Su Xingang is assembling and restoring a white whale skeleton.
Su Xingang (the second on the left) pass on his apprentices tips of processing feathers of penguin specimens.
Apprentice of Su Xingang is repairing teeth of a shark specimen.
A well-restored penguin specimen. By Xu Changqing
At present, Qingdao Aquarium has over 20,000 specimens of marine lives, ranking first among similar science popularization sites. The aquarium displays over 2,000 specimens of rare marine lives all the year round, over half of which are made by Su Xingang.
We recently visited the specimen making department of Qingdao Aquarium and witnessed this sea world magician’s superb skills of “reviving” marine lives.
“Fat inside the bone crevice must be stripped thoroughly and even the slightest bit can not be left.” Su Xingang repeatedly instructed his apprentices beside who were processing a white whale skeleton. “To make a specimen, stripping fat is a very critical step. Take this white whale skeleton for instance, we need to process it with ethyl alcohol and drugs twice to three times. It is good for conservation if an animal specimen is duly stripped of fat. A properly processed specimen can be preserved for 50 to 60 years, equivalent to an extension of their life span in another form. Specimens need to be embellished and beautified but it must follow scientific guides. Generally speaking, we make prosthetic bodies at a ratio of 1:1 to ensure the original posture of animals can be restored. After the prosthetic body is finished, get the pelt bonded to the well-finished prosthetic body so that the specimen’s embryonic form has taken shape. Continual reshaping is required in the process of drying, followed by careful mending and coloring. Even the most minor details should merit attention. An animal gains “rebirth” after undergoing 20 procedures,” said Su Xingang.
Su Xingang, who succeeded his father as a specimen maker in Qingdao Aquarium in 1981, has participated in the processing of many memorable specimens of rare animal lives in his nearly 40 years’ career, including a sperm whale specimen, displayed earliest in China and also the most precious treasure of Marine Lives Hall, Qingdao Aquarium. This male sperm whale, 13.95 m long and 22 tons heavy, got stranded in Tangdao Bay on April 8, 1978. Su Xingang and other specimen makers divided the sperm whale’s corpse into two parts. One part was displayed as a skeleton specimen while the other part was restored to the original appearance after hollow wood was stuffed inside the sperm whale’s skin. The specimen was liked by citizens and tourists no sooner than it was displayed in the 1980s.
Su Xingang said proudly that because of appropriate processing and perfect workmanship, the sperm whale specimen has been on display for nearly four decades and is still placed in a conspicuous position of the aquarium.
The first penguin specimen in China was also made by Su Xingang. In 1985, China Antarctic scientific expedition team brought back penguin corpses. At that time, China has never made penguin specimens before. After trial and error, Su Xingang bonded feathers with water, poked every feather into its original position with tweezers. Processing in this way made the penguin specimen’s feather smooth, soft and uniform in color. Su Xingang has grasped consummate skills of making penguin specimens. His methods of making penguin specimens are also adopted widely in China.
Su Xingang, who was brought up by the sea, is obsessed with marine lives, which is an important reason for him to stick to making specimens for four decades. To restore animals’ original appearance more genuinely, he has taught himself anatomy. In addition, he often embraced the nature for observation, shooting and recording so that his state of mind can utterly fit into animal postures.
“Every restoration is like having a conversation with lives. Each specimen is unique. We need to treat animals with reverence. They can gain rebirth only you respect them,” said Su Xingang emotionally.