Whales whisper in the dark

In this blog entry we give you a sneak preview showcasing atmospheric film stills taken while documenting conservation work on the whales by freelance film maker Robert Rapoport.

Robert is completing a PhD at Oxford University (Ruskin School of Drawing and Fine Art) focusing on film theory. Inspired by our blog, he contacted us with the prospect of producing a short film, highlighting the ‘poetic fusing of craft and science’ that takes place during conservation.

We present you with two collages made of Robert Rapoport’s film stills:

collage1_small

Images feature conservators Bethany Palumbo and Nicola Crompton

collage2_small

Images feature conservators Bethany Palumbo and Nicola Crompton

In a future blog entry, we hope to share Robert’s film with you- we can’t wait to see it ourselves 🙂

Acknowledgements:
We wish to thank Robert Rapoport for kindly sharing his time, expertise, vision and images with us!

Gemma Aboe, Assistant Conservator

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Whales making waves

Yesterday BBC Radio Oxford interviewed Bethany Palumbo, Conservator of Life Sciences at OUMNH about our ‘Once in a Whale’ project. Do listen to the broadcast online, before it runs out in 6 days!                    http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p01fp8r2

Malcolm Boyden’s interview with Bethany lasts 14 minutes- select ‘1:06min’ to listen in on their chat about the whales, the museum renovation, Bethany’s experiences of being a conservator and more!

BBC Oxford 2013

BBC Oxford screenshot 2013

Project update
As we enter into the last 5 weeks on the whale conservation project, we are pressing ahead with re-articulating the skeletons with new screw fixings and stainless steel wire (- our hands end up looking like we had a fight with a sharp clawed cat).

Bottlenose Whale before and during treatment

Bottlenose Whale before and during treatment

Bottlenose Whale ribcage before and during treatment

Bottlenose Whale ribcage and sternum before and during treatment

We’ve also been meeting with professional riggers, who once the main scaffolding has been de-assembled, will raise the cetacean skeletons into their NEW positions- watch this space!

Our next blog entry may give you a sneak preview showcasing atmospheric film stills taken while documenting conservation work on the whales by freelance film maker Robert Rapoport.

Rr screenshot 2013

Rr screenshot 2013

Gemma Aboe, Assistant Conservator

Humpback Whale ahead!

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, 2013)

Kayaker’s close encounter with Humpback Whale (Caters News Agency, Mirror News, 2013)

Humpback Whale as originally on display at OUMNH (OUMNH 2012)

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

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 mandible

Close up of crack and oil patch on upper mandibles

Close up of breaks, delamination, holes and old wire repairs

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