Natural History Museum to Replace Dippy with Blue Whale
For the last 35 years, visitors to the Natural History Museum (NHM) in London have been welcomed by Dippy, a plaster-cast replica Diplodocus.
But despite Dippy’s impressive size, he just doesn’t provide the ‘wow’ factor that museum organisers want the guests to feel when they walk into the main hall. Dippy has simply become too friendly and familiar.
Besides, they want something that will impress visitors, old and new, while also conveying the sort of forerunning scientific research and analysis being carried out at the museum.
And what better way to do that than a genuine skeleton of the largest known mammal to have ever lived on our planet – a blue whale!
The female blue whale is 25 metres long (82ft!) and was chosen to give visitors an immediate impact as they make their way into the great hall.
“Everyone loves Dippy, but it’s just a copy,” explained NHM Director Sir Michael Dixon. “What makes this museum special is that we have real objects from the natural world… and they enable our scientists – and thousands like them from around the world – to do real research.”
But, as you can imagine, dismantling Dippy and replacing him with the blue whale isn’t something that will be able to happen magically overnight.
Transferring the whale alone will involve carefully dismantling each one of her bones from her current display in the mammals gallery. Each bone will then have to be cleaned and catalogued, before being put back together, suspended from the ceiling in Hintze Hall. And while she isn’t currently posed, when the whale’s skeleton is re-suspended, she will be placed in a dramatic diving position.
But how did the museum get its hands on such a huge and amazing acquisition?
Shortly after the museum opened in 1881, the whale was found beached on the southeast coast of Ireland. Ten years later, museum curators paid the hefty sum of £250 for whale’s remains, which included every single bone. However, her skeleton wasn’t actually put on public display until 1935.
The transition will be overseen by the museum’s vertebrate department, run by Richard Sabin. He described the whale as a “fantastically complete specimen”, and one of the largest of her kind on display anywhere in the world.
“Just the act of moving [the whale] will be great for science because we will scan every bone,” explained Mr Sabin. “That means any researcher will be able to study it and even print 3D if they want to.”
And while some of you might be worried about what is going to happen to Dippy, he will most likely be featuring in his own large exhibit to illustrate how dinosaurs might have lived in their environment.
Sir Michael explained that Dippy has always been located in the centre of the building, out of context, so it would be great for visitors to see the Diplodocus placed in a story of his own time.
“We are looking into whether it is feasible to do some sort of tour,” concluded Sir Michael, “where he will have the opportunity to be seen by a great deal more people, not just people in London.”
Because of the sheer size of the task at hand, the blue whale should be in place by 2017.
Image source: Natural History Museum Webpage