It took Carol "Krill" Carson a jumble of plastic sheeting, rolls of silver and clear industrial tape, and lots of permanent marker to create a 45-foot-long inflatable model of the New England coast's most notable humpback whale, Salt .
But after years of lugging the replica to elementary schools to teach children about whales, people crawling inside it to get a feel for its gargantuan size, and packing and repacking the display each trip, Carson needs to replace the homemade creation.
This time, she has her heart set on a more durable and professionally made version of the ocean creature.
Carson, director of the New England Coastal Wildlife Alliance, a volunteer-based nonprofit, is asking for the public's help in raising money to purchase a commercial-grade inflatable to bring to schools and public presentations.
Carson and the New England Coastal Wildlife Alliance are seeking $9,000 in donations. There's no deadline for the fund-raising goal, which began months ago. With 2015 coming to an end, the organization has renewed its efforts to purchase the tool.
"The one that I made is not taking the abuse very well," Carson said. "And it's a little cumbersome to move around. And you put hundreds of kids through it every season. It's taking a lot of wear and tear."
Like the current model, the new whale would be to scale. It would have features identical to Salt, the first humpback whale to be given a name by researchers more than 40 years ago.
Salt, who got her moniker from the unique white marking on the sides of her dorsal fin, was first named in the 1970s by Captain Aaron Avellar during a trip with biologists from the Center for Coastal Studies. She has been seen nearly every year since, and is considered the "grande dame" of Stellwagen Bank because of her frequent appearances, Carson said.
"Salt has come back with 13 calves. And her calves have come back with calves of their own — she is now a great-grandmother. There's an incredible history with this particular individual whale," Carson said.
Besides capturing Salt's size — right down to the flippers — the inflatable model would also have a flap in the fabric, on the whale's left side, so that people could walk inside the whale's body. If Carson is able to raise enough money, she would also have inflatable organs made, to further the organization's educational efforts.
"We want something that is as complete as possible," Carson said. "If we don't get people connecting with the incredible marine wildlife right off of our shores, why should they care? We don't want to take it for granted; we want people to realize just how good we have it. And we have it good."
Humpback whales, like people, have "fingerprints." These prints are made up of the black-and-white markings on the bottom of their flukes, which help researchers identify the individual throughout its lifetime.
If the new inflatable model is built, Carson said that she would ask the company that makes it to include Salt's special markings on the blow-up tail.
If the company can't meet that request, she said, then Carson would take on the task herself, just as she did when she built her own replica of Salt.
"I would bring out the permanent pens again!" she said. "And I would draw it back in."