THE INDEPENDENT Friday 30 January 2015 19 l Fight at the museum over ‘dosh for dinosaur’ move Backlash against plan to replace ‘Dippy’ exhibit with giant blue whale skeleton Tom Bawden Environment editor The Natural History Museum was forced to deny that it is removing Dippy the dinosaur from its main entrance hall to raise more money from corporate events yesterday, as an online campaign was launched to save the skeleton. Dippy will be replaced by the giant skeleton of a blue whale in 2017. Crucially, the whale will be suspended from the hall’s ceiling, freeing up floor space. Among those shocked at the decision were the author and illustrator James Mayhew, whose children’s book Katie and the Dinosaurs was inspired by Dippy. “It’s a real shame and I can’t grasp the reason why they would want to do it. I remember my first time going up to London to the museum as a kid – it was very inspiring,” he told The Independent. Kids need to be aware of living giants Ditch Dippy gershon cohen Dippy is the stuff of childhood fantasy Save Dippy CHARLIE COOPER ‘Dippy’, the resin cast of a fossilised diplodocus, has stood in the main hall of the Natural History Museum since 1979 reu ters As a kid I was fascinated by the notion that fantastic creatures once roamed the Earth. I fully appreciate the awe children experience today when they stand before the skeleton of a 28m reptile. But the impact of my visits to the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia paled when I saw my first real whale. It raised its head out of the water a few metres away and stared at me – for a long time. This creature was also huge by any standard and its kind had also been living on our planet for millions of years, but this was no dinosaur with a walnut-sized brain. She was a sentient being, as curious about me as I was about her. We are finally beginning to understand the magnitude of our role and responsibility in our planet’s evolution. For example, in less than a hundred years, whalers took millions of Great Whales out of the ocean. Blue Whales, the largest animals to have ever lived on Earth, were reduced from about 350,000 individuals to the 10,000 or so alive today. But the toll of whaling on our planet may have been greater than we ever imagined: without the Great Whales (and their pee and poop), large areas of the oceans lost a major source of iron and nitrogen, nutrients required by phytoplankton for photosynthesis. Without phytoplankton the population of zooplankton surely declined. And as it happens, phytoplankton is the largest sequester of carbon dioxide on Earth and produces half of the oxygen we need to survive. Dinosaurs will continue to inspire our children. But our kids also need to be exposed to and inspired by the wonders alive today. I remember very well the day I first set eyes on Dippy. It was would have been the early 90s, I was about seven years old and on one of my first trips to London. On the way my friend Steve’s mum raised our expectations with an impossible story about a dinosaur the size of your house that was kept in the hall of the Natural History Museum. I was pretty sure she was having us on. But of course, she wasn’t. I wish I could remember the exact moment we walked into the museum, but it’s gone. Perhaps the grown-up mind can’t conceive of awe on that scale. I can only assume my reaction was similar to Sam Neill’s in Jurassic Park – “It’s… a dinosaur!” So it was with a genuine, pit-of-the-stomach sadness that I learned Dippy is to be retired. To my seven-yearold self and to countless other children he was more than just a bunch of giant bones. The sight of this great exotic beast from another age, standing incongruously in a place that looked like a cathedral, is the stuff of a childhood fantasy story. I remember reaching out to touch the bones (when I still thought they were bones) and the thrill of thinking that I had come into direct contact with another world. That was a world much more interesting than a suburban childhood, and I think it must have fired an appetite for broader horizons, and a sense of respect and awe for a natural world that stretched back so much further than I, my parents, my grandparents or the entire human race could remember. I’m sure the museum will go from strength-to-strength without Dippy. But for my seven-year-old self, I’m still very sad. The author is campaign director of the Great Whale Conservancy “It’s a very clear, recognisable shape and a real symbol of the museum, whereas a whale skeleton is hard to decipher.” In response to rumours that the move was designed to boost its coffers by increasing lucrative event space in the hall, the museum released its own financial analysis. “Moving the central specimen and suspending it from the ceiling would only make space for three extra tables at a seated dinner, a 4 per cent increase on the current 71-table total,” a spokesman said. “We are moving the diplodocus because after 30 years we want to tell our visitors a different story when they first enter the building that better reflects our role as a leading research institute and top UK visitor attraction,” he added. Not that the museum is uninterested in making money from its entrance hall, which changed its name to Hintze Hall last May, after the hedge-fund manager Sir Michael Hintz made a donation of £5m. And at £22,000 a day, it is one of London’s most costly corporate venues, recently hosting the Scottish Exhibition and Conference Centre’s annual Dram’n’Banter Burns Supper.
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