Thames whale is on display at the Museum at Tring

22 January 2011

The Thames whale goes on display at the Natural History Museum at Tring from today in our latest temporary exhibition, the Thames Whale Story.

It is 5 years since the female bottlenose whale found her way into the River Thames. At 6 metres long, the whale was unmissable and her every move was followed by the public and the media. 

Despite rescue efforts she died on 21 January while being taken back out to sea on a barge.  Her skeleton was brought to the Natural History Museum where it was preserved and joined the research collection.

This northern bottlenose whale was far from home as they usually live in the North Atlantic in cool and sub-arctic waters. It was the first of its species to be seen in the river since Museum scientists began recording strandings around the UK almost 100 years ago.

The Thames Whale Story exhibition
Skeleton of the Thames whale on display at the Museum at Tring

Skeleton of the Thames whale on display at the Natural History Museum at Tring in January 2011.

In the Thames Whale Story, visitors can explore how she got to the River Thames, what happened to the skeleton after the failed rescue attempt and how important it is to science today. There are also other fun activities for families in the exhibition.

‘Having this enormous skeleton and other extraordinary specimens from our collections on display gives our visitors a great insight into how specimens are added to the collections and how valuable they are to our science and research,’ says Alice Dowswell, Learning and Interpretation Manager at the Museum at Tring.

Northern bottlenose whales

Northern bottlenose whales, Hyperoodon ampullatus, prefer deep water and can dive to depths of 1,400 metres. The average dive time is about 10 minutes but they can stay underwater for 1 or 2 hours. The size of the total population is unknown, but is estimated at around 40,000.

Richard Sabin preparing the Thames whale skeleton

Richard Sabin preparing the Thames whale skeleton

Males can grow to 10m long and females to 8.6m. They have tube-like beaks, which are white on males and grey on females and only makes have teeth – a single pair at the tip of the lower jaw. Their forehead is bulbous and more prominent in the males.

Specimen collection

The Museum has more than 3,000 whale and dolphin specimens in its research collection, representing 85% of all known whale and dolphin species. The oldest specimens were collected more than 400 years ago.

‘Scientists from all over the world will use this specimen for research,’ says Richard Sabin, Senior Curator of Mammals at the Museum. ‘Gaining new specimens, like this one, is very important to modern science to find out more about how the world is developing and changing.’

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