The Western Australian Museum's Blue Whale

In August 1897, a young girl named Daisy Locke came across a beached blue whale near the mouth of the Vasse River.

It would become one of the State’s most beloved treasures.

19th century photo of a large whale on a beach with people standing around.

The blue whale stranded on the beach at the mouth of the Vasse River., Busselton.
Credit: WA Museum

The whale was reported to the Western Australian Museum and over the next three years the Museum’s taxidermist, Otto Lipfert, oversaw its preparation for transport to the WA Museum.

Two Japanese fishermen and a local farmer helped Lipfert to remove the flesh from the bones. The skeleton was then left to bleach in the sun for more than a year.

The bones were individually labelled so they could be reassembled at the Museum. The 24-metre-long skeleton was transported to the Busselton Railway Station in a horse-drawn carriage, where it was taken by train up to Perth. The cranium (skull) weighs more than 800 kilograms today. At the time it would have weighed nearly twice that, due to the oils stored in the bones.

Black and white photo of a horse drawn cart holding a large bone.
The blue whale is transported bone by bone in a horse drawn cart.
Image copyright WA Museum

 

The skeleton was reconstructed in a three-sided shed behind the WA Museum, on the corner of Francis and Beaufort streets. The bones were supported off the ground by more than a tonne of iron rods.

A black and white photo of a giant whale in a shed, three boys look on.

The whale in the three-sided shed on the corner of Francis and Beaufort Streets.
Image copyright WA Museum

The blue whale was in this location until 1968. Due to the exposure to the elements, including sunlight, the bones appear bleached, or whiter, on one side. 

In the 1970s a new building was constructed for the WA Museum on Francis Street. The skeleton was packed up ready for its new display. Getting the giant whale into the new Francis Street building was quite a feat. A crane had to be used to lift the skeleton in to the fifth floor of the Museum before the roofing was completed in the early 1970s.

A large crant lifts a heavy load up toward a building under construction.>

The whale is craned into the Francis Street building.
Image copyright WA Museum

 

Many Western Australians will remember their excitement and wonder as they reached the extraordinary display.

… I always remember as a kid racing to the top floor to see the whale swimming through the clouds.

Jerome O’Driscmann

A large blue whale sits in a 1970s style room with blue carpet.
The blue whale on display in the Francis St Building.
Image copyright WA Museum

The Francis Street Building was closed in 2003 for safety reasons. The blue whale was once again disassembled and moved into storage at the Museum's Collections and Research Centre in Welshpool. For almost 17 years the skeleton has been under wraps, waiting for its next home.




Who was Otto Lipfert

The Museum's blue whale was given the moniker "Otto" after the taxidermist who prepared it for display.

Watch the video below to find out more about Otto Lipfert.


Displaying the blue whale

Displaying a blue whale is a complex and challenging process at the best of times.   The WA Museum's blue whale project had even more challenges due to the heritage-listed building, the fragile, 120-year old skeleton, a dynamic pose that has never been done before and a metal armature (frame) that was bespoke for this project.  

The pose of our whale is based on the latest research into blue whale feeding behaviour.  Using drone video and tracking devices, scientists revealed that blue whales roll and lunge as they feed on millions of krill. 


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