Blue whale skeleton 'Hope' takes centre stage in Museum

13 July 2017

HRH The Duchess of Cambridge, Sir David Attenborough and the Museum's Director beneath Hope the whale

The species the world decided to save is chosen to star in the Natural History Museum's famous main gallery.

The Museum will unveil the new star of its reimagined Hintze Hall today, as the start of the biggest transformation in its 136-year history.

A stunning 25.2 metre real blue whale skeleton suspended from the ceiling will take centre stage in the spectacular space - giving visitors the opportunity to walk underneath the largest creature ever to have lived.

Blue whales were hunted to the brink of extinction in the twentieth century, but were also one of the first species that humans decided to save on a global scale. The Museum has named the female blue whale Hope, as a symbol of humanity's power to shape a sustainable future.

She will be joined in Hintze Hall by hundreds of new specimens, chosen to celebrate the wonder and beauty of the natural world, from the origins of the universe, to the story of evolution and diversity in the world today. Ten star specimens will be arranged in the ground floor alcoves - known as Wonder Bays - including a 4.5-billion-year-old meteorite, a Mantellisaurus dinosaur skeleton, giraffes and a blue marlin.

The Museum's Patron, HRH The Duchess of Cambridge, and Sir David Attenborough will attend a gala launch reception this evening (July 13) ahead of the public opening at 10.00 tomorrow.

Sir Michael Dixon, Director of the Natural History Museum, said:

'This is a landmark moment for the Museum and for the millions of people from all over the world who visit us. The transformation of Hintze Hall represents a new era for us as a natural history museum for the future.

'Putting our blue whale, Hope, at the centre of the Museum, between living species on the West and extinct species on the East, is a powerful reminder of the fragility of life and the responsibility we have towards our planet.

'We are living at a critical point in the history of the Earth. This generation's decisions will have an unprecedented impact on the world we live in.

'It is within the grasp of humanity to shape a future that is sustainable, and now more than ever we want our galleries and exhibitions to inspire a love of the natural world, and our scientific expertise to inform solutions to the big, global challenges we face.

'I'd like to express our enormous thanks to our donors and supporters who have made this project possible - especially the Hintze Family Foundation, The Cadogan Charity, the Garfield Weston Foundation, The Sackler Trust, The Wolfson Foundation, all of the supporters of our Wonder Bays, and Rio Tinto and the Eastern Guruma People in the Pilbara region of Australia.'

Richard Sabin, the Museum's leading whale expert, said:

'Whales are incredibly mysterious and behaviourally complex creatures, as well as being the giants of the ocean. I remember visiting the Museum as a child and being amazed when I came face to face with the blue whale skeleton we are now unveiling in Hintze Hall.

'Until 2015 the skeleton was hung alongside a model whale in the mammals gallery and wasn't in full view, but in her stunning new home, where you are able to walk underneath and see her from all angles, she is even more spectacular. It is impossible not to be struck by the sheer scale and majesty of this beautiful creature as she dives towards you when you enter the Museum.

'My first encounter with the blue whale skeleton became a defining moment in my life, and I am sure Hope will inspire a new generation of visitors to discover the story of life on Earth and be encouraged to want to protect the natural world.'

Lorraine Cornish, the Museum's Head of Conservation, said:

'Hope is the only blue whale skeleton in the world to be hung in the diving lunge feeding position. Suspending such a large, complex and historical specimen from a Victorian ceiling was always going to be challenging, but we were determined to show her in as lifelike position as possible and we are thrilled that the result is truly spectacular.

'Whilst working on the 221 bones we uncovered past conservation treatments, such as the use of newspaper in the 1930s to fill the gaps between the vertebrae, and we were able to use new methods for the first time, including 3D printing a small number of bones missing from the right flipper.'

The relaunch of Hintze Hall is the first major moment in a decade of transformation that will see the Museum ambitiously redevelop its outside space and make the collections accessible to people all over the UK and globally through tours and digitisation. 

Blue whales

It is estimated that in the 1800s there were approximately 250,000 blue whales across the world's oceans. Decades of commercial hunting during the twentieth century drove the species to the brink of extinction, with only around 400 thought to be left in 1966. That year, in London, the world took a remarkable decision to legally protect blue whales from commercial hunting. Since then the population of blue whales has steadily grown to its current level of around 20,000 - the start of a viable population.

A big arrival

The skeleton now on display in Hintze Hall is from a whale that became stranded in 1891 in Wexford Harbour, Ireland, 10 years after the Museum opened in South Kensington. It was bought by the Museum and first went on display in the Mammal Hall in 1934, where it was suspended above a life-size model of a blue whale. Curators, conservation teams and engineers have been working on the blue whale skeleton for months - mostly in an off-site warehouse due to its enormous size - cleaning and preparing it for its new home in Hintze Hall. 

A new star

Hope takes centre stage in Hintze Hall in place of Dippy, the Diplodocus dinosaur skeleton cast that is soon to embark on a two-year tour of the UK, visiting Scotland, Northern Ireland, Wales and five regions across England. The tour aims to connect the nation with nature and spark the imagination of a new generation of scientists, naturalists and environmentalists.

Dippy was commissioned for the Museum in 1905 by American businessman Andrew Carnegie, who that year bought the bones of the first Diplodocus ever discovered for his museum in Pittsburgh. Dippy had been on display in Hintze Hall since 1979, before being taken down in January 2017 in preparation for his tour.  

BBC Two Horizon

The dramatic story of replacing the famous Diplodocus cast with the blue whale skeleton will be broadcast in Horizon: Dippy and the Whale on BBC Two tonight (13 July) at 21.00. Narrated by Sir David Attenborough, the film tells the story of the bones of a young female blue whale who died after getting beached off the coast of Ireland and how they found their way to the Museum. Programme makers spent two years behind-the-scene at the Museum following teams involved in what is one of the world's most unique engineering challenges.

Ends

Notes for editors

The following are available to download:

Please credit: © The Trustees of the Natural History Museum, London

Images of our patron the Duchess of Cambridge to follow tomorrow evening at 21.45 via picture agencies and the Museum.

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Visitor information: Hintze Hall will be open to the public from 10.00 on Friday 14 July.

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