Over the last two years BBC Two’s science strand Horizon has been behind-the-scenes at London’s Natural History Museum, following the replacement of the iconic ‘Dippy the Dinosaur’ skeleton cast with the real skeleton of a blue whale – the world’s biggest animal – positioned hanging in a lunge diving pose.
Narrated by Sir David Attenborough, special one off film, Dippy And The Whale, follows the teams involved in one of the world’s most unique engineering challenges.
Replacing Dippy is brave and bold – it’s the first thing visitors see when they enter the grand Hintze Hall – but the Natural History Museum is changing and the installation of the colossal Blue Whale skeleton is the start of a new chapter. The largest animal ever to have lived, blue whales were driven to the brink of extinction by hunting and were the first species humans decided to save, telling an inspiring story of hope for the natural world.
In this special BBC Two programme viewers are taken behind the scenes to follow this super-sized challenge and discover just how you move the biggest skeletons on earth. The team of museum conservators and engineers take on the mammoth task of renovating the hall where Dippy is taken apart bone by bone, ready for his tour of the country – and then prepare for the enormous challenge of getting the whale ready to go on display – all without closing the museum to the public.
From her mysterious beaching in Ireland back in 1881, the film traces the descendants of Ned Wickham (the man who found her), looking inside his diaries as he first reported his find. Viewers are also taken into the museum’s secret vaults as we follow:
Lorraine Cornish, the museum’s Head of Conservation who has over 36 years of experience and is responsible for cleaning and caring for every one of the whale’s 220 bones.
Richard Sabin, the Vertebrates Collection Manager, who is tasked with ensuring the whale is even more inspiring than Dippy, and who suggests hanging the skeleton it in the lunge feeding pose.
Jennifer Flippance, the Project Manager for the move, who is responsible for ensuring that the museum is ready for the whale’s grand unveiling on 13 July 2017.
We also meet the engineering team who built the dinosaurs for Jurassic Park – but this time they’re behind the gigantic steel structure that will hold the whale together.
Replacing Dippy with a 126 year-old blue whale specimen is a story that goes beyond science and engineering. With the day of the dinosaur behind us, the museum is looking to the future and concentrating on saving the species we have on the earth today.
Horizon: Dippy And The Whale airs Thursday 13 July 2017 from 9.00pm-10.00pm on BBC Two.