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The Famous Thames Whale Goes on Display at the Natural History Museum at Tring
The Thames Whale Story. © The Natural History Museum, London.

HERTFORDSHIRE.- The latest temporary exhibition at the Natural History Museum at Tring, The Thames Whale Story, opens on the 22 January. The exhibition marks the five-year anniversary of the now-famous northern bottlenose whale that found its way into the River Thames. Following the dramatic three days in which the whale swam up the Thames, explore how it got there from its home miles away in the North Atlantic, what happened to the skeleton after the failed rescue attempt and how important it is to science today.

From the moment it was spotted in the Thames on 19 January 2006, the whale captured the public’s imagination. At six metres long, it was unmissable, and the female whale’s every move was followed by the public and the media. Despite rescue efforts, the whale died on 21 January as it was being taken back out to sea on a barge. This northern bottlenose whale was the first of its species to be seen in the river since Museum scientists began recording strandings around our coastline almost 100 years ago.

The whale’s skeleton was preserved and has joined the Natural History Museum collections, where it is studied by scientists and available for international researchers. Richard Sabin, Senior Curator of Mammals at the Natural History Museum explained, ‘Scientists from all over the world will use this specimen for research. Gaining new specimens, like this one, is very important to modern science to find out more about how the world is developing and changing.’

Alice Dowswell, Learning and Interpretation Manager at the Natural History Museum at Tring said, ‘Having this enormous skeleton and other extraordinary specimens from our collections on display gives our visitors a great insight into how specimens are added to the collections and how valuable they are to our science and research.’

Accompanying the exhibition are a range of family activities, including a skeleton puzzle, a game explaining how scientists prepare specimens for the Museum’s collection and another game uncovering what we can learn from samples taken from specimens. In addition there are two free gallery trails – one for under sevens and one for over sevens.

Northern bottlenose whale – Hyperoodon ampullatus

• Males grow up to 10 metres long.
• Females grow up to 8.6 metres long.

• Up to 7,500 kilogrammes.

• The beak is moderately long, robust and tube-like. It is white on males but grey on females.

• The dorsal fin is relatively small at around 30 centimetres high and is set far back on the body. It is sickle-shaped and usually has a pointed tip.

• The pectoral flippers are small and blunt.

• The forehead is bulbous and is particularly prominent in males.

• Only the males that have teeth – a single pair found at the tip of the lower jaw.

• The body is mid- to dark-grey or brown above and paler underneath.

• The northern bottlenose whale is found in the North Atlantic in cool and sub-arctic waters.

• They prefer deep water and can dive to depths of up to 1,400 metres.

• The average dive time is around 10 minutes, but they are capable of remaining underwater for one to two hours.

• The total population is unknown, but has been estimated at around 40,000.

Specimens and collections
• The Natural History Museum has more than 3,000 whale and dolphin specimens in its research collection.

• The Museum has specimens representing 85 per cent of all known whale and dolphin species.

• The oldest specimens were collected more than 400 years ago.

• Specimens have been collected from all over the world.

• Scientists from across the globe use the collection for research.

• Having a wide variety of specimens is very important to be able to compare changes across time periods and geographical areas.

• Scientists use the Museum’s collections to try to find out more about animals to understand how human activity might affect them or their habitat.

• Collections are important because the more we know about how animals live, the better we may be able to protect them from problems like pollution.

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