A FISHERMAN got more than he bargained for when he hauled in his nets and discovered he had caught a skull bone from a 40-tonne sperm whale.
And now the massive bone, found by Hartlepool trawlerman Keith Fletcher, has been snapped up by the Hancock Museum, in Newcastle, where it will soon be put on show.
Keith, 61, (pictured) was on his boat three miles off the coast of Hartlepool when he started to drag in the nets and saw what he believed was an enormous piece of rubbish.
But on closer inspection the dad of one, from Seaton Carew, realised it was a bone of some sort and decided to drag it ashore.
Keith said he left the 6ft bone on the fish pier and word spread and when bosses at the Hancock Museum heard about the catch they decided it would be perfect to put on display.
Further investigation also found that it belonged to a sperm whale, which can grow up to 67ft long and is the largest living toothed animal.
Keith, who is married to Jennie, said: “Where we found the bone is an area we use particularly frequently for trawling, and it’s come out of the clay or sand when our nets picked it up.
“When it first came up we thought it was a piece of tarpaulin that we’d pulled out of the ground.
“Then we realised it was some kind of bone, but rather than put it back into the water we thought we’d bring it back in.
“We had to cut the net to get it out because it was about two or three feet high and 6ft across.
“We thought it might be good for scientific purposes and we weren’t sure whether it was a mammoth bone or a whale bone.
“We left it on a part of the pier in case anyone would want it for scientific research or anything. It’s at the Hancock Museum now.”
“You never know what you’re going to get. We get oddments all the time and in the past we’ve had stone crabs and swordfish and all sorts of other things.”
A spokesman for the Hancock Museum said: “It’s really exciting, it’s certainly the largest whale’s skull we’ve ever seen. It’s the back part of the skull and when you see it you get an idea of the sheer size of how this animal must have been in life.
“We went to Hartlepool to pick it up and had to use a forklift to get it into the back of the van, it was that heavy.
“It’s currently being cleaned up and will be put on display in the next few months.”
He added: “We’re also hoping to be able to find out how old the animal was when it died and why it was in waters where you wouldn’t normally find them.
“We’re really grateful to the fisherman for hanging on to it. It’s a fantastic object and we’d like to preserve it for everybody in the North-East to see what was a remarkable creature.”