Pickle jars and precious specimens

How many curators does it take to lift a shark?

Answer: a lot, at least when you're moving a rare, 3-metre-long specimen of an elusive Greenland shark.

Masterminded by Museum fish curators Ollie Crimmen and James Maclaine, the move means that the shark is now safely preserved and can be used for research for centuries to come. It joins more than 20 million animal specimens stored in alcohol in the Museum's spirit collection.

Huge tanks hold some of the most spectacular, including our 8.62-metre-long giant squid, while glass jars containing a vast array of creatures jostle for space along 27 kilometres of shelving. Fishes alone occupy 4.5 kilometres.

Learning from the specimens

Scientists use the specimens to help identify new species and tease apart how life on Earth evolved. Some specimens provide clues to the behaviour of species rarely seen in the wild, such as the stoplight loosejaw. This bizarre deep-sea fish can dislocate its head to lunge at prey. 

Other uses are more surprising. A researcher from Bath University has been visiting the collection to study the structure of fish nostrils. Understanding how they are adapted to smell underwater could have applications for designing scent-tracking robots to monitor pollution.

Behind-the-Scenes Spirit Collection Tour

Book a guided tour of our spirit collection and tank room to see hidden treasures such as the giant squid.