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After being absent for nearly four years for intensive cleaning and conservation, the spectacular Humboldt fin whale specimen returns home to the Museum in a newly renovated gallery. The 63-foot-long specimen, which weighs more than 7,000 pounds, has been re-articulated to create a more realistic impression of the living animal. A sound installation and interactive visitor components accompany the display.
Originally acquired in 1926 from a whaling station in Humboldt County, California, the fin whale specimen was continuously exhibited in the Museum from 1944 through 2006, when it was removed to make way for the retrofit, restoration and renovation of the landmark 1913 Building (set to re-open in July 2010). The Humboldt fin whale specimen was sent for conservation at the famed fossil preparation house Phil Fraley Productions in New Jersey. Like the historic building that once housed it, the fin-whale skeleton has been thoroughly restored. Each of the 221 individual bones was meticulously cleaned and conserved. A new steel armature supports the completely assembled skeleton and a new sculpted tail fluke has been added.
Reaching lengths of up to 85 feet and weighing up to 80 tons, the fin whale is the second largest species of whale (the blue whale is the largest, measuring up to 100 feet). Despite their large size, fin whales are surprisingly fast swimmers, earning them the nickname of “greyhounds of the sea.” Fin whales feed on small shrimp-like animals called krill and on small schooling fish, consuming up to one ton of prey per day. Like other large whales, they were hunted for their meat, blubber, and the filtering structure in their mouths called baleen. They are still listed as an Endangered Species, but fin whales have been slowly increasing in number since commercial whaling was suspended in 1986.
Museum osteologist Eugene Fischer and field collector Howard Hill collected the skeleton of a fin whale in 1926 from the California Sea Products Company, a whaling station in Humboldt County, California. It took Museum staff several years to properly clean the bones, build a support armature and mount the skeleton for display. Finally, in 1944, the fully prepared fin whale skeleton was unveiled in the Museum’s North Hall, then known as the Modern Skeleton Gallery. It was continuously exhibited for more than 60 years.
There aren’t many fin whales exhibited, regionally, nationally or even worldwide. We believe our fin whale is one of the most complete and accurately mounted fin whales that exist. Making it even more special is the sculpted fluke (tail section) attached to our whale. Whale flukes are not bony and are not represented on mounted skeletons. Our fluke sculpture shows our visitors the graceful form and tremendous size of the structure that gives fin whales their powerful swimming strokes.