Wexford whale a top attraction in London museum
KATE MIDDLETON, Duchess of Cambridge, and Sir David Attenborough, naturalist and environmental royalty, headed up the celebrity guest list at a function held earlier this month in the Natural History Museum in London to formally install ‘Hope’, the skeleton of an Irish whale, as the centrepiece of the museum’s very extensive exhibits.
The gala launch reception was held ahead of the public opening of the exhibit to the millions of people from all over the world who visit the famous museum. ‘Hope’, the latest attraction, is the skeleton of a Blue Whale that live-stranded on a sand bank at the mouth of Wexford Harbour on Wednesday, March 25, 1891.
A sub-adult female, estimated to be 10 to 15 years old, measuring 25.2m long and weighing more than an estimated 100t, she belongs to a species that, as far as is known, is the largest animal that ever existed on planet Earth. Without the buoyancy of water to support her massive body the stranded animal was suffocating under her own great weight as the tide ebbed. Ned Wickham, coxswain of the Rosslare lifeboat, put the dying animal out of her agony.
As ‘a Fish Royal’ the remains were claimed for the Crown and were auctioned. The carcase was sold to William Armstrong, chairman of Wexford Harbour Board at the time, for £111.0.0 for its oil and meat. Some 20 men were employed cutting up the meat for dog food and saving 630 gallons of oil for fuel.
The 4.5-tonne skeleton was purchased by the Natural History Museum in London and is now on display following two years of intensive conservation work on each of its 221 bones.
During the 1800s, the world population of Blue Whales was estimated to number hundreds of thousands of individuals. By 1966, commercial whaling had reduced that number to an estimated maximum of 500 individuals. Whaling was banned to save the species and the population recovered; it is believed the population now numbers more than several thousand individuals, with several hundred in the Atlantic Ocean.
The banning of commercial whaling was a conservation success story so the skeleton of the Wexford whale was named ‘Hope’ in the hope that her dramatic lunge-feeding dive pose on the ceiling of the revamped Hintze Hall will inspire visitors to seek a more sustainable and responsible relationship with the natural world and a secure future for biodiversity by arresting any whittling away of our amazing shared natural heritage.
The Blue Whale in the Natural History Museum in London.