As soon as you set foot inside the Natural History Museum, you are greeted by some of the collection’s most amazing skeletons. Depending on which entrance you use, you will be met by one of two Natural History Museum highlights: Hope the blue whale, or Sophie the stegosaurus. Both are remarkably complete specimens that have allowed us to learn a huge amount about how they once lived.
Hope: the Natural History Museum Whale
Hope is the new centerpiece of Hintze Hall, the grand hall at the heart of the Natural History Museum. This was spot was previously held by the beloved Dippy the Diplodocus, who was installed in 1979. Dippy greeted generations of visitors to the Natural History Museum. But, after a last farewell tour of the UK in October 2020, she was due for retirement.
Hope was unveiled on July 14th, 2017. She is suspended from the ceiling, mouth gaping wide as if swimming down to swallow up anyone walking through the front doors. Hope’s name is a symbol for our ability to protect the environment in the future. Whales as a species were almost hunted to extinction before concentrated human effort began to put their numbers on the rise again. Thus; Hope.
What do we know about Hope?
She is a real skeleton taken from a young female blue whale that beached in Ireland in 1891. Although some whales live to be 100 years old, Hope may have been only 15 years old when she died. Despite her youth, she measures an incredible 25.2m, and her bones alone weigh 4.5 tonnes. Just imagine how much she must have weighed when she was alive! Blue Whales are the largest creatures to have ever lived on our planet, even bigger than any dinosaur or prehistoric creature.
Museum scientists have been able to work out Hope’s likely behaviour and travels by studying chemicals left behind in her baleen plates. Like your hair and nails, a whale’s baleen plates are made of keratin. Unlike any part of you though, their job is to filter out plankton from the seawater for the whale to eat. This means that unlike other mammals, whales don’t need to have teeth. Amazingly, scientists can also study whale ear wax to discover their age and hormone levels. Imagine your whole life dedicated to studying massive plugs of ear wax! It must be disgusting work — but important.
Sophie: One of the Natural History Museum’s Most Famous Dinosaurs
At the other entrance to the museum on Exhibition Road, you enter into the old Royal Geological Society building, where you’re greeted by Sophie the Stegosaurus. Found in Wyoming in the United States in 2004, this skeleton is by far the most complete one of its kind ever found.
Sophie’s bones are remarkably preserved in their original form, not crushed flat by millions of years of earth’s pressure. This means that the museum scientists have been able to 3D model and scan the whole skeleton to get an amazing picture of how Sophie could have moved. In truth, we have no way of knowing whether Sophie was female or male as no soft tissue survives. She gets her name from the daughter of the donor whose gift allowed the museum to buy this amazing piece!
These two skeletons are without a doubt some of the highlights of the Natural History Museum’s collection. However, since we’re talking about a museum with some 80 million specimens, there’s plenty more to see! Feeling overwhelmed and unsure about what to see at the Natural History Museum? A Natural History Museum treasure hunt with THATMuse will take you to the highlights of the collection, while injecting a bit of fun and competition for good measure.
If you can’t get there right now, check out the Natural History Museum category on our blog. We have plenty of posts about Natural History Museum highlights to keep you going!