At the Museum of London Docklands, a 52-feet long, headless whale skeleton of a North Atlantic right is on a temporary exhibit in Canary Wharf on Thursday. The skeleton of whale will exhibit at the Museum of London till September 14 after that it will be moved for further analysis to the Natural History Museum.
The skeleton was found during digging work at Bay Wharf in Greenwich. The headless sea beast is about the length of two Hackney cabs and weighs 500kg (78st). As per Archaeologists, the gigantic skeleton is of 17th or 18th Century or more than 200 years old 17-metre-long whale. It is believed that whale was died three centuries ago and it is biggest single object ever discovered on an archeological dig in the capital. According to the Museum of London’s senior curator of archaeology, Frances Grew, ‘To find a near-complete skeleton is quite rare’.
The remains of the colossal creature, buried two meters beneath the earth, also disclose how the animal was slaughtered for its valuable oils and bones, a common game from the period, using its resources for fuel and lighting. The Greenwich area used to be a base for whaling fleets that combed the far north of the Atlantic searching for just quarry. Zoologists got help in analyzing how long-term commercial whaling has affected whale evolution and survival from the discovery, which go on display at the Museum of London Docklands for six days from next Wednesday. The Natural History Museum planned DNA tests which will help to compare the genetic diversity of North Atlantic right whale populations centuries ago with that found today.
The London whaling industry peaked approximately 1785, when 78 out of 140 British whaling vessels were based in the Greenwich area. This particular creature would have yielded around 12 tonnes of whalebone and more than 11,000 litres of whale oil. Whale oil was used to light houses and streets, as well as for processing wool, and would have sold for between £20 and £40 per thousand litres. Whalebone (technically baleen, composed of keratin, the substance fingernails and hair are made from) was used to make umbrellas, ladies’ corsets, horse saddles and harnesses and even springs for horse-drawn carriages.
Richard Sabin, Senior Curator of Mammals at the Natural History Museum, said: ‘We are very excited about this as it is in such good condition and so intact. People from all over the world will be able to study it. I think would have been about 70 years old – in advanced age – because we’ve detected some signs of disease on the bones. ‘Once it’s at the Natural History Museum we will be able to extract DNA so we’ll have a more accurate age then, and we will also be able to determine the sex as well. The North Atlantic right whale was a very slow-moving, visible mammal so could be harpooned easily by whalers. It’s now virtually extinct in the east Atlantic so that’s another reason this is such a find’.
Project Manager at Pre-Construct Archaeology Ltd, Tim Bradley said: ‘When the archaeologist on site phoned me to say that he had found a whale I thought he was joking. As archaeologists we’re used to reacting to unexpected finds, but the size and location of the whale on the tidal foreshore made recovery particularly challenging – among other things it broke the suspension on our van. ‘We’re very excited to have made such exceptional discovery.’
Pictures of 200 year old whale skeleton: