Whales vs. Dinosaurs? - Great Whale Conservancy

THE INDEPENDENT Friday 30 January 2015
Fight at the museum over ‘dosh for dinosaur’ move
Backlash against
plan to replace
‘Dippy’ exhibit
with giant blue
whale skeleton
Tom Bawden
Environment editor
The Natural History Museum
was forced to deny that it is
removing Dippy the dinosaur
from its main entrance hall to
raise more money from corporate events yesterday, as an
online campaign was launched
to save the skeleton.
Dippy will be replaced by
the giant skeleton of a blue
whale in 2017. Crucially, the
whale will be suspended from
the hall’s ceiling, freeing up
floor space.
Among those shocked at
the decision were the author
and illus­trator James Mayhew, whose children’s book
Katie and the Dinosaurs was
inspired by Dippy.
“It’s a real shame and I can’t
grasp the reason why they
would want to do it. I remember my first time going up to
London to the museum as a
kid – it was very inspiring,” he
told The Independent.
Kids need
to be aware
of living
Ditch Dippy
Dippy is
the stuff of
Save Dippy
‘Dippy’, the resin cast of a fossilised diplodocus, has stood in the main hall of the Natural History Museum since 1979 reu ters
As a kid I was fascinated by
the notion that fantastic
creatures once roamed the
Earth. I fully appreciate the
awe children experience
today when they stand before
the skeleton of a 28m reptile.
But the impact of my visits
to the Franklin Institute in
Philadelphia paled when I
saw my first real whale. It
raised its head out of the
water a few metres away and
stared at me – for a long time.
This creature was also
huge by any standard and
its kind had also been living
on our planet for millions
of years, but this was no
dinosaur with a walnut-sized
brain. She was a sentient
being, as curious about me as
I was about her.
We are finally beginning to
understand the ­magnitude of
our role and ­responsibility in
our planet’s evolution.
For example, in less than a
hundred years, whalers took
millions of Great Whales out
of the ocean. Blue Whales,
the largest animals to have
ever lived on Earth, were
reduced from about 350,000
individuals to the 10,000 or
so alive today.
But the toll of whaling
on our planet may have
been greater than we ever
­imagined: without the Great
Whales (and their pee and
poop), large areas of the
oceans lost a major source of
iron and nitrogen, nutrients
required by phytoplankton
for photosynthesis.
Without phytoplankton
the population of zooplankton surely declined. And as
it happens, phytoplankton
is the largest sequester of
carbon dioxide on Earth and
produces half of the oxygen
we need to survive.
Dinosaurs will continue
to inspire our children. But
our kids also need to be
exposed to and inspired by
the ­wonders alive today.
I remember very well the
day I first set eyes on Dippy.
It was would have been the
early 90s, I was about seven
years old and on one of my
first trips to London.
On the way my friend
­Steve’s mum raised our
expectations with an impossible story about a dinosaur
the size of your house that
was kept in the hall of the
Natural History Museum.
I was pretty sure she
was having us on. But of
course, she wasn’t. I wish I
could remember the exact
moment we walked into
the museum, but it’s gone.
Perhaps the grown-up mind
can’t ­conceive of awe on
that scale. I can only assume
my reaction was similar to
Sam Neill’s in Jurassic Park
– “It’s… a dinosaur!”
So it was with a genuine,
pit-of-the-stomach sadness
that I learned Dippy is to be
retired. To my seven-yearold self and to countless
other children he was more
than just a bunch of giant
bones. The sight of this great
exotic beast from another
age, standing incongruously
in a place that looked like
a cathedral, is the stuff of a
childhood fantasy story. I
remember reaching out to
touch the bones (when I still
thought they were bones) and
the thrill of thinking that I
had come into direct contact
with another world.
That was a world much
more interesting than a suburban childhood, and I think
it must have fired an appetite
for broader horizons, and a
sense of respect and awe for a
natural world that stretched
back so much further than I,
my parents, my grandparents
or the entire human race
could remember.
I’m sure the museum will
go from strength-to-strength
without Dippy.
But for my seven-year-old
self, I’m still very sad.
The author is campaign
­director of the Great Whale
“It’s a very clear, recognisable shape and a real symbol of
the museum, whereas a whale
skeleton is hard to decipher.”
In response to rumours that
the move was designed to
boost its coffers by increasing
lucrative event space in the
hall, the museum released its
own financial analysis.
“Moving the central specimen and suspending it from
the ceiling would only make
space for three extra tables at
a seated dinner, a 4 per cent
increase on the current 71-table
total,” a spokesman said.
“We are moving the diplodocus because after 30 years
we want to tell our visitors a
different story when they first
enter the building that better
reflects our role as a leading
research institute and top UK
visitor attraction,” he added.
Not that the museum
is uninterested in making
money from its entrance
hall, which changed its name
to Hintze Hall last May,
after the hedge-fund manager Sir Michael Hintz made a
­donation of £5m.
And at £22,000 a day, it is
one of London’s most costly
corporate venues, recently
hosting the Scottish Exhibition and Conference Centre’s
annual Dram’n’Banter Burns