© Joe ArmaoMuseum Victoria preparators dissect a rare specimen of an adult Pygmy Right Whale.
A rare specimen of pygmy right whale's body found washed up on a remote Victorian beach has presented scientists worldwide with the unique opportunity to study the elusive species.

Museum Victoria marine mammal evolution expert Erich Fitzgerald said at 6.2 metres in length, it appeared the animal was the longest pygmy right whale recorded.

"This is pushing the envelope of what we know in terms of how large these animals get," he said, adding the specimen would be of interest to local and international researchers. "We have potentially the global record for total body length of the male of the species."

After washing up dead at Wilsons Promontory's Sealers Cove coast last week, the adult male was dissected at the nearby Port Anthony Marine Terminal on Tuesday.

Steven Sparrey was one of three Museum Victoria preparators who started working on the carcass at 9am on Tuesday. By lunchtime they were almost half way through the dissection.

After taking measurements and samples including DNA, muscle and liver, the trio began the labour-intensive task of stripping the blubber from the carcass, which in parts was up to 4 centimetres thick.

"You need some really sharp knifes," Mr Sparrey said. "But we don't just chop through these bones, we carefully disarticulate the joints, including the flippers and the skull from the spine."

Eventually, the skeleton will be housed at Museum Victoria. But before then, the skeleton has to be completely cleaned and dried. It's a lengthy process that involves carefully disarticulating the skeleton after flesh and blubber have been removed by hand. The remains are then buried on site in a one-metre deep pit, where nature takes over.

During the coming year, the microbes and bacteria in the sand will eat away at the remains.

The skeleton will then be exhumed and taken to the museum in Carlton, where it will be boiled in a stainless steel tank. Only then can it have a final wash down before being dried and added to the museum's collection.

Dr Fitzgerald said as the first specimen of an adult pygmy right whale, the skeleton would be a valuable addition to the museum's collection, which includes six juveniles.

"Only one of those is a complete skeleton and it's a baby," he said.

The pygmy right whale is among the least-studied members of the whale family, largely because the species is so rare. In 2008 fewer than 25 sightings of the species at sea had been recorded. Even now, the size of the wild population is unknown and its place in the baleen whale family tree unclear.

The pygmy right whale is the smallest of the baleen whales with adult females growing up to 6.5 metres long, while males are smaller.

Source: The Age