Museum waves goodbye to iconic whale


By Martin Graham

THE massive form of the huge sea-mammal inspired awe and delight in the eyes of children for decades and offered many budding scientists their first glimpse of nature’s most impressive wonders.

But the famous blue whale which dominated the main hall of the Royal Museum of Scotland will not be displayed when the building re-opens in summer 2011.

The Royal Museum is undergoing a £46m refurbishment programme, and over two million exhibits have been catalogued, packaged and put into to safe storage while the work on the building continues.

The refurbishment will mean that the public spaces in the museum will increase by 50 per cent and there will be 16 new galleries.

But  bosses confirmed that one of the museum’s best known residents will not be returning for the grand opening.

A spokesman for the museum admitted: “The space previously occupied by the blue whale will be filled by a great array of mammals and animals from across the globe, some floor-mounted, others suspended in the gallery atria and viewable up close from the balconies above.

“Alongside this will be the spectacular cast of a T-Rex dinosaur.

“This new gallery will be an amazing feature and it is certain to become a firm favourite for future visitors.”

The 78-foot blue whale was found floating in the mouth of the Firth of Forth near Dunbar on 5 October 1831, and was towed to the shore at North Berwick where it was purchased by Robert and Frederick Knox.

It was then displayed in the museum from 1864 until 2008.

The whale will now be held in storage at the National Museums Collections Centre at Granton.

Another water feature, the carp ponds, will also be replaced by new exhibits.

Despite the disappointment many are bound to feel about the noticeable omission, bosses at the museum insist the revamp will be a big hit.

Dr Gordon Rintoul, Director of National Museums Scotland said: “The National Museum of Scotland is a much loved building and a treasure house for the nation.

“I am delighted that the project is going to plan and is on time and budget. It is tremendously exciting to see the transformation of the building take place.”

To pay for the refit, National Museums Scotland received £17.8m from the Heritage Lottery Fund and £16m from the Scottish Government.

This left £12.6 million to be raised through private philanthropic sources.

A donation of £1 million by Dr Walter Scott has taken the Museum through the £10 million mark, leaving less than £2 million to raise to reach the project target.

The museum is hoping to mirror the success of Kelvingrove Art Gallery in Scotland, which became the most visited museum in the UK outside of London when it re-opened after a refit in 2006.

Kelvingrove Museum and Art Gallery notched up three million visitors within 11 months of re-opening in July 2006.

A major feature of the new National Museum of Scotland will be a larger learning centre to help school groups get the most out of their visits and to interpret the exhibits.