Dippy the dinosaur replaced by Hope the whale
London’s Natural History Museum has just unveiled a blue whale skeleton in place of its famous diplodocus bones. Is it more important to focus on endangered rather than extinct animals?
He is a beloved national treasure who has charmed and awed generations of British children. He has inspired a popular book, starred in films from Paddington to Night at the Museum and gathered more than 2,000 followers on Twitter. But now Dippy the diplodocus is being evicted from the Hintze Hall of the Natural History Museum, where he has had pride of place since 1979.
The museum’s decision prompted outrage from the dinosaur’s many fans. Metro newspaper immediately set up an online petition to ‘Save Dippy’, attracting 1,000 followers within hours. All this despite the fact that Dippy is a fake: the cast is merely a replica of a 150 million-year-old dinosaur skeleton that is kept in Pittsburgh, USA.
When the original diplodocus was discovered, the media dubbed it ‘the most colossal animal’ ever to have lived. But they were wrong. Dippy’s replacement, a 25-metre-long skeleton of a blue whale, is more gargantuan still. Such a whale’s tongue alone can weigh as much as an elephant, and even newborn calves rank among the world’s largest animals. Moreover, unlike Dippy, this whale is no plaster cast, but a perfectly preserved and intricately arranged set of real bones.
Impressive aesthetics are not the whale’s only contribution: she will stand as a tangible reminder of the threats to our environment. Blue whales were driven to the brink of extinction in the 1960s by hunters, and this particular whale died after she was beached in a harbour after a hunter injured her.
A ban on whaling has since been put into place, but man’s irresponsible behaviour towards nature is still a massive threat to our ecosystem and species. The museum’s director says the new whale will help remind us of the scale of our responsibility to the planet, and that she will serve as a ‘poignant reminder’ that our choices can make a difference.
Dippy’s defenders argue that he has amazed and educated schoolchildren for generations, capturing the imagination of people who have flocked from far and wide to see him. Dinosaurs link us to a mysterious world that no longer exists and can rouse imaginations more than any living beast. They are as fantastical as mythical creatures like unicorns and dragons, only real — how can a glorified fish compare?
But why fixate on long-dead species, others ask, when the world of today is packed with the most wondrous and incredible animals that ever lived? Besides their spectacular size, whales are amazingly intelligent and can communicate across thousands of miles of ocean. We ought to start caring about this incredible animal before it goes the way of the diplodocus rather than when it is too late — and perhaps the museum’s decision will help.
- Would you rather see the skeleton of a blue whale or of a diplodocus?
- Can museums change our attitudes towards issues like conservation?
- Pick an animal you think should be displayed in the museum, and write a letter to the director justifying why. How could it raise awareness? Would visitors learn from it?
- Choose a dinosaur and an existing animal and write a fact file comparing the two. Which do you think is more impressive?
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Q & A
- What’s so special about a bunch of old bones?
- For a start, they’re beautiful and impressive! But fossils have great scientific value too. Without bones like those of Dippy, we wouldn’t even know that dinosaurs and other extinct animals existed.
- But what good is knowing about an animal that died millions of years ago?
- Learning about the creatures that existed in the past can help us to understand evolutionary history and learn where today’s species — including humans — came from. Dinosaurs hold a particular fascination because they disappeared so abruptly and mysteriously: many people who fear a similar fate for humans are fascinated about why this happened and what we can do to prevent the same sudden end for mankind.
- One of the most well-known dinosaurs, partly because of the abundance of remains archaeologists have discovered. Diplodocus lived about 150 million years ago (in the Jurassic Period) and was discovered in 1877. It was a herbivore, with a long neck, and a tail that could be flung around like a whip.
- The blue whale is the largest animal that has ever lived. It can weigh up to 200 tonnes, which is approximately the weight of 33 elephants. Its heart — the size of a Volkswagen Beetle — can be louder than a jet engine.
- A ban on hunting whales for commercial profit was introduced in 1986 by the International Whaling Commission, the body that regulates whaling.
- Research in recent years has found that whales don’t only have the ability to learn things themselves, but can also pass knowledge onto others, which is a very rare trait among animals.