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The unwhaling of ‘Hope’

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'Unwhaling' may be a poor pun for the 'unveiling' of a 126-year-old, 25m long skeleton of a female blue whale, but in this instance, it's fairly apt. Once hunted for meat, oil and baleen (whalebone) the numbers of these creatures had dropped to only about 400 - now with a ban on commercial whaling estimates are that its now back up to about 25,000. This is still far below historic numbers but shows that with the right attitude there is hope for endangered species, hence the name 'Hope'. (Which is a much better name than 'Winnie', coined by the Radio Times in one of its weaker moments.)

Gone is 'Dippy' the much-loved replica cast of Diplodocus. 'Dippy' was the first of the ten copies made of a 21m dinosaur found in Wyoming, USA in 1898. Whilst 'Dippy' stood in a box on the floor of the Hintze Hall, the cavernous entrance space of the Natural History Museum in London, 'Hope' soars above. Or rather she dives down towards the main entrance doors with her jaws about 4m from the ground and the tail about 14m. So, with a reversal of fortune, 'Hope' who died after being stranded on sandbanks at Wexford Harbour, Ireland in March 1891 is free once more to dive for krill (or small children!) at the Natural History Museum from July 2017. Gone are dinosaurs that we can do nothing to save - instead we have a fine example of what can be achieved.
This diving towards the entrance doors does give the novice (well me) a kind of underwhelming feeling as I'm not able to imagine what the complete blue whale would appear like. As you look longitudinally through the skeleton it appears, well, small. It's only when you move around the vast floor space (no 'Dippy' box) do you appreciate not just the size of a blue whale that wasn't even fully grown, but also the engineering and logistical feet that has been realised by hanging its 10 tons up from the roof.

Whilst the gala launch reception with HRH The Duchess of Cambridge and Sir David Attenborough was the 13th July, being at the member launch the next evening will undoubtedly be long cherished memory. If this was not enough I did get to chat briefly with Richard Sabin, the museum's principal curator of mammals and visionary for this magnificent and forward-thinking addition to the museum.

If you like this picture you may also like my General gallery, within the Nature gallery.