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Story of iconic Tullie House whale set to inform whole museum sector

Final installed whale

The tale of the twelve metre Fin Whale which was installed in Tullie House Museum and Art Gallery has been published in the annual Natural Sciences Collections Association Journal.

The 12 metre long juvenile Fin Whale skeleton, known as Driggsby, was installed in Tullie House Museum in January 2018. The specimen was washed up on the West Coast near Drigg in February 2014 and represents a very rare find for Cumbria and is significant in terms of its completeness and juvenile status.

Now the tale of this unique and exciting project, which involved more than four years of collaboration, has been published in the annual Natural Sciences Collections Association (NatSCA) Journal, making the project and what was learnt available to other museum professionals across the sector.

Even though there are several other whale skeleton displays in the UK, this project stood out for a number of reasons.

Volunteers documenting bones summer 2016

Tullie House Curator Dr Simon Jackson and first author of the paper comments: “The combination of the conservation challenges the team faced working on such a fresh specimen, the highly dynamic posture of the whale which was attained, and the significant amount of collaboration with the community and other organisations make this project unique.”

The Fin Whale was discovered off Driggsby (credit Cumbria Wildlife Trust) February 2014

The article, partly titled “Driggsby the Fin Whale’s Museum Ecosystem” is a nod to the large number of people Tullie House worked with in order to make this project a reality. Dr. Jackson adds, “I am delighted to see this paper published as it emphasises the power of collaboration and what can be achieved by people from different sectors working together; for instance, working with specialists such as the conservator and second author Mr Nigel Larkin was crucial to the success of the project. Moreover, the project also embodies the spirit of Tullie House’s recent Manifesto – working with the community.”

The wider community has been a central feature in the whole process, with close ties being established with Muncaster Estate who facilitated collection of the specimen, Carlisle Natural History Society and the public who got to choose the name Driggsby. More recently work has been done with Drigg Parish where the whale was discovered, to develop and deliver sessions for schools.

Recovery of the carcass August 2014

In time Driggsby the Fin Whale may become a new icon in Carlisle and Cumbria. However, perhaps more importantly, its story and the collaborations it has fostered between individuals and organisations may become a case study to learn from. It is not known how Driggsby died; but the hand of humans is certainly suspect. As our impact on the environment increases year-on-year it is highly feasible that we will have more dead whales washed up on our coastlines. Which museum will find and mount the next “Driggsby”?

The preserved skeleton of Driggsby and the story behind its display can be found right now at Tullie House Museum & Art Gallery in Carlisle.

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