Humpback Whales (Megaptera novaeangliae (Borowski, 1781)) have made a number of breathtaking appearances in the news recently, producing headlines including: ‘Incredible picture shows moment humpback whale surfaces just THREE FEET from stunned kayaker’ (Mirror News, Aug 2013), or ‘Divers in near miss with humpback whales’ (BBC News, Jul 2013), similarly reported as ‘Take cover! The moment pair of unaware divers are almost swallowed by two 40-ton WHALES’ (YAHOO News, Jul 2013). Do take a look at the footage…
Kayaker’s close encounter with Humpback Whale (Caters News Agency, Mirror News, 2013)
Humpback Whale as originally on display at OUMNH (OUMNH 2012)
During the 19th century the skull of a Humpback Whale was presented to the Oxford University Museum of Natural History by Professor Eschricht of Copenhagen – a highly eminent scientist who lent his name to the endangered Grey Whale, Eschrichtius robustus (Malgosia Nowak-Kemp, Collections Manager).
Following years on display, the skull and detached mandibles were until recently in short-term storage, awaiting urgent conservation treatment. Having seen the video footage above, can you imagine the size and weight of the skull?! It is certainly a force to be reckoned with, and the limitations of human strength are to be respected! We therefore owe a big ‘thank you’ to our colleagues Bill Richey and Peter Johnson, who with their expert knowledge of moving precious, heavy loads, managed to transport the skull pieces into an open museum space, in preparation for us conservators to assess, treat and re-articulate the bones for display.
P. Johnson and B. Richey manoeuvring skull elements in place for treatment
Our ‘before treatment’ photos, stir a little anxiety in us about the challenge lying ahead, not only in chemical but also mechanical terms. We hope to report on our progress in a future blog entry.
Humpback Whale skull (a), upper (b,c) and lower (d,e) mandible elements
Close up of crack and oil patch on upper mandibles
Close up of breaks, delamination, holes and old wire repairs on rostrum extending from skull
See the gravity defying puzzle we have ahead of us?!
In the meantime, we leave you with a fun 5 minute activity for today:
How many words can you make using the letters from the words ‘Humpback Whale’?
‘Ready, steady, go!’
Gemma Aboe, Assistant Conservator