Wex­ford whale a top at­trac­tion in Lon­don mu­seum

Bray People - - LIFESTYLE -

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.

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