Help Put A Whale Skeleton Back Together

Laura Reynolds
By Laura Reynolds Last edited 81 months ago

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Help Put A Whale Skeleton Back Together
Sections of spine on top of storeroom racking (C) UCL Grant Museum of Zoology

Dippy's cetacean descendant is due to be unveiled at the Natural History Museum soon, but it's not the only whale in town.

UCL's Grant Museum of Zoology is asking members of the public to help in piecing together its own whale skeleton this weekend — meaning you can actually touch this one.

We got a glimpse of the skeleton — or at least its component parts — when we went behind the scenes at the museum in 2015, and found a storeroom with the likes of this dotted around:

Box of ribs (C) UCL Grant Museum of Zoology

Until now, the skull has been the only part of the whale on public display in the museum. When it arrived from the Weston-Super-Mare Museum in 1948, it had already been dismantled, so the museum staff themselves have no idea if the skeleton is even complete — which is where help is needed.

Larger vertebrae on top of storeroom racking (C) UCL Grant Museum of Zoology

The public can get hands-on with the pieces, helping to lay them out and see whether anything's missing. The bones will also be in need of a good clean, having amassed 157 years' worth of dust.

The skull - the only part of the skeleton currently on display (C) UCL Grant Museum of Zoology

The specimen is a northern bottle-nose whale, the same species as the one which swam up the Thames (and sadly died) in 2006. Once put back together, it'll be about eight metres (26ft) long. Unfortunately, it won't be going on display right away — this is just a chance to scope out how complete it is (fingers crossed they've found those missing fins), in case an opportunity to mount it arises in future.

Selection of ribs (C) UCL Grant Museum of Zoology

As well as getting hands on with the skeleton itself, visitors at the Whale Weekender can meet whale-ologist Ellen Coombs (excellent job title), as well as the museum conservators. There will also be an art installation where families can create an ocean creature to add to an underwater tableau which will grow over the weekend.

The whale, top right, in Woodspring Museum, Weston Super-Mare, prior to its arrival at UCL (C) UCL Grant Museum of Zoology

You can read the full story of this particular whale's untimely demise and subsequent journey to London here.

The Whale Weekender takes place at the Grant Museum of Zoology 8-9 July, 12pm-4pm. Entry is free and there's no need to book.

Last Updated 05 July 2017