Mythology and mystery

Until the invention of underwater photography, we hardly knew what whales looked like in their natural environment.

A Blue Whale skeleton
A wall painting of what is believed to be a blue whale

Humans had managed to see the Earth from space even before we filmed a free-swimming whale underwater.

In 1891, when this whale beached, it was not obvious to the people who found it what species it might be.

Newspaper reports of the whale's arrival described it as a 'strange visitant from strange seas'.

In Wexford, the Irish coastal town where the whale stranded, tourists gathered to view the body of this monster, seemingly dredged up from the deep.

Letters sent back and forth between men in Wexford and experts at the Museum finally identified the creature as a blue whale, after the whale's size, shape and colour were meticulously documented.

Image credits:

St Brendan and crew on a whale, 1621 © The British Library Board /Red whale rock carving in Tanum © Bjoertvedt, licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 / Newspaper cutout, 1891 © The British Library Board