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First ever display of Thames whale skeleton

12 January 2007

The conserved skeleton of a northern bottlenose whale that swam up the River Thames on 20 January 2006 will be put on display  for the first time.

A free exhibition at the Newsroom , the Guardian and Observer archive and visitor centre, is on from 22-27 January and tells the story of the whale's journey and the attempt to rescue it.

The display will include the whale skeleton and a preserved fin, both on loan from the Natural History Museum, as well as photography and a short film by acclaimed documentary maker Paul Burgess.

Richard Sabin prepares the whale skeleton for the Museum's scientific research collection.

Richard Sabin prepares the whale skeleton for the Museum's scientific research collection.

'The whale captured the imagination of the British public and of people all over the world,' said Richard Sabin, Museum mammal expert. 'We were delighted when the Guardian offered us the opportunity to display the whale. I hope thousands of people will make the most of this opportunity to see this unique specimen on display.'

'That weekend the whale swam up the Thames and the frantic battle to save it will be one of those events that children, and plenty of adults, remember all their lives,' said Ian Katz, executive editor, the Guardian. 'One year on we're thrilled to be able to give readers the chance to relive the excitement of those few days in January through the exhibition and an extraordinarily powerful online film.'

A special display case was made by CASCO, a specialist aquarium construction company, which also produced the cases for the Museum's giant squid specimen and artist Damien Hirst's pickled shark.

Thames Whale Week

The Thames Whale Week, eight days of free daily events at the Natural History Museum from 22 -30 January, is coinciding with the exhibition. You can join discussions with marine mammal experts at the Museum or watch the sessions live online in the Nature Live web pages.

First ever record

On 20 January 2006, Richard Sabin identified the whale as a female northern bottlenose and confirmed this was the first ever record of this species in the Thames since records began in 1913.

The Museum is a partner in the UK Whale and Dolphin Stranding Scheme and was therefore informed of the sighting.

Northern bottlenose whales are deep feeders, found in the northern hemisphere as far as the Arctic Circle. They are infrequently stranded around Britain, but normally in northern Britain and occasionally in southwest England.


The rescue attempt was organised by the British Marine Divers Life Rescue but the whale didn't survive, dying on 21 January. The post-mortem, carried out by vets from the Zoological Society of London, established the cause of death as dehydration, cardiovascular failure, muscle damage and kidney failure.

The vets also found a whole potato and some fragments of plastic and algae in her stomach following examination of her stomach contents.

Caring for the skeleton

The Sun newspaper launched a campaign to raise money towards the cost of preparing and storing the bones at the Museum and the they are now looked after in the Museum's scientific research collection. After the Guardian exhibition, the whale's bones will be returned, along with its custom-made display case.

The Museum's national collection holds more than 2,500 whale, dolphin and porpoise specimens. Scientists can use the collection to look at the differences that may exist within a single species, which may highlight whether a population is unique. Using this information, biologists and conservationists are able to put strategies into place to protect these animals.

Entry to the exhibition is free but with time-booked slots only. For information on how to book tickets see this Saturday's Guardian, 13 January.

Address: The Newsroom, the Guardian and Observer, archive and visitor centre, 60 Farringdon Road, London EC1