UCL’s Grant Museum of Zoology is inviting the public to help piece together a huge whale skeleton.
The university’s zoological museum (located in Bloomsbury, London) is rebuilding its largest specimen – the skeleton of a northern bottlenose whale. The Whale Weekender event on 8 and 9 July will allow visitors to be part of the reconstruction of the eight metre (26.2 foot) skeleton, after it was brought to the museum in pieces in the 1940s. Until now, only the head has been on display while the rest of the skeleton is stored in several parts.
“The specimen has one of the best documented histories in the Museum”, said Jack Ashby, Manager at the Grant Museum of Zoology. “Back in the 1860s two men went on an expedition to find “two great fish” – one of which was brought back to land and later identified as a northern bottle-nosed whale of more than 26 feet and five tons.
For a period of time the whale carcass was displayed hanging from the ceiling of the Weston Super-Mare Museum. It eventually came to the Grant Museum in 1948, but it had been dismantled into its separate bones.”
The northern bottlenose whale (Hyperoodon ampullatus), is one of the deepest diving mammals in the world, hunting for fish and squid near the sea floor. Members of this species can be identified by their bulbous foreheads and dolphin-like beaks. Their flippers tuck into ‘pockets’ on their bodies during dives.
They are rarely seen in UK waters, although one female made headlines in 2006 when she was discovered swimming in the River Thames. They are much more commonly found in cool North Atlantic waters, where there inquisitive nature often draws them towards boats.
Members of the public attending Whale Weekender will be able to assist conservationists with the cleaning and reassembling of the skeleton – it’s one of the rare occasions where people are encouraged to touch a specimen. “Most of all, we want to know whether we have a complete skeleton. It’s so big that we’ve never been able to lay it all out before!” said Jack.
If you’re interested in being part of the team solving this giant puzzle, then just turn up at the Grant Museum this Saturday or Sunday between 12 and 4pm; there’s no fee and you can drop in whenever you like.