The big centerpiece of the new permanent water gallery will be a fully articulated blue whale skeleton. However, exhibiting a specimen like this has many challenges, beside the obvious one presented by its enormous size. The specimen being prepared is not complete, but we don’t actually know how many pieces are missing. There is a large variability in the number of bones in the spine and in the flippers. Not every whale has the same number. So the technicians and researchers had to work together to figure out how this whale’s skeleton should be built. After a lot of research and consultation a model of the skeleton was made and scanned in 3D. This scan was placed in a 3D rendering of the gallery. Then the technicians and researchers played around with poses and placements on the computer until they felt they had it right. The technicians are now busy building the few missing pieces so that a complete skeleton can be mounted and displayed.
Clayton Kennedy explains how he is building these few missing pieces.
It is really quite simple. Contoured, shaped cardboard is glued up, carved and further shaped with a sharp knife when dried then covered with paper strips dipped in PVA glue diluted with water. The dried model is then sanded and painted. This is a very quick and inexpensive method that avoids the costly and hazardous use of resins.
Most museum skeletons, both bone and fossil, have some elements that have been sculpted to fill in the missing pieces. So next time you visit a museum, take a closer look and see if you can tell the difference.