Cambridgeshire

Whale skeleton rebuilt at Cambridge University museum

Whale skeleton
Image caption The whale has been re-hung in a specially-built Whale Hall at the museum

A giant whale skeleton dismantled and put into storage for three years during a museum refurbishment has been put back together, bone by bone.

The 70ft (21m) finback arrived at Cambridge University's Zoology department 150 years ago, after washing up dead on a Sussex beach.

It was taken down from display when the Museum of Zoology closed in 2013 for a £4m makeover.

Re-assembling and re-hanging the whale took two people about four weeks.

The finback (Balaeonoptera physalus) - the second largest species after the blue whale - is thought to have weighed about 80 tonnes, the equivalent of eight double-decker buses, when it was alive.

Image copyright University of Cambridge
Image caption The finback whale skeleton arrived at Cambridge University's Zoology Museum in 1866.

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It washed up in Pevensey Bay on 14 November, 1865, after a storm.

Image copyright RJ Smith
Image caption Thousands of people made a special journey to see the whale when it washed up on the beach
Image copyright Museum of Zoology, Cambridge
Image caption The Pevensey Bay whale was still drawing crowds when it was a skeleton

The mammal was sold at auction for £38 to 10 local fisherman who cut it up under the guidance of William Henry Flower, conservator of the Museum of the Royal College of Surgeons.

Mr Flower told Cambridge University about the "magnificent skeleton", and the department bought it, finally putting it on public display 30 years later.

Image caption Putting the massive mammal back together took "a lot of labour", the museum said.
Image caption The whale's last rib was put in place earlier

For years it took centre-stage, dwarfing the museum's four million other specimens, including the skeleton of a Dodo and many animals collected by naturalist Charles Darwin.

However, it was consigned to storage boxes for three years until being put back together and re-hung in a new glass display area.

Image copyright Museum of Zoology, Cambridge
Image caption The whale had been on display at Cambridge University's Zoology Museum since 1896

Putting it back together took "a lot of patience, a lot of effort and a lot of labour", collections manager Matt Lowe said.

"It's really iconic, it's 150 years old - exactly the same age as the museum itself," he added.

Whale-watchers will be able to appreciate the whale's sheer scale when the museum reopens to the public next summer.

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