By Monica Tarca
I find it quite hard to make an introduction about blue whales and whale conservation for this short article without getting too emotional. Writing about Hope, the gigantic blue whale skeleton from the Natural History Museum in London felt like a mandatory mission after my visit.
My childhood was full of stories and documentaries about these leviathanic gentle creatures, the largest known to have ever lived on our planet, surpassing in size even the biggest dinosaurs from the distant past.
Sublime, legendary and mysterious, blue whales tell a glorious story of over 44 million years of evolution. Their story is vast, exciting and inspiring. As told by Sir David Attenborough in a short audio introduction for the Natural History Museum in London, blue whales had ancestors with 4 legs and warm blood that lived on land, but later took to the seas and evolved into various species.
To highlight the importance of conservation measures, especially after all the efforts put in since the mid 1960s, when whale hunting brought down the number of specimens to an alarming 400 (a crisis solved after the urgent ban on commercial whaling) and to offer new insights into what losing the largest species on Earth would mean, in 2017, the Natural History Museum in London moved the impressive skeleton of a young blue whale in Hintze Hall, the museum’s largest gallery, in an attempt to show visitors a crucial symbol of wildlife emergency.
As soon as you enter the museum, you will immediately be carried away by its centerpiece and greatest star, the first thing you’ll see before any other mammals, dinosaurs or meteorites: the impressive 25-metre real skeleton of Hope, a female blue whale that roamed the seas more than a century ago and was stranded off the coasts of Ireland.
In spite of all controversy, I believe that the choice to replace Dippy, a fake resin cast of a diplodocus skeleton was an excellent way to place focus on contemporary issues that threaten the natural world and reveal the importance of protecting our planet. Hope is a story of responsibility, sustainability and love for conservation. Because the whale population increased from 400 to 20.000 following the ban on whale hunting from 1966.
As Richard Sabin explained in the same audio introduction mentioned above, Hope is among the most meaningful of the 80 million specimens collected by this museum, and the curators decided to display it with its mouth open, in a diving position that reflects the remarkable way it feeds.
The whale seems to have had a tragic story though: after being beached off the coasts of Ireland and struggling to get back into the waters after a low tide accident, a sailor named Ned Wickham created a rudimentary harpoon and managed to end her sufferings. The meat and blubber were sold, and the enormous skeleton was bought by the Natural History Museum for 250 pounds and hung for decades in the Mammals gallery.
After the unveiling of Hope in 2017 in Hinze Hall, millions of visitors like myself had a better view of this massive creature in all its glory. Apart from the impressive size and artistic display, it continues to inspire hope and urgent action for a healthy planet.
Monica works as a writer and translator, and is a passionate researcher of pop-culture, anthropology and cinema. In her spare time she also enjoys toy photography and often searches for old Japanese art toys to enlarge her collection. She also loves to discover monsters from old movies, folk tales, myths and legends of various cultures.