Conservators in the making

Over the last couple of weeks our conservation team has been involved in the popular ‘Making Museums’ school project hosted between the Pitt Rivers Museum and Oxford University Museum of Natural History. Bethany, Nicola and I took turns to lead behind-the-scenes tours of our ‘whale aisle’, during which 10-11 year old pupils from East Oxford primary schools were introduced to ‘conservation’ as a wonderful museum profession.

Pupils learned about the importance of specimens to the museum and scientists, what affected the condition of the skeletons, how we conserved the whales, how and why whale anatomy differs between species and about what talents and special interests conservators bring to the profession.


Nicola Crompton demonstrating cleaning the Orca Whale (with ammonia) using a toothbrush

We loved seeing their eyes widen at the size of our enormous Sperm Whale mandible, their disgust at handling a ball of tar-like degraded whale oil, their bewilderment at the fact whales have floating pelvises, and their bemusement at whales having ‘hand’ bones.

Gemma Aboe

Gemma Aboe conveying the scientific importance of the Sperm Whale mandible (top), Beluga Whale (below)

While some pupils surprised us with their knowledge of the effects of corrosion, others challenged us with questions about provenance, and again others amused us with queries including ‘who would win a fight between a Bottlenose Whale and a Killer (Orca) Whale?’


Bethany Palumbo communicating conservation issues with the Bottlenose Whale

At the end of the tours, the pupils were thrilled to have joined the privileged ‘VIP club’ (as termed by a pupil) of lucky people who have seen the whale skeletons up close. We may have even planted a few seeds in some young minds about a potential career in conservation.

Only two weeks until project completion- watch this space!

Gemma Aboe, Assistant Conservator

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