I love going to London – and one of the things I’ve always loved most about it is the Natural History Museum in South Kensington. Most times that I go to London, I try to make time to take a look round the NHM – usually starting with the dinosaur exhibit. It brings back good memories; walking into the massive entrance hall and seeing the Diplodocus skeleton erected there has always been like greeting an old friend.
“Dippy”, as the skeleton is called, is not an original skeleton but a plaster cast, mostly modelled after a skeleton of Diplodocus carnegii found in Wyoming at the end of the 19th century. The steel industrialist Andrew Carnegie, after whom the species is named, acquired the original bones for his Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh – but after no less than King Edward VII expressed an interest, Carnegie had a replica made for him. Dippy has resided in London since 1905, and stood in the NHM’s entrance hall since 1979.
Yesterday, when I learned that the Natural History Museum is planning to move Dippy out of the hall and replace it with their blue whale skeleton, I wasn’t terribly happy – and plenty of other people seem to be upset as well.
The concept art of the blue whale in the hall, even in its dynamic diving pose, looks somewhat lacking compared to Dippy. Dippy has become an icon, a symbol of the museum, and I suppose my feelings – and those of many people – are partly due to nostalgia. But Dippy has always been worthy to represent the Natural History Museum in this way. The museum’s various displays demonstrate both how diverse life on our planet is now, and how diverse it was in the past. The skeleton of a thirty-metre long animal, which is unlike anything that exists today, grabs your attention like little else can.
But at the same time, there is a strong argument for the blue whale. According to BBC News, the museum’s motivation for the change is that “the whale can better convey all the cutting-edge science conducted at the institution” – and you can’t deny the fact that, with all the manmade problems facing the world’s wildlife right now, the science focussed on conserving our present ecosystems should take priority over the study of past life, fascinating though that may be. So it’s not inappropriate to have an extant creature greeting visitors to the NHM – and when choosing just what creature to have there, it’s hard to top the biggest animal that has ever lived, which happens to be in need of conservation itself.
It’s a difficult one. Ultimately, my heart says #SaveDippy but my head says that change needs to happen sometime – and the blue whale deserves the spot as much as anything else. Hopefully it will be very impressive and inspiring once it’s actually there in 2017, and wherever Dippy ends up – on tour, or in a separate display – people will continue to appreciate it as much as they do now.