Once in a whale

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Orca skeleton
Credit: Mike Peckett

Among the Museum’s large collection of mammal skeletons are five whales (Cetacea), each suspended from the roof in the main gallery. As part of the Museum renovation efforts, it was decided to give these specimens some much needed conservation treatment: 150 years of continuous exposure to light as well as fluctuating temperature and humidity levels has left these skeletons in a poor condition. The types of damage noted include: a big build-up of dust and dirt; cracking of the bone material; secreting of fatty oils; missing sections, such as fingers and ribs; and the corrosion of metal areas, as well as water-stains from the leaking roof!

The whales hung from scaffolding ready for conservation
Credit: Mike Peckett
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150 years of dust gathered on the skull of a Lesser Fin Whale
Credit: Mike Peckett

Thanks to a successful PRISM grant from the Arts Council England, we have very recently hired an Assistant Conservator to help me complete this huge task. Together we will have six months to complete the treatment which will include in-depth cleaning of the specimens, stabilising loose or cracked areas, and replacing missing segments and corroded wires. We’re aiming to have five beautiful whale skeletons which look clean and scientifically accurate, as well as being stable enough to withstand another 100 years on display.

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Credit: Mike Peckett
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Credit: Mike Peckett
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Credit: Mike Peckett

Although we’re closed for 2013, many visitors are still passing through on their way to the Pitt Rivers Museum. We thought they would like to see what’s going on, so we’ve built a window in the construction boards, enabling the public to see the whales. If you’re visiting, pop by to see our conservators undertaking this exciting and important work.

Bethany Palumbo, Conservator of Life Sciences

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