Hope, the skeleton of a 20 year old blue whale, has replaced “Dippy” the diplodocus at the grand entrance of London’s Natural History Museum (NHM).
To prepare Hope for her pride of place in Hintze Hall, NHM conservationists have used 3D printing to replace some of her fragile bones.
She is now exhibited as a symbol of the environmental impact humans have on the world’s oceans, marking the start of a new era for the museum which is undergoing the first major renovation since it was established in 1881.
3 years in the making
Introducing a 25.2 metre long whale skeleton to Hintze Hall is the result of around 3 years of work by a specialist team of conservationatists at the NHM.
When removed from her original spot in the museum’s mammals gallery, the team took 3D scans of Hope’s bones to create a 3D model.
Determined to create the most awe-inspiring arrangement of the whale’s bones, deciding upon the position was not easy. Lorraine Cornish, Head of Conservation at the NHM explains,
Hope is the only blue whale skeleton in the world to be hung in the diving lunge feeding position. Suspending such a large, complex and historical specimen from a Victorian ceiling was always going to be challenging, but we were determined to show her in as lifelike position as possible and we are thrilled that the result is truly spectacular.
The digital files were used to virtually plan the appropriate positioning of Hope, and then to create a 3D printed scale model of how she should be suspended.
3D printing for conservation
Conservation treatment of the bones was performed to ensure that the skeleton could stay in position at Hintze Hall indefinitely.
Some fragile bones also had to be replaced, for which the museum used 3D printing techniques. Head conservator Lorraine Cornish adds,
Whilst working on the 221 bones we uncovered past conservation treatments, such as the use of newspaper in the 1930s to fill the gaps between the vertebrae, and we were able to use new methods for the first time, including 3D printing a small number of bones missing from the right flipper.
Highlighting an international concern
Hope was first introduced to the museum’s collection in 1891 after she was found beached in Wexford, Ireland. Far from an isolated incident, the nature of her discovery is the subject of increasing concern for the condition of oceans around the globe.
One of the most recent mass beaching incidents was reported in February 2017, on which Farewell Spit in Golden Bay NZ was awash with dozens of whale carcasses. Since 1840, the Department of Conservation has reported that over 5,000 whales and dolphins have been found beached on the shores of New Zealand alone. Such incidents are one of the areas the NHM hopes to highlight with the exhibition of Hope the Whale.
Inspiring a love of the natural world
“Putting our blue whale, Hope, at the centre of the Museum, between living species on the West and extinct species on the East, is a powerful reminder of the fragility of life and the responsibility we have towards our planet” said Sir Michael Dixon, Director of the Natural History Museum. He continues,
We are living at a critical point in the history of the Earth. This generation’s decisions will have an unprecedented impact on the world we live in. It is within the grasp of humanity to shape a future that is sustainable, and now more than ever we want our galleries and exhibitions to inspire a love of the natural world, and our scientific expertise to inform solutions to the big, global challenges we face.
3D printing has proved to be an important part of conservation projects designed to share knowledge of world history. The British Museum in London has used the technology to reproduce the skull of a man that lived between 8200 and 7500 BC.
Featured image: Hope the Whale suspended from the ceiling of Hintze Hall. Photo via the Natural History Museum, London