By Kerry Law
Recent visitors to the Natural History Museum will have noticed that ‘Dippy’ the dinosaur, who has greeted millions over the years, is no more. Taking his place in the cavernous entrance hall is a magnificent blue whale skeleton sweeping down from the ceiling. This is the museum reminding us all of the beauty, and fragility, of the natural world in the 21st century.
This is the museum reminding us all of the beauty, and fragility, of the natural world in the 21st century.
If your little ones are fascinated with ocean creatures, and have been mesmerised by the wonderful Blue Planet II on TV recently, here’s something to nurture that love of marine life. Family-friendly exhibition Whales: Beneath the Surface, which reveals the extraordinary lives of aquatic mammals, is on now and runs until 28 February 2018. Over 100 exhibits from the Natural History Museum’s collections have been brought together to track the evolution of whales, dolphins and porpoises, starting from 50 million years ago to how they breed, eat and socialise today.
Firstly, stepping into the exhibition is like taking a deep breath before going underwater: it is soft and quiet compared to the hectic bustle outside, and watery blue rippled lighting adds to the calming effect. There are several real whale skeletons on display that illustrate just how enormous some of these creatures are. Jawbones, flippers and vertebrae of blue whales, humpbacks and belugas are a sight to behold, as are the (slightly gruesome but still fascinating) jars of the preserved lungs and heart of a killer whale.
One animation reveals how dolphins can hold their breath underwater for a staggering 90 minutes, while a film shows how scientists can age a whale carcass by inspecting its ear wax. Kids will love the listening station where you can hear manipulated (so human ears can hear) recordings of whales and dolphins communicating with each other. An accompanying ‘whale jukebox’ reveals more extraordinary sounds from these aquatic giants and a challenge to see if you can mimic a whale song yourself. Our little one also had lots of fun playing an interactive echolocation game, where you take steps across a floor and listen for echoes to locate food (there are three prey to find).
Whales are facing increased threats to their survival in the 21st century and this exhibition touches on how pollution, shipping and hunting has impacted whale numbers and their behaviour. You’ll leave with a renewed respect and admiration for these ocean mammals, along with a lot more knowledge about their secretive lives.
If you have time, do spare at least half an hour to view the new Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition running concurrently at the museum. As always, these stunning photos have an even greater impact when viewed en masse (there are 100 of them!). Some images will move you, some may make you recoil, but you’ll always find something stunningly beautiful or simply surprising. It really is one of the best exhibitions around for strengthening an appreciation of the natural world, and encouraging a desire to protect it.
Children will also be inspired by the best entries from the Young Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition—some amazing pictures have been captured by teenagers and even kids under ten years old. Perhaps it will encourage your little one to pick up a camera and snap their own future winning entry?
Whales: Beneath the Surface runs until 28 February 2018. Tickets cost £12.50 (adult), £8.50 (child and concessions) or buy a family ticket for £32.50 to £42.50.
Wildlife Photographer of the Year runs until 28 May 2018. Tickets cost £12.50 (adult), £7 (child) or £25 to £34.50 (family ticket) if bought online. Tickets on the door are an additional £1 for adults and children.
For online booking and further information, visit www.nhm.ac.uk. Find the Natural History Museum at Cromwell Road, South Kensington, London SW7 5BD.
All photos © Trustees of the Natural History Museum