For Explore Your Archive Week Jordan Risebury-Crisp, Internal Communications Officer at the Museum, recalls how the Hintze Hall redevelopment prompted his own adventure in to the Museum’s past.
The Museum has seen a number of changes in the last few years. In 2015 it was announced that the much beloved and iconic Diplodocus cast, affectionately called Dippy, was to be removed from his position in the Museum’s Hintze Hall where he had stood proudly on display, greeting visitors as they arrived at the Museum for over four decades.
Following Dippy’s departure the entire hall would then undergo a multi-million pound transformation, involving renovation, re-imagining of displays and bringing our Museum into the 21st century; a tough feat to accomplish considering the hall has been open to the public from 1881.
On 13 July 2017 the Museum unveiled Hope the blue whale, a spectacular 25-metre-long specimen suspended from the ceiling of the Museum’s central space, Hintze Hall.
Just after the BBC broadcast their Horizon documentary about the new installation, Dippy and the Whale, Richard Sabin, Principal Curator of Mammals, and Lorraine Cornish, Head of Conservation, joined host David Urry for a special #NHM_Live talking about the history, conservation and story behind Hope, direct from our new Whales: Beneath the surface exhibition.
If you are a resident of the UK and you missed Horizon: Dippy and the Whale, see it on BBC iPlayer: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b08y3s55 until mid-August. If you are enjoying this #NHM_Live series please don’t forget to subscribe and leave us a review on iTunes.
The Museum’s conservators were the stars of our second broadcast in the first #NHM_Live series, where we took a look at how they repair and maintain the millions of specimens in the collections.
Camilla Tham and Alison Shean were joined by conservators Arianna Bernucci and Cheryl Lynn to talk about mummified cats, Archaeopteryx, 1.3 kg of dust from a single specimen and some of the major specimens that will feature in the upcoming #Whales: Beneath the Surface exhibition.
It has been several months since my last post looking at blue whale on the move but finally the long process of cleaning and conserving each individual bone has been successfully completed and the conservators are now just embarking on surface scanning the bones in high definition. Conservation can be an extremely slow process but it is worth the time and effort. During the past 9 months the team have cleaned and conserved over 220 individual bones. This equates to over 110m2 of whale bone surface area.
During this time we also planned the final position and articulation of the whale for its suspension in Hintze Hall so the armature design could commence. This post outlines the conservation treatment and articulation planning phase of this project.
Although it’s only been a few weeks since I looked at ‘what lies beneath,’ it feels like a lifetime as so much has happened to our blue whale skeleton in a relatively short space of time. The biggest challenge of de-installing the skeleton from the Mammals Hall has been completed with resounding success and the Conservators are now busy with the next phase of cleaning and conserving each individual bone.
We all knew that safely removing the bones from the 81 year old armature was not going to be easy. Add in the fact that it was suspended over a large model of a blue whale and several other specimens with very little room for manoeuvre and you start to appreciate the whale-sized nature of the project. This post outlines what happened during the de-install.
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.
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.
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).
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]
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.
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.