Up close with the Fin whale at Cambridge Museum of Zoology

Visiting the Iconic Fin Whale at Cambridge Museum of Zoology

Last week I was privileged to get up close to the iconic Cambridge Museum of Zoology Fin Whale skeleton during its rehang.  The museum is currently closed for redevelopment but the Collections Manager Matt Lowe invited me down to see the whale in its final stages of restoration.  The whale’s new position is suspended from the ceiling of a new double height glass-walled building which will form the entry to the museum.  It has been cleaned and conserved and looks great. 

Up close with the Fin Whale at Cambridge Museum of Zoology

Up close with the Fin Whale at Cambridge Museum of Zoology

 I was able to get up close and personal to the skeleton (at a few points I had to be careful not to hit my head on bits of it!).  Nigel Larkin, a freelance conservator and reassembler of such things, kindly pointed out some of the interesting pathology visible on the skeleton particularly the breaks in the ribs which had healed.

Over a cup of tea in the department I was introduced to Dr Adrian Friday, retired Curator of Vertebrates, who last rehung the whale 20 years ago and as I had brought some of my whale textiles with me we all had an impromptu game of guess the species from the whale flipper skeleton! 

I have been fortunate and seen fin whales in various places (Shetland, North Atlantic. Gulf of St Lawrence) and although I appreciated they were large I never really got a sense of their size viewing them in the sea with no reference points for scale.  Standing under the skeleton at a point which would be inside the animal’s huge body I really got a sense of the enormity of the creature.  I can see why train loads of Victorian day trippers came to Norman’s Bay station to view the body when it was washed ashore at Pevensey Bay on the South Coast. 

Inside the Fin Whale at Cambridge Museum of Zoology

Inside the Fin Whale at Cambridge Museum of Zoology

I also reflected that the skeleton only tells part of the story of what the whale would have looked like alive.  Its sleek streamlined body, dark above and pale below, with a great tail not apparent at all in the skeleton.  The tail would be outside the building as it is now positioned, the huge flukes covering the beautiful reclaimed slate of the outer wall.

 There is still time to support the rehang of the skeleton

Raise the whale donation page-


This is my version of the fin whale flipper


I can’t wait for the museum to reopen next year.