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Help Grant Museum staff re-build eight-metre whale skeleton

21st July 2017
Grant Museum of Zoology

Join the Grant Museum staff next weekend for a whale of a time as they re-assemble their biggest specimen – an eight-metre northern bottle-nosed whale skeleton.

Whale bones

This giant zoological jigsaw puzzle will be put together from pieces currently stored across the museum and its storage rooms, and given a good clean. Long overdue in our opinion - this grubby specimen hasn’t bathed in 157 years!

The specimen’s story begins in 1860 when it was originally collected in Somerset, when an expedition set off across the Bristol Channel in pursuit of “two great fish” (as they were described by the local newspaper – whales are, of course, mammals) – one of which was brought back to land. After a period “on tour” as a whole carcass, the prepared skeleton was displayed hanging from the ceiling of the Weston Super-Mare Museum. It eventually came to the Grant Museum in 1948, but it had been dismantled into its separate bones.

“The vast majority of most museums’ specimens are not on public display – in many cases over 99%,” says Jack Ashby, Manager of the Grant Museum of Zoology. “The Whale Weekender will allow people to get very hands-on with one of those specimens – we are really excited about it.”

“It will also allow us to work with the public to help protect this incredible specimen for the long-term by cleaning 157 years’ worth of dust”, Jack continues. “It has such a brilliant history to it. But most of all, we want to know whether we have a complete skeleton. It’s so big that we’ve never been able to lay it all out before!”

The northern bottlenose whale (Hyperoodon ampullatus) is one of the deepest diving mammals on the planet, hunting for fish and squid near the sea floor. They are rarely seen in UK waters – mainly off the coasts of Scotland and Northern Ireland – however one rose to notoriety in 2006 when a young female whale got lost and ended up in the River Thames, capturing the public imagination.

You’ll have the chance to speak to our experts, help lay the pieces out and even help clean them to preserve them for the future.

Other activities throughout the weekend include family art projects where you’ll help make a tableau of sea creatures to rival the museum’s weird and wonderful specimens.

If you like your phonics fishy* - On Friday 7 July radio collective In the Dark will be producing a whale-themed audio cinema. Tickets for this event must be booked in advance here.

*we know they’re mammals really.

Entry and daytime activities are free. Drop in between 12 and 4pm on Saturday 8th and Sunday 9th July.

Featured in the Guardian July 2017