Nobody likes change, but when that change involves the retirement of one of the most iconic and beloved museum exhibits in the U.K, dissent can be rapid and loud. Such was the response to the news that the Natural History Museum in London plans to exchange it’s entrance hall display of a full-size plaster-cast diplodocus skeleton — affectionately known as “Dippy” — for a blue whale skeleton.
As the news was announced on Thursday, the internet came alive with dismay. The Twitter hashtag #savedippy quickly began to trend, and a petition protesting the move was launched, ironically, on Change.org. The vociferous nature of the negative reaction to the plan is due, in part, to the fact that Dippy has occupied the awe-inspiring, Victorian Hintze Hall since 1979 — which means it has provided a breath-taking welcome to an entire generation of museum visitors, who number over 5.4 million per year. This is the generation now in their mid-30s and above, often sharing the museum with their own children, and now incensed enough to take internet action.
— James Mayhew (@mayhewjames) January 29, 2015
The director of the Natural History Museum, Sir Michael Dixon, was not surprised by the less than enthusiastic reception to the plan, but explained the reasoning behind the move to the Telegraph.
“If I’m honest, there has been a concern about Dippy going. But a lot of people [don’t] realise that it is not actually a real dinosaur, whereas the whale will be the real thing, which I think is important.
“The story of the blue whale reminds us of the scale of our responsibility to the planet. This makes it the perfect choice of specimen to welcome and capture the imagination of our visitors, as well as marking a major transformation of the museum.”
The decision to make the switch reflects a desire to emphasise the real work of the museum, which impacts the world in real terms. Museum Director Sir Michael Dixon elaborated on this point to BBC News.
“Everyone loves Dippy, but it’s just a copy, and what makes this museum special is that we have real objects from the natural world – over 80 million of them – and they enable our scientists and thousands like them from around the world to do real research…Going forward, we want to tell these stories about the societally relevant research that we do.
“So, for example, our teams help the police with the forensic examination of crime scenes; we do projects that potentially could help feed nine billion people in 2050; and we also look at whether it’s possible to eradicate certain parasitic diseases in Africa. We’re not just nerdy guys who can identify every species of butterfly.”
The whale that will occupy the entrance hall is 25 meters long and is currently on display in the mammals gallery. It’s skeleton is present in its entirety and has belonged to the museum since 1891. This will be the first time this particular, prized specimen has featured in the entrance display, however, and its pose will be altered to create the impression that it is diving toward the main doors. Richard Sabin of the vertebrates division detailed its significance to BBC News.
“It’s a fantastically complete specimen. It’s also one of the largest of its kind on display anywhere in the world; and we know how it was killed and processed, and that’s quite rare.
“Just the act of moving it will be great for science, because we’ll scan every bone, and that means any researcher will be able to study it and even print 3D parts if they want to.”
The comments from those behind the move would indicate that the #savedippy campaign and associated petition will have little impact on the decision, since it is part of a museum-wide strategy to update the way the institution presents itself and its work to visitors. Dippy will almost certainly still be on display, however, but as part of what is anticipated to be a larger dinosaur exhibition — possibly in the Natural History Museum grounds. The suggestion of “Dippy on tour” has also been made — using the replica skeleton to bring much-needed publicity to regional museums, and to bring the iconic diplodocus to those around the U.K that might otherwise never have the chance to see it for themselves firsthand.
[Image via Google]