The specimen was so large that OSU dissected the fish, keeping only the head (about 50% larger than the juvenile specimen), pectoral fins and the tail. The approximate length of the shark (including the tail) was about 18 feet – five feet longer than the distance between a basketball hoop and the free throw line.

Pacific walrus skull

This male specimen was collected in Russia, off the coast of the Bering Sea on April 8, 1981. It is not known how it came to be in the OSU mammal collection. Male walruses are known as bulls, and this one was about nine feet long. The skull is surprisingly heavy and its most notable features are the deep cavities in the upper jaw for its long ivory tusks. The tusks, which are actually canine teeth, are 23.5 inches long. The Pacific walrus spends days at sea, floating on the water between deep dives to hunt shellfish. Walruses use their tusks to haul their heavy bodies up onto ice, forage for food, and defend against predators. The main role of the tusks, however, is a social one. Walruses use them in their herd for dominance and mating displays.

Shortfin Mako Shark

This shortfin mako was collected on January 1, 1978, off the Oregon Coast – the exact location is unknown. It was probably on the southern Oregon Coast because in the Pacific, shortfins are typically found off California. This specimen, less than a year old when found, is four feet long and weighs 11 pounds. Adult shortfins can grow as long as 12 feet, but most are six to seven feet. Even at a young age this specimen already resembles an adult. The shortfin mako is the fastest shark in the ocean, clocking speeds up to 45 miles per hour. One of its noticeable physical traits is its recurved teeth, which lend an almost evil grin to its face. Unlike most other sharks, makos are partially warm-blooded, making them highly efficient hunters.

Caribou Antlers

Little is known about this impressive set of antlers, other than they were shipped to the home of former longtime OSU ichthyology curator Carl Bond. They are part of our valuable teaching collection, and the length from tip to tip is 43 inches. Caribou antlers are made of bone that is initially covered by a furry skin called velvet. Antlers can grow up to one inch a day, but they shed their antlers each year. Caribou, also known as reindeer, use their antlers to scrape away snow and soil to find food, as well as to defend themselves. Both male and female caribou have antlers, making them the only deer species in which females have antlers.

Written by Chris Branam
Photos: Stephen Ward
Video: Ben Davis
Source: Peter Konstantinidis

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