Dolphinished with a sparkling silver medal

A quick update on the Museums and Heritage Awards, we didn’t win our category however the project was awarded ‘Highly Commended’ and we are so pleased with the result. We even received a certificate on the night! With just under 10,000 hits to date, we’d like to say a big thank you to everyone who has visited this blog in the past year, especially those who have shared advice, support and encouragement from across the globe. Thank you!


Baleen at the Ball

The whales suspended for all to see

The whale aisle once more open to the public

It is with much happiness (and a lot of satisfaction) we can announce that the ‘Once in a Whale’ project has been shortlisted for a Museums and Heritage Award for Excellence 2014, in the ‘Restoration or Conservation’ category. The glitzy ceremony is to be held at 8 Northumberland Avenue in London on May 14th 2014. We will be competing with some other amazing projects, including the Staffordshire Hoard Conservation Outreach Programme and the Mary Rose Trust. We are extremely grateful for the opportunity and feel that even to be shortlisted is a huge accomplishment for our little project. With thanks to the Museums and Heritage show, details of which can be found here:

Project Conservators: Nicola Crompton, Gemma Aboe and Bethany Palumbo

Project Conservators: Nicola Crompton, Gemma Aboe and Bethany Palumbo

We’d also like to thank the Arts Council England for the Preservation of Industrial and Scientific Material (PRISM) grant that allowed our project to even happen in the first place! We’ll let you know the outcome of the award ceremony in our next post.

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Into the Light


With the whales safely installed back in the roof space, it was time to throw open our doors and finally open to the public. The specimens are now in size order and are staggered in their distance from the ground. Each has its own spotlight, resulting in an impressive display, especially once darkness falls outside. These photos show the specimens in their final resting place. February 15th saw our ‘Dawn til Dusk’ re-opening event, where Bethany and I conducted short tours of the whale aisle to the general public (we were amazed to find a few of which were keen followers of this blog!)

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As mentioned in previous our blog entry ‘Whales whisper in the dark’, our project was the feature in a piece by free-lance film maker Robert Rapoport. He describes the film: ‘Whales spend a good part of their lives under conditions hard for us to imagine, much less represent. In April 2013 the whale skeletons, seen behind you, were lowered from the roof space, where they had hung for 150 years. After six months the whales re-emerged from the restoration process as more accurate representations of what they once were. This film abstracts what was a very complex process, offering an expanded set of associations along the way. It is also a tribute to the very human side of this scientific resurrection’

Thank you Robert for putting this together for us! You can watch it on a loop in the museum if you can’t get enough.

Nicola Crompton, Conservation Intern
Bethany Palumbo, Conservator of Life Collections

Whales On Film

These stunning film stills were taken in collaboration with artist and film-maker Jessica Rinland who joined us in the Whale Aisle to document the ‘Once in a Whale’ project.

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Jessica graduated in Fine Art from Central Saint Martins, London, and approached us to gather material for her work, which has an ongoing theme of whale biology and their impact on her as an artist.

‘In 2011 I encountered a stranded whale on the shores of Pegwell Bay, Kent. Struck by the immensity of the mammal, the spectacle that it created, and the scientists that were performing the visible necropsy, I began to investigate the reasons why they strand. The elusive truth behind the behaviour of these creatures, difficult to discern through theories that often seem as outlandish as folk law, has become the subject of my current body of work.’

The nature of Jessica’s analogue work (see the stills below) is something we were really excited to be involved in, it’s wonderful as conservators to see the preservation of traditional methods of film-making.

‘I like the discipline of having one roll of 100ft and having to pay attention to what is going on around me, choosing moments, rather than continuous shooting. And the delay from shooting to watching back the footage allows me time to evaluate my memory of the moment before seeing what I captured.

A great analogy is that film is like painting with oils and digital is like painting with acrylics – someone else said that but it’s pretty accurate. They are two different mediums that both have their negative and positive traits.’


We wish to thank Jessica Rinland for involving us in her work, and we will look forward to sharing her film with you.

Also, if you’re interested in seeing Jessica’s work, there is an event at the London Review Bookshop on February 12th 2014.

Nicola Crompton, Conservation Intern

The Whales’ Tale


This week, the ‘whale aisle’ was invaded by a hoard of riggers and scaffolders, constructing a safe and simple means to transfer the specimens into their new positions in the gallery.


Not moving too far, the specimens are now in size order and are staggered, taking advantage of the vast roof space. The Northern Bottlenose Whale is now at the highest level (7 meters up!) and the Dolphin at the lowest. This new positioning meant transporting the Orca, Beluga and Dolphin out of the aisle on wheels, and then returning them to their new locations, ready to be hoisted.



As a parting gift we made each specimen an engraved acrylic sign. This included updated taxonomic information and a contemporary, larger font to keep with the museum’s new visual identity. To further engage visitors, we provided all information on both sides of the panel. We also used this opportunity to take photomicrographs of the bone and cartilage for our records.

Nicola Crompton taking  photomicrographs of the Dolphin

Nicola Crompton taking photomicrographs of the Dolphin

Due to the movement and handling of the specimens, a few final adjustments were needed once the whales were settled into their desired positions.


Bethany Palumbo adds finishing touches to the Dolphin

Bethany Palumbo adds finishing touches to the Dolphin

A big thank you to Outback Rigging, Alan & Foxworthy Scaffolding Services and Beard Construction for their help with this memorable event. We look forward to sharing more photos with you next week to see the pod in their new home.

Nicola Crompton, Conservation Intern
Bethany Palumbo, Conservator of Life Collections

Secrets of Bones

Although the conservation of our whale specimens has drawn to a close, there’s still a hub of activity in the ‘whale aisle’. This week, we had an opportunity to finally uncover the Sperm Whale mandible as it was featured in a new BBC Nature Series, ‘Secrets of Bones’. To see the specimen for the first time, under natural light without the shelter of scaffolding was a real delight.


The conservation team was eager to oversee the action and learn about the process of putting a documentary together. Ben Garrod, evolutionary biologist, used the museum specimens to look at the evolution of the mandible and its diversity in nature.  The beautiful Sperm Whale jaw is an excellent example of this.


The series will be televised in February 2014, and we’re excited to see if we made it on-screen!

The re-installation of the remaining skeletons is expected to happen in 2 weeks and we will be sure to blog the experience.

Nicola Crompton, Conservation Intern
Bethany Palumbo, Conservator of Life Collections