This skeleton has been on Bethany Palumbo’s conservation hit list for some time. As the Conservator for our Life Collections, she keeps a close eye on specimens that need a bit of TLC, or indeed a full make-over. Bethany and team have now been given the go-ahead to dedicate their attention to the Atlantic Bluefin tuna (Thunnus thynnus), located in the Museum court. The project will kick off on November 9th and should take around 4 weeks to complete.
This specimen has a long and interesting history. It’s been on display in the Museum since it opened in 1860, but records show that it was previously displayed in the Anatomy Museum at Christ Church College, Oxford. The fish was collected by Dr. Henry Acland, a leading figure in the establishment of the Museum. He obtained it through the Consul of Maderia in 1847 and its remarkable story was recorded in a historical review of the Museum Zoological collections (1976).
‘…the fish had been packed in salt and placed in an eight foot-long box addressed to ‘Dr Acland, Oxford’. During the voyage, the crew and passengers had become convinced that the box contained the corpse of a patient which in their superstitious minds was sufficient to account for the storm in the Bay of Biscay. The crew and passengers could not be convinced otherwise and Acland submitted to the opening of the ‘coffin’ by the ship’s carpenter, who unscrewed the lid before the assembled company, to reveal the tunny for all to see. It was eventually delivered to the Museum at Christ Church in perfect condition, the skeleton being later carefully articulated by Charles Robertson’.
Now classified as an endangered species, this Bluefin Tuna also has significant scientific, as well as historical importance. Our conservators will take this into account, ensuring that any treatment is carried out sensitively. To allow Museum visitors to watch conservation in action, the work will be carried out right in the Museum court. Bethany is looking forward to lots of conversations with the public about all things fishy!
Rachel Parle, Interpretation and Education Officer