If you go down to the beach today | Big Seaweed Search

This week HLF Identification Trainer of the Future, Anthony Roach, introduces us to the marvellous diversity of seaweeds on Britain’s shores and shows you how you can contribute to citizen science by recording them as part of the Big Seaweed Search.

Seaweeds are incredibly diverse and beautiful organisms. They are strong biological indicators of the health of our environment and play an important role in the marine and coastal environment, despite being perceived by some as drab, slimy, green and brown sludge hanging from the rocks or smelly dried husks that litter the high tide mark. The Museum’s seaweed researchers and staff at the Angela Marmont Centre for UK Biodiversity are therefore encouraging everyone to learn more about seaweeds, to map their diversity and assess how they are responding to climate change through the Big Seaweed Search.

Photo of Anthony stood on rocky shore by the sea, holding a large, long, brown seaweed in two hands.
Anthony Roach searching for seaweeds, holding sugar kelp. © Holly Morgenroth.

I grew up near the coast in Devon and I certainly over-looked seaweeds when whiling away countless hours rock pooling. I would slip and slide my way over seaweed covered rocks in search of the jazzier or more colourful marine stars of the rock pool such as crabs, starfish, sea anemones and blennies. I have discovered however that there is so much more to seaweeds than at first meets the eye.

Continue reading “If you go down to the beach today | Big Seaweed Search”

Latest edition of evolve out now | Library and Archives

Hot off the press is the autumn 2015 edition of the Museum Members’ magazine evolve and for those who love the Museum’s paper collections there is plenty to read about.

Image of the front cover showing a photo from the latest Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition
The cover of the latest edition of evolve

Natural Histories and the mandrake

The Natural Histories collaboration between the Museum and BBC Radio 4 over the last few months included the story of nightshade plant family and in particular the role of the mandrake in early medicine and its depiction in in botanical herbal illustrations such as those held in our collections.

New Bauer Brothers art exhibition in our Images of Nature Gallery and accompanying publication

Special Collections Librarian Paul Cooper introduces our exhibition of the botanical and zoological artwork of Franz and Ferdinand Bauer. The exhibition opened on 7 November 2015 and runs until 2017. All of the artwork by the brothers on display during this period comes from the collections of the Museum Library.

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Images of Nature: The Bauer Brothers (New Publication) | Library and Archives

Our latest publication to accompany the new Images of Nature gallery exhibition ‘The Bauer Brothers’, which opens 7 November, has been published and is now available to buy onsite and online.

Picture of the book cover
The cover of the Images of Nature: The Bauer Brothers book by Paul Martyn Cooper

We are very proud to announce our newest publication Images of Nature: The Bauer Brothers. This beautiful collection of artworks from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries celebrates the work of Franz and Ferdinand Bauer, two of the most accomplished natural history artists of all time.

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What lies beneath: dusting and documenting the blue whale skeleton | Conservators

The team have been busy in the 3 weeks since my last post, studying the blue whale skeleton and documenting its condition. The first stage was to record the initial condition of the skeleton, including the coating of dust that has accumulated over time, and to start to identify areas which would require attention prior to dismantling.

Photo showing the dusty vertebra close up
Thoracic vertebrae coated in dust and also showing an area where a metal support has failed.

Dust particles that are deposited on museum objects will typically consist of fibrous material (aka “fluff”) and non-fibrous particulates. Dust is hygroscopic and can accelerate biological, chemical and physical deterioration of specimens and even though it is over 6 metres above the ground, the whale skeleton is a dust attractor so a regular cleaning schedule is important where practicable. On this occasion, over 1.3 kilos of dust was removed from the blue whale skeleton during this initial clean.

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Humpback, minke or fin? Identifying the whale stranded on the Kent coast | Cetacean Stranding Investigation Programme

This week Rebecca Lyal, our Cetacean Strandings Support Officer, reports on one of the latest whale strandings to receive media attention:

The first report I received of the phenomenal sea creature that had stranded in Kent was a post-it note left on my desk saying ‘Humpback whale, Kent’. My phone and inbox then buzzed with updates and enquiries from colleagues and news stations about an 11 metre whale that had washed up on the beach at Botany Bay near Margate. A characterless Wednesday morning had been transformed into a blizzard of curiosity that surrounded the seas’ most recent lost property. But this wasn’t a humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae), nor was it a minke whale (Balaenoptera acutorostrata) as was widely reported; it was in fact a fin whale (B. physalas).

11m long black whale, with white underside, stranded on beach, with mouth open. Long hairs of filter feeding apparatus visible.
Mistaken for a humpback whale, then a minke whale, this stranded fin whale was discovered on 14 October 2015. Credit: Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA).

The post mortem summary that was released by Cetacean Strandings Investigation Programme (CSIP) partner the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) reported that the whale had damage consistent with a ship strike, due to the parallel linear cuts and a pale appearance to the body that indicated the animal had lost a significant amount of blood from its wounds. But why was there confusion with the identification? Let’s find out…

[Warning: the next image in the post shows the damage to the fin whale’s body]

Continue reading “Humpback, minke or fin? Identifying the whale stranded on the Kent coast | Cetacean Stranding Investigation Programme”

Notes in the collections tell natural stories | Curator of Micropalaeontology

Earlier in the summer I tweeted a picture of a microfossil slide I made in 1997. On the back I had written that it was made while I was listening to England bowl Australia out for 118 in a cricket test match at Edgbaston, Birmingham.

slide with cricket annotation
A microfossil slide with a cricket-related annotation on the back.

The slide got me thinking about more important hidden notes I have found recently that relate to historical events and provide a context to the microfossil collection. This post examines evidence of a collector’s escape from a disintegrating ice floe, attempts to cover-up a major disagreement between two scientists and the sad end for a laboratory that led to my first job as a curator.

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Up in the air: the beginnings of a whale-sized conservation project | Conservators

The stunning 25 metre long skeleton of a blue whale (Balaenoptera musculus) currently suspended in the Museum’s Mammals and blue whale gallery since 1934 is to be taken down in January 2016. After an extensive period of cleaning and conservation it will then be re-suspended from the ceiling of the Hintze Hall in the summer of 2017.

Photo of the blue whale skeleton from head-on and below.
Head-on view the blue whale skeleton prior to scaffolding being put in place.
Photo showing the scaffolding from the rear, left side view
The scaffolding in place around the blue whale skeleton, with the model of the blue whale below.

Following months of careful consideration the blue whale skeleton has been chosen to take centre stage at the Museum, to give an immediate introduction that illustrates our research into the rich biodiversity of life on Earth and a sustainable future, as well as the origins and evolution of that life.

Moving a blue whale around is quite literally an enormous project which involves many specialists including curators, project managers, scaffolders, structural engineers, specimen handlers, and mount makers, to name but a few. Central to this project are the conservators who will be ensuring the skeleton is given the due care and attention it needs.

So exactly how do you work on a large specimen suspended over 6 metres above the ground with many other specimens and models surrounding it? That’s the story we aim to tell in our upcoming posts in our new Conservators blog.

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Guest post: What an experience! A working week at the Museum | Curator of Lepidoptera

One of the most important aspects of being a curator is not actually related to the Museum’s collections, but instead it’s ensuring that we encourage others to become interested in the natural world and the role we perform. So, this August gone, I was very lucky to have help from Billy Stockwell, a young wildlife enthusiast, who spent a few days at the Museum for work experience. Here’s his own tale of his time here, which he has kindly given me permission to reblog and I encourage you to read the rest of Billy’s adventures in the world of nature on his own blog:

The Natural History Museum is far more than just a museum. With 80 million specimens straddling 4 billion years of natural history it’s more of a microcosm of mother nature herself; a snippet from each stage of our planet’s life hitherto. Its collections are no less over-whelming, including prehistoric creatures worthy enough to feature in Spielberg’s Jurassic Park, to millions of butterfly specimens whose species inhabit our modern world today.

Photo showing hawkmoths in a drawer
Hawkmoths in the Museum’s collection

From a visitor’s perspective the most exciting aspects of the Museum may be the captivating dinosaur exhibition, the butterfly house, or even the Museum’s gift shop. But if you’re brave enough to venture behind the scenes you have another thing coming! And that’s exactly what I decided to do for my work experience a few weeks ago…

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Science Uncovered 2015 – we will see you there! | Library and Archives

Science Uncovered 2015 is rapidly approaching and, as usual, the Library and Archives team will be contributing to the night this Friday 25 September. And not just at the Museum in South Kensington but also at our sister Museum in Tring, Hertfordshire.

Image showing the digitised coloured image by Smith
“The Courtship of Pisaura mirabilis” by Arthur Smith

South Kensington (between 17.00 – 21.00)

We’ll be in the Earth Sciences Library in the Red Zone (the door is within the Lasting Impressions gallery). This collection space is not usually open to the public, so it’s a very rare opportunity to have a peek inside.

This year we’ll be showing off some our favourite items from the Library: books, artworks, archives and artefacts that highlight the amazing diversity of our collections and our work.

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Get a free Orchid Observers ID guide! | Orchid Observers

With the very last of the British orchids now in flower (Autumn lady’s-tresses), its your last chance this year to get hold of our orchid ID guide to learn where to find it and how to identify this beautiful species. If you don’t spot any flowers, you can still help out by identifying photos uploaded by others or by transcribing historical herbarium sheets from our collection.

Photo showing a few of the guides laid out on a table
Get your copy of the Orchid Observers guide for free while stocks last!

Printed copies of our 34-page Orchid Observers Identification Guide are now available free of charge while our stocks last. This beautiful guide is illustrated with photographs of all 29 wild orchids included in the study, as well as species distribution maps and details on flowering times.

If you would like a printed copy, please email orchid@nhm.ac.uk with your full postal address and we will pop one in the mail to you! They’ll be sent out until we run out of our stock, so if you don’t manage to get your hands on one of our printed copies, the guide is also available to download as a PDF.