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The Natural History Museum has unveiled a blue whale skeleton: the new star of its reimagined Hintze Hall, which begins the biggest transformation in its 136-year history.
A stunning 25.2-metre-long blue whale skeleton suspended from the ceiling takes centre stage in the spectacular space, giving visitors the opportunity to walk underneath the largest creature ever to have lived. Hintze Hall reopened to the public on Friday 14 July 2017.
The Natural History Museum has named the female blue whale Hope, as a symbol of humanity's power to shape a sustainable future. 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 whale will be joined in Hintze Hall by hundreds of new specimens and 10 star 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.
HRH The Duchess of Cambridge, who is the Museum's Patron, and Sir David Attenborough attended a gala launch reception on 13 July, ahead of the public opening.
Sir Michael Dixon, Director of the Natural History Museum, said of the blue whale skeleton:
'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.
'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.'
In the 1800s there were an estimated 250,000 blue whales across the world's oceans. Decades of commercial hunting 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 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 displayed in the Mammal Hall in 1934, where it was suspended above a life-size model of a blue whale, though it was not in full view.
Richard Sabin, the Museum's leading whale expert, says:
'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.
'In her stunning new home, 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.'
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 its 221 bones for the big move.
Lorraine Cornish, the Museum's Head of Conservation, says:
'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.'
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.
Sir Michael adds, '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.'
Hope takes the place of Dippy the Diplodocus, the dinosaur skeleton cast that was on display in Hintze Hall from 1979 until January 2017.
Dippy 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.