If you cannot afford to go to London’s Sea Life Aquarium, I would like to offer you an alternative venue to get your aquatic fix. For the foreseeable future you can not only witness, but also walk underneath the largest creature to ever have graced the sea… the Blue Whale. On the 14th of July the Natural History Museum re-opened its doors to the public and unveiled a dramatic change to Hintze Hall… The skeleton of the dinosaur christened ‘Dippy the Diplodocus’, had been replaced by the skeleton of a Blue Whale christened ‘Hope’.
While this change sparked outrage amongst some members of the public- which is understandable given Dippy’s longstanding residency in the hall since 1979- as the name ‘Hope’ suggests, the museum is optimistic that the public will warm to Dippy’s replacement. Having visited the museum myself, I can personally say that I am in awe of Hope- her sheer size and scale (25.2 metres and 4.5 tonnes to be precise) makes it impossible not to be overwhelmed! The fact she is positioned in a diving lunge, the feeding position of Blue Whales, really adds to her lifelike aura and makes you feel as if you are swimming in the sea beside her.
Even more impressive is the museum’s purpose for making Hope the main attraction, using her as a: “symbol of Humanity’s power to shape a sustainable future.” The Blue Whale species was the first species that humans consciously decided to save from the brink of extinction, their number being a mere few hundred during the 60s. However nowadays, this figure has increased to approximately 20,000- truly proving that humans do have the power to make a difference and a duty to raise awareness of such issues. This is a view held by Sir Michael Dixon, the Director of the Natural History Museum, in the following quote: “It is within the grasp of humanity to shape a future that is sustainable, and now more than ever we want our galleries and exhibitions to inspire a love of the natural world, and our scientific expertise to inform solutions to the big, global challenges we face.”
Not only does the history of the Blue Whale make Hope that bit more meaningful, but so does the fact that she comes with her very own story. She was found injured but alive by whalers in Ireland in 1891, at a time when whale meat and oil were in high demand- both of which led to Hope’s death. Her 221 bones (now 126 years old) were sold to the museum in 1934, where she was then suspended in Mammal’s Hall- making her the museum’s largest ever specimen. The planning, deconstruction and reconstruction process which saw Hope moved to her new home in Hintz Hall was the culmination of months of hard work. Given the fact Hope’s skeleton is real, whereas Dippy’s was only a plaster cast replica, bits of Hope had suffered wear and tear down the years which needed to be fixed, as did the problem of manoeuvring her skeleton which was taken apart piece by piece! Hope’s head was so big that it had to be strategically tilted to fit and doors had to be removed along the way! The project was the largest ever undertaken by the museum and engineering experts RCI, who built skeletons for the T-rex in the Jurassic Park franchise, even had to be recruited to help out!
Overall, despite Hope’s sad history, the fact the museum has given her a new lease of life, is evidence that humans can give life back to the endangered, and allows the visiting public to marvel at, and celebrate the natural world and its amazing organisms.
So why not head along to the Natural History Museum to give Hope a huge welcome and also to visit the wealth of attractions and exhibitions the museum has to offer- pictures of which can be seen below: