Protests grow as Natural History Museum says Dippy the Diplodocus move "important and necessary"

By Ben Miller | 29 January 2015

Museum says replacing Dippy with plunging blue whale will help museum focus on "human choices" and "hope"

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The Natural History Museum says it will be making an "important and necessary" change when Dippy the Diplodocus, the plaster replica of the fossilised dinosaur which has dwarfed visitors to the museum's central hall for years, is replaced by a vast blue whale in 2017.

This May will mark the 110th anniversary of the colossal Dippy becoming the first full skeleton of a sauropod to go on display in the world. And despite being only a cast of the fossil, it has become the symbol of a museum with one of the best dinosaur collections in the world.

Curators say they want to place more emphasis on biodiversity, sustainability and extinction, pointing to the plight of the whale, which has been relentlessly hunted since the museum's specimen arrived in 1905.

But the museum is facing an almost immediate backlash with people taking to social media sites to complain about the proposed move.

Using the hashtag #savedippy on Twitter the Independent on Sunday's Political Editor Jane Merrick tweeted: "Are the Natural History Museum out of their minds?? My four year old is about to take part in her first protest".

Another twitter user, Ruaridh Arrow, said: "Removing Dippy from the @NHM_London is like removing the Eiffel Tower from Paris".

A star of television, books and film, the Diplodocus was first described as a new type of dinosaur in 1878 by Professor Othniel C March at Yale University. The species lived sometime between 156 and 145 million years ago and belongs to a group called sauropods, meaning 'lizard feet'.

When a railroad worker unearthed the fossilised bones of a Diplodocus in Wyoming in 1898, newspapers billed the discovery as the most colossal animal ever on Earth, causing Andrew Carnegie, a Scottish-born millionaire businessman, to attempt to buy the bones as a centrepiece for his new museum in Pittsburg.

Named Diplodocus carnegii after its owner, the dinosaur also intrigued King Edward VIII, who told Carnegie that a similar specimen would be welcome at the animal galleries of the British Museum, which later became the Natural History Museum.

Carnegie's replica cast - one of ten commissioned, held in museums including Paris, Berlin, Vienna, and Moscow - arrived in London in 36 packing cases of 292 bones, revealed to 300 people in a "lavish ceremony" on May 12 1905.

Dippy has since changed shape to reflect the evolution of dinosaurs, and was sheltered from bomb damage in the museum's basement during World War II.

"As guardians of one of the world’s greatest scientific resources, our purpose is to challenge the way people think about the natural world," says Sir Michael Dixon, the Director of the museum.

"That goal has never been more urgent. The very resources on which modern society relies are under threat.

"Species and ecosystems are being destroyed faster than we can describe them or even understand their significance.

“As the largest known animal to have ever lived on Earth, the story of the blue whale reminds us of the scale of our responsibility to the planet.

"This makes it the perfect choice of specimen to welcome and capture the imagination of our visitors, as well as marking a major transformation of the Museum.

"The blue whale serves as a poignant reminder that while abundance is no guarantee of survival, through our choices, we can make a real difference. There is hope.”

It's a compelling argument, but with a growing Twitter campaign and change.org and Metro campaigns already underway the Museum may have some way to go to persuade the growing army of Dippy fans of the appeal of a blue whale skeleton.

That said, with Twitter being the way it is, a counter campaign in support of the whale may well emerge among social media networks.

If and when the Natural History Museum presses ahead with its plans, the whale will be an impressive sight, suspended from the ceiling and plunging through the space - now known as the Hintze Hall - as part of a complete redisplay of the section.

In the meantime the Museum say they are discussing how the Diplodocus cast can be seen by a wider audience.

The museum used its Twitter account to show pictures of the curving dinosaur spine's changing appearance in the hall.

Replying to a suggestion that the specimen could move to Yorkshire, made by Barry Sheerman, a Labour MP for Huddersfield who said he was "rather sad" at Dippy's removal from the hall, the museum said a tour of the country could be among its future moves.

  • The Natural History Museum is open 10am-5.50pm (closed December 24-26). Admission free.

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Latest comment: >Make a comment
Nobody has the right to tell the custodians of the NatHist what to do. They have done such a terrific job for SO MANY years, preserving specimens and enabling all kinds of learning by all kinds of people.

Dippy will remain in my heart as the most impressive thing I had ever seen when I first beheld him at the age of about seven.

I'm sure my Daughter felt the same at the same age.

Whatever the curators put in his place will be equally as mind-blowing - just like many in their vast collection.
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