Wexford whale to make big splash at top London Museum

By Esther Hayden

The skeleton of the whale which was beached in Wexford Harbour in 1891 currently hangs above a life size model of a blue whale at the Natural History Museum.
The skeleton of the whale which was beached in Wexford Harbour in 1891 currently hangs above a life size model of a blue whale at the Natural History Museum.

The skeleton of a blue whale which was beached in Wexford Harbour in 1891 will now take pride of place at London's Natural History Museum.

The Wexford whale, which is to take the place of the museum's dinosaur cast Dippy the diplodocus, will hang from the vaulted ceiling with an open mouth.

Last week staff at the Natural History Museum began the arduous task of dismantling the 70ft plaster cast skeleton of Dippy which is made up of 292 bones. The dinosaur cast has stood in the museum's central hall since 1979. Prior to his dismantling the public posing alongside him for photographs bidding him a final farewell.

The real skeleton of the female Wexford blue whale measures 83ft and weighs in at 4.5 tonnes.

It will be suspended vertically as if diving on to visitors with its mouth open.

The specimen was driven on to a beach at the mouth of Wexford harbour by whalers in 1891. After extracting 630 gallons of oil and selling off its meat, they passed the skeleton to the museum for £250. It has been on display since 1938 in the mammal hall but will now have pride of place in the entrance hall.

Sir Michael Dixon, the museum's director, has said that the whale will be a better prop for telling stories about natural history and human intervention in nature.

'A lot of people do not realise that it is not actually a real dinosaur whereas the whale will be the real thing. Which I think is important.'

Hunting caused the blue whale population to fall from 250,000 in the 1890s to 2,000 in the 1990s; numbers have swelled to between 10,000 and 25,000 after they gained protected status in 1972.

A six-person team have started the three and a half week task of dismantling Dippy, piece by piece, beginning with the tail.

Once he has been cleaned and repaired where necessary, Dippy will be 'flat-packed' into about 12 crates before embarking on a two-year UK tour. The museum said it will take about four days to put him back together at each new destination.

The tour will start in early 2018 and venues will include Ulster Museum in Belfast.

The entrance hall at the museum will reopen in the summer. Apart from the Wexford whale there will be ten new exhibitions featuring more than 650 specimens.

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