Narrated by Sir David Attenborough, this film follows the teams at the Natural History Museum as they replace the iconic dinosaur skeleton cast with a real blue whale skeleton.
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London's Natural History Museum
is one of the world's most prestigious institutions.
Since it opened in 1881,
over 600 million visitors have passed through its doors.
It's a spectacular monument to Earth's biodiversity.
And since 1979, a dinosaur, Dippy the diplodocus,
has welcomed everyone as they enter the main hall.
He's one of the museum's most adored attractions.
I'm very closely attached to him.
But in 2015,
the museum took the controversial decision to call time on Dippy.
It announced that the hall was going to be given a new star attraction,
one that has been here, gathering dust, for over 100 years.
The skeleton of a huge blue whale.
Wow. I know! It's amazing, isn't it?
The museum wants to change its image
and has decided on a very ambitious way of doing so.
This is basically where the action's going to be. Yep.
But getting it there will be a truly extraordinary
engineering challenge. Er... You're tilting now.
And these are the people who have to make it happen.
Oops. That's it. The skull coming off, that's my worst nightmare.
Horizon has been watching behind-the-scenes
in the Natural History Museum for over two years...
Whoa, whoa, whoa! Whoa, whoa, whoa!
The skull is currently 14 centimetres too large
to fit in this door, as it currently stands.
..following two giants of natural history,
a dinosaur and a blue whale...
And we're on the beach that the blue whale beached on, back in 1891.
..and one audacious dream.
Why are we doing this again? HE LAUGHS
The Natural History Museum
is renowned for its scientific research
and world-class collections.
And for the last 38 years,
Dippy the dinosaur has been standing centre stage.
Lorraine Cornish, the museum's head of conservation,
has been responsible for looking after him for all that time.
What we're doing today is cleaning Dippy,
which is a regular process,
takes place every six months or so.
Lorraine has been caring for the museum's exhibits for over 30 years.
I initially started working in a laboratory downstairs,
but soon I was allowed to come up and work in the galleries,
on the objects on display, and that was always deeply satisfying,
because you knew any work that you were going to be doing,
the public would see.
And she has a special place in her heart for Dippy.
I'm very closely attached to him,
because he was put into this gallery just the year before I joined
the museum, so we've had a similar amount of time together here.
What many people don't realise is that Dippy is not a real fossil,
he's a plaster replica.
However, this hasn't stopped him
amazing visitors ever since he arrived.
Let's see if we can find out how long it is.
Look up at its head there.
John, would you like to take a walk?
When you come to the end of his tail, you wave to us.
The plan to move Dippy hasn't gone down well with the public.
It's just, it's always the first thing you expect to see when you walk in.
I mean, we'd rather the dinosaur stay there.
But the museum is hoping that its new major exhibit
will eventually be as much-loved as Dippy.
Richard Sabin has been the curator of the museum's marine mammal
collection for the past 24 years
and is one of the world's experts on whales.
It was he who championed the idea to have a whale replace Dippy.
Hintze Hall has always been
a dynamic space. Over the life of the Natural History Museum,
from 1881, the central displays have changed.
When I first visited the museum in 1976, before Dippy was in place,
there were other specimens in there, elephants...
Erm, there'd been a sperm whale skeleton in Hintze Hall in the past.
Hintze Hall is the grand entrance of the museum
and was designed to dazzle the visitor
with the beauty and complexity of the natural world.
I think with the blue whale, when people see this enormous skeleton
in that wonderful architectural space,
I think very quickly, any critics that we have will be silenced,
and, you know, children and their children over the next 20-30 years
will come to accept the blue whale skeleton
as the new iconic central specimen for the museum.
As the skeleton of the world's biggest animal,
and one of its most endangered,
the museum wants the whale to be a reminder of humanity's delicate
relationship with the natural world
and our responsibility to care for all life on Earth.
Jennifer Flippance is the project manager in charge
of the whale's move into this historic space.
It looks like a really big hall.
The entrances are actually very small,
and it's going to be quite tight on the day that we bring it in.
It's Jen's job to fulfil Richard's ambitious dream
and hang the whale from the girders in a new, exciting way.
This is basically where the action's going to be. Yep.
I mean, the idea is that we give the skeleton a lot more dynamism
than it has currently, cos at the moment, it's kind of, you know,
stamp collector's pose. Yeah, yeah.
Very horizontal. Very Victorian, actually.
We need to build in as much kind of movement,
implied movement as possible. Yeah.
I'm just imagining that specimen kind of swimming through the space
and imagining it diving down towards the visitors as they come in through
the entrance. That will look really dramatic, too. Exactly.
Mouth wide open, you know?
People walking in have this great spectacle, oohs and ahs.
Suspending the bones of the whale will be a truly unique challenge.
It's going to be a feat, I think, of engineering... Mm.
..to be given a frame that's going to allow us to do the things
that we want to do.
And certainly, if we put the degree of dynamism into the specimen
that I'm hoping we can, it's going to include things like, you know,
a lot of curvature in the vertical column,
the tail sort of flexing up, the flippers out. OK, so...
All the things that we don't have currently, basically.
But it's going to be incredible, I think, absolutely incredible.
Inspire a new generation of marine biologists.
Yeah. That's we want.
Yeah, we want the same kind of kick for the new marine biologists
that I had as a kid.
Jen is in charge of overseeing all the staff
and ensuring everything is completed in time for the grand opening.
The pressure is certainly on.
We're doing a lot things we haven't done before, and I'm doing
a lot of things I haven't done before as a project manager.
It does give you some nervousness doing things,
and there's a big health and safety element, obviously,
which is probably my biggest concern overall,
getting it down safely and putting it back up so it's safe.
So that's certainly a thing that would keep me awake at night.
The first thing Jen needs to do is to get Richard's skeleton down
in one piece.
Not an easy job, considering it hasn't been moved for over 70 years.
Richard and Lorraine are anxious to see what state the whale is in.
This is the first time they've been able to get an idea
of the condition of her bones.
Dust. Wow! I know!
It's amazing, isn't it?
It's remarkable. I know.
You've just got this fantastic, thick carpet going all the way.
Due to the proximity of other exhibits in the hall,
and the delicate nature of the ever-ageing bones,
this skeleton will have to be painstakingly dismantled
piece by piece.
This is just going to be great.
The team can't wait to start.
Before it can be brought down...
That will disappear, that will look so much more beautiful.
..Lorraine has been joined by conservator Ari
to help with the cleaning and tagging
of every one of the 220 bones.
They will then have to reinforce the weaker bones
before the dismantling can even begin.
Um, it's very unique,
so you do want to make sure that you are doing everything properly.
You want to make sure you catch every single sign of weakness,
so that you can stabilise it,
so that it can come down safely and it isn't damaged.
With the skull now free of dust,
Richard is able to examine it in detail.
The one thing that you need to remember
when you look at this lower jawbone
of this beautiful blue whale specimen
is that this is the largest single bone to be grown
by any organism on the planet that we know of.
I find that quite remarkable.
This is an incredibly special experience,
I think for me or anyone,
because I'm seeing things that I've never seen before.
The lead members of the team who put this skeleton together
actually left their signatures.
When they finished their work in February 1934,
they decided, like a great work of art, to leave their signatures.
And they're under...
..the skull, on the inside, by this metal strap.
You can see the signatures of four of the men who worked.
It's quite a nice little dedication, I think.
It took 20 men six months to hang the whale,
without today's strict health and safety regulations.
Looking at some of the photographs, those men took incredible chances.
They were working off long ladders, wooden ladders, using ropes,
standing on the specimen.
You know, they didn't have safety gear.
They wore flat caps and leather aprons.
They really were different times.
It was sort of before health and safety existed.
But they did a great job. We can't criticise them for that.
Back in the 1930s, it would have been a huge challenge
to hang this 4.5-tonne whale in a flat pose.
But Richard wants something even more difficult.
He wants the new exhibit to amaze visitors
by capturing how these animals behave in the wild.
Blue whales can weigh up to 200 tonnes
and measure up to 30 metres in length.
They're not only the biggest animal on Earth today,
they are, as far as we know, the biggest ever to have existed,
far bigger than any dinosaur.
They used to be abundant,
but we hunted them so intensively
that their numbers dropped dramatically,
from around 360,000 to an estimated 12,000.
Richard has never seen a blue whale in the wild.
He's come out to California
in the hope that he may glimpse one and get some inspiration from it.
I'm going out for the very first time on a boat
to see some of the coolest animals on the planet.
I'm incredibly excited.
He's going to be joining one of the world's foremost blue whale experts,
I first saw a blue whale
over 30 years ago.
And from the first time I saw it,
this beautiful, huge,
shimmering shape under the water,
I kind of fell in love with it.
And so right away, I became captivated by the opportunity
to learn things about blue whales.
Hey. Hi, John.
Hey, Richard. Good to meet you. Nice to meet you.
ENGINE TURNS OVER
John works off the coast of California
in an area where blue whales regularly come to feed.
But although they're very big, the Pacific is even bigger...
I'm not picking up anything on my depth sounder.
They don't seem to sticking in one spot.
..and blue whales only surface for one to two minutes
to snatch a breath before diving and disappearing for up to 15,
so the boat will have to be in the right place at just the right time
if John is to get a close view of the animal that so fascinates him.
What is it we're looking out for specifically?
Well, right now, when conditions are good enough,
we'll actually be looking for the blow.
We can see a blow of a blue whale from miles away,
and that'll be this plume of mist
from its exhalation that can extend up 7-8 metres up into the air
and will hang there briefly depending on how much wind there is.
We might see the back of a blue whale as it surfaces. Right.
As fog closes in and the visibility gets less,
sometimes we'll have to shut down
and actually just listen for the blows.
Now it's just a waiting game.
Uh, Richard, I think we got one over here off the port bow!
That's really close.
Look at this! Looks like it's going to fluke up, yeah.
Down he goes.
And again, another one.
I've just got no words to describe it, to be honest with you.
I am genuinely lost for words.
Now they have found the whales, John's work can begin.
He gains crucial information by attaching harmless tags to them.
The tags we're attaching have three-dimensional magnetometers,
gyroscopes, that give us exactly how deep the whale's diving,
how it's approaching prey, how many times it feeds,
at what depth does it feed.
This new technology are opening up the whole underwater world
of blue whales.
The world's largest animal feeds on one of the smallest, krill.
Every day, they must eat over four tonnes
of this small shrimplike crustacean,
just to fill their gigantic stomachs.
The whales are able to open their jaws to over 90 degrees,
engulfing whole shoals in just one mouthful.
This feeding action is the single biggest bodily movement
made by any creature in the world.
It is that feeding action that's really inspiring me.
It's making me realise just how important it is
for us to put dynamism into that specimen
back at the Natural History Museum,
and that's the kind of thing that will really grab people's attention,
make the science much more tangible,
and, in the end, that's what we need to do.
We need to get people to connect with what's going on out here.
John's research is also helping him to save these extraordinary animals,
because even though their numbers have risen slightly
since whaling stopped, they're now facing several new threats.
We've been able to discover that blue whales don't tend to even avoid
approaching ships and a lot of my research has focused
on some of the solutions,
like we discovered that blue whales spend twice as much time
at the surface at night than they do in the day,
and that's the period when they're most vulnerable to ship strikes,
so that identified right there that we need to be most concerned
about ships that are transiting through blue whale areas at night
rather than in the day.
This whole experience today has really helped crystallise in my mind
exactly what it is we need.
The broader message is a conservation message.
Our species took blue whales to the edge of extinction,
and through our efforts we've managed to help it recover.
So it's a model, in terms of the hope that we have got
for the future, and if we can translate
what we've seen here today and give some of that feeling,
some of that experience to people who visit the museum,
then, for me, it'll be a dream come true.
After being left in the museum's dusty rafters for decades,
the time has now come to dismantle the skeleton.
This feels incredibly momentous,
because it is the first of the bones to be removed.
I'm glad to say we all agreed that we should start
with the small things. Made sense.
Effectively, what we're all doing now
is reverse engineering
what was done in 1934.
Every long journey begins with a small step,
and this is the smallest of the steps.
How brilliant was that? Well done, Ari.
Great twisting movement, I think, there.
Richard, what does it feel like?
It's incredibly significant.
I mean, everything gets bigger and more difficult from here.
But each surface of the bone has been marked,
so which is the upper surface, which is the proper left side,
the proper right side, and which is the underneath,
to make sure the whale doesn't go on back-to-front
when it's remounted. You wouldn't let that happen, Richard.
I wouldn't let that happen, no, it would be obvious.
I'm going to hand it over to the conservators now.
We'll look after it, don't worry. We'll take very good care of it.
You can have visitation rights.
A week later, and Lorraine is starting to discover
some of the tricks the team used to hang the whale back in the '30s.
Hi. Hello. That's an enormous piece of metal.
I know. Isn't it?
It's huge. And what they've done is, they obviously slid
a vertebra on, and then they've taken some wooden wedges
and they've just banged them in.
And so, to try and get those wedges out was really difficult.
Started back there. Right.
It's worked up.
Newspaper, wood, wooden pieces nailed in to the wood,
anything they could think of, really,
to stuff down into the middle.
So, quite a crude process they've used. Very crude.
Yeah. Crude but effective. Yes.
Each bone successfully removed is another small victory for the team.
It's like a baby, isn't it?
Do you want to have a hold, Richard?
The team slowly work their way along the vertebrae,
and the closer to the head they get,
the more battling they have to do.
Not only do the bits of wood get bigger...
..so do the bits of newspaper.
There's lots of it.
The Kent Messenger.
December 24th 1932.
As more vertebrae are taken off this giant kebab skewer...
It's off, it's off.
..the bones get harder to handle.
Each one is becoming more and more difficult
in terms of manoeuvring and making sure
that we're not breaking off any of the processes.
Oops. That's it, that's it. Down we go.
And a good dollop of elbow grease is required
to free the whale's rib cage.
But they're able to detach a whole flipper in one go.
It's an interesting relationship that we're building up
with this whale. We're getting to know its little tricks now.
The point we're that with the project now
is the entire postcranial skeleton,
that's everything except the skull and lower jaw, has been removed.
And we're at a really pretty critical point.
Probably the most technically challenging part
of the deconstruction there,
because we have the three largest elements of the skeleton left.
The first of these bones to be freed from their steel cage...
..are the two mandibles.
The sound of the chains. Just harmony, isn't it?
Blessed relief. Isn't it lovely to watch, though, eh?
Yeah, you're tilting now.
Before her mandibles can be freed...
..their dental work needs to be removed.
Extraction...has taken place.
With the mandibles finally on their way down,
it's time to tackle the skull.
We've always known that moving the skull
would be the most difficult bit, because of its size and its weight
and its complexity of how it's put together.
Jen has had a specially designed cradle built
to help them manoeuvre the skull down safely.
We're just trying to, as we go, eliminate as many risks as possible,
but it's risky, it is risky.
The skull needs to be turned vertically before it's moved.
The minute the skull rotates is when we really have to be
so sure about the fact that it's not going to move
off of that cradle. That would be so bad.
The skull being damaged or coming off catastrophically,
that's my worst nightmare.
But even in this raised position,
getting past the cables will be tricky.
It's these cables.
Yeah. The outrigger legs are adjustable.
Yeah. They can come in...
Can they come in...?
Can they come in a bit?
We're very good at cutting off things. Yeah, yeah. It's our MO.
Absolutely. So you could save 20 centimetres or 15 centimetres.
But they're going to need more than 15 centimetres
on the scaffolding platform.
You ideally want to lose some of this...
the scaffolding here, then, don't you?
Jen arranges for the safety rail to be removed,
ready to lower the skull to the ground.
It's another tense moment for Lorraine.
If the skull or its frame slips now,
the consequences could be unthinkable.
Well done! Well done, everyone!
Brilliant! What a relief.
What a relief. Getting it off the scaffolding,
through all those cables,
around all the specimens and down onto the floor
is a really...a really brilliant achievement.
After a painstaking four months and the removal of 220 individual bones,
the skeleton is down and ready to be moved to the museum's lab,
so that conservation work can begin.
Richard wants to discover the history of his whale,
so that he can share it with the museum's visitors.
His detective work has brought him to Ireland
where the whale was found more than a century ago.
We're on the beach, here in Wexford.
Coming here, it's really poignant
because we can see the natural environment, pretty much,
that the blue whale beached on back in 1891.
Back then, though there were plenty of blue whales out at sea,
it would have been rare for them to come so close to the shore,
to get accidentally beached.
This boat here, it's actually roughly the same size
as our blue whale,
not just the size of the boat in terms of its length,
but the height, you know.
Our whale would have towered over
any observers two and a half, three metres tall...
even on its side.
And imagine what a spectacle that would have been for people -
people who were approaching this living wall of matter,
living, breathing, moving, not knowing what to expect,
not the what was going to happen next.
Ned Wickham was the first to discover the whale stranded
all those years ago.
Ned's granddaughter, Mary, and Elizabeth.
And 126 years later...
..Richard's come to meet some of his descendants.
And Ned's granddaughter Elizabeth has something special
to show Richard - some of his letters.
So this is a letter, detailing what grandad encountered at the time,
saying that he jumped into his boat and examined the commotion from a...
Respectful distance. ..respectful distance.
For the villagers of Wexford,
a whale stranded on their shore would have been a stroke of luck,
a real bonanza.
Blue whales were very valuable
because of the great quantity of oil they contained.
So saving her was probably the last thing
that Ned Wickham had on his mind.
By the next day, it had lost so much vitality
in its effort to leave Ireland
that Mr Wickham was able to sail up puncture it
with an improvised harpoon.
An improvised harpoon.
Once the whale was dead, she was put up for auction
to the highest bidder.
It was sold for 111 to Mr William Armstrong of Wexford.
That's very interesting.
Back in London, Andrea Hart,
head of the museum's special library collections,
is working in the archives.
Richard has asked her to see if they contain any information
about Mr Armstrong.
So here in front of me I have a letter from Armstrong to Guenther,
who was the head of the Zoology Department,
dated April 14, 1891,
and so within this letter he has given details about
the physical characteristics of this stranded whale.
So you have here the colour being black,
the belly a dark slate colour,
and then also you've also got this rather cute picture of a whale
on the back,
so I think this would have helped ascertain that it was a blue whale,
but as you can see,
not the most scientifically accurate illustration.
Especially as it looks quite smiley as well.
The records show that Mr Armstrong wanted to exploit his purchase
as much as he could.
So this telegraph, dated the 23rd of April,
Armstrong asks, "Would you buy the whale bone?
"If so, make me an offer."
A blue whale skeleton was clearly something the museum
was interested in acquiring.
So we find here this final letter that the museum states that,
"We will give to you ?250 and no more for the skeleton,
"clean and ready for mounting."
Armstrong had sold her oil for fuel, her meat to the dog food factory,
and had now just doubled his money on the bones alone.
Under the public's gaze in the museum's pop-up studio,
the conservation team have been inspecting every square inch
of the skeleton.
On the whole, it's in actually quite good condition, I would say,
considering it was up, suspended for 81 years.
I think there are parts of the whale, however,
which are a bit more vulnerable.
There are some very large cracks, for instance,
going through the mandibles, and so we really need to address that,
because when we put it back up on display,
and we've got to the public wandering around underneath,
looking at it, we really don't want any parts of it
to drop on top of them.
Just like a team of skilled decorators,
they feel they cracks with a special putty.
And though they were expecting a little damage,
they didn't realise that some parts would be completely missing.
So, for instance, the right flipper,
when the girls were cleaning it and having a look at it,
it was looking not... A little bit suspicious,
sort of thinking that it didn't look...
The surface didn't look quite the same as it should be,
if it was natural bone.
So after doing a few tests and things,
we found out that it was actually mainly plaster,
and so I think everyone was surprised about that.
Fortunately, Lorraine has got her team scanning the entire skeleton
in 3-D, so rather than make the whale a plaster cast
as the men did back in 1934,
she is making a brand-new 3-D printed replica in plastic.
The whale skull is too big to fit in the temporary pop-up studio,
so it's being kept in the museum's off-site warehouse.
If you want to feed in, in this area here.
With the conservation work on the skull finished,
Richard is going to show it off to the museum's science educators.
It's pretty overwhelming straightaway.
So welcome to the collection.
The big stuff, the large vertebrate collection,
the taxidermy collection,
the whale and dolphin research collection, it's all here.
The museum has over 80 million specimens,
gathered from every corner of the planet.
And though the fashion for shooting and then mounting endangered species
has is largely ceased since Victorian days,
the fact that people once did so means that today the museum
is a world-class research facility,
visited by scientists from around the globe.
This is a zoologist's gold mine.
And of course the elephant in the room is not really an elephant,
it's a whale.
This is the skull of the fantastic blue whale,
and the conservators have said that we can take off these wraps,
so you can take a good look at it.
So what I need are four people, please, who can give me a hand.
Brilliant. What we're going to do is we're going to grab the sheets,
so take it away.
The staff's enthusiasm will help them answer the questions
from the museum's visitors.
She was recorded at just over 25 metres in length,
which is a good size, but it's not fully grown.
You know, we know that North Atlantic blue whale females
can go larger than that.
Richard has now even been able to estimate the whale's age.
We used techniques which are similar to what forensic anthropologists use
when they're examining a human skeleton.
The current estimate,
the current sort of working estimate that we've got
is that she was probably between 10 and 15 years old.
Which isn't that old,
when you think that these animals can probably live
to well over 100 years.
The day has come to say goodbye to Dippy.
To the right. It's going to be slightly longer exposure.
There's time for just one last photo.
We would like for everyone to stand very still as the photo is taken,
please, so your face is not a blur.
One of the museum's most familiar characters is leaving,
and all the staff have come to say goodbye.
CHEERING AND APPLAUSE
And it's not just the staff who want to have one last look.
Dippy has been a fascination for many children.
It's amazing to think that it lived a long time ago,
that it was actually walking around.
A bit sad that he's going.
But maybe I can see other dinosaurs, maybe.
However, it's not all bad news for Dippy.
He's going on new adventure.
The museum are sending him around the UK as a touring exhibit.
Today, Richard has got some important visitors from Canada
who were responsible for building the dinosaurs
in the film Jurassic Park.
They will be the ones building the new steel frame for the whale.
But to start with, they've been working on something
a little smaller.
Nice packing. Oh, man. I see the top of the skull.
Great, isn't it?
Wow. It is. Fantastic.
So cute. If only they were that easy to move.
This exact replica in miniature of Richard's blue whale
has been built using Lorraine's 3-D scans.
If we bend it over the edge of the table,
it's got an aluminium armature, so you can actually shape it.
OK. OK. You can't do that with the real thing, can you?
Matt Fair is leading the project,
and his team have even built a model of Hintze Hall
to the same scale as a miniature whale.
It's great, isn't it? It's amazing.
To scale. It is amazing. It's just amazing.
I had no idea we were getting anything like this,
but this is superb.
This is the last chance for Richard
to get his whale's diving pose just right.
The overall posture of the specimen
allows us to address all these different issues about, you know,
how the animal moves, how it feeds, energy expenditure,
the acrobatics and he goes through.
Really, these little details, when we put them into the skeleton
in its final position, it's going to make it exciting,
it's going to be meaningful to people, we hope,
and it'll be using data, basically fresh from the field,
to inform how we position this skeleton.
That's... That's good. It's a real kind of sweet spot, this,
cos it has to be high enough to not be an issue
for anyone using the hall,
but low enough to be impressive,
you know, close to our visitors, so they get a real sense
of the size of the thing, you know.
It's going to take some time, but I think from this
we'll get exactly what we need as a blueprint
for the guys to take away to make the frame.
Brilliant. Thank you.
The skull is on the road again.
It's going to be reunited with the rest of its skeleton
in this gigantic aeroplane hangar near Oxford.
It's here Matt will build the steel frame armature
to hold the whale in a lifelike posture.
Well, we need the armature to hold the skeleton together.
In nature, it would be held together by the blubber
and the muscle tissue and all the connective tissues,
and also the buoyancy in water.
In this case, when we put it in a museum,
we can't rely on just the bone itself,
so we need a steel structure.
The team are studying Richard's plans for the diving pose
and will then build the metal work to support it.
We start building an armature like you can see here
in the computer which gives us a map or a diagram
of how we'll make the actual finished product.
So this is steel armature running through the interior of the centrum,
and the top one is a pipe going through the neural canal.
By adding a special steel backbone,
no more holes need to be drilled into the skeleton.
It's also an extra safety precaution,
to keep the skeleton safe,
and the thousands of visitors who will walk underneath it every day.
Brett is responsible for turning the computer designs into reality.
I'm here as one of the lead metalworkers.
It's my job to piece the steel together,
to build the structure of these animals
and actually shape it and give it...
You know, bring it to life.
It's a bit of a challenge to get these organic shapes.
We need to follow the shape of the bone
and also make the metalwork look seamless.
We have to fit our steel within what was already made.
Two weeks later, and with half the backbone built,
Richard is starting to get excited.
I'm completely overwhelmed, to be quite honest with you.
To start to see it coming together like this, it just feels...
It feels right.
I first saw this blue whale skeleton when I was ten years old,
being told that this was the largest animal on the planet
and it's all I can remember from that day was this specimen.
Seeing her like this now,
even in this environment and partially reconstructed,
placing her into this new posture,
it's really breathing new life into the specimen.
But Jen is more interested in the whale's skull.
She's asked for it to be put back onto its side,
so she can double-check the measurements.
This is such a crucial dimension to us,
so I'm going to measure it again, really carefully.
It's the width of the skull on its frame
that she's most concerned about.
Will it be able to go through
the Natural History Museum's Grade I listed door?
So the width of this door is 1.79 metres,
and the skull on the frame is 1.93,
so that means that the skull is currently 14 centimetres too large
to fit in this door as it currently stands.
The blue whale was originally at our Mammal Hall,
which is over the other side of the museum,
and they had a whole separate set of doors
when they brought that in, in the 1930s.
To bring it into the hall, this is...
This front door is the only entrance.
It's end of January now and the skull comes in in mid-April,
so we haven't got too long to sort this out.
With the worry of the doorway hanging over her,
Jen has brought in her team of structural engineers
to double-check the rest of the measurements.
The old armature and the skeleton weighed about 4.8 tonnes.
We think that the weight in its new form
will be very, very similar.
But the weight of the skeleton isn't their major concern.
The biggest problem for us is not the steel that's been put in here,
it's what's back at the Natural History Museum,
which is the late Victorian wrought iron girders.
Adrian and his team have assessed the roof in detail
to identify the girders strong enough
to carry the weight of the whale.
Collapsing the Natural History Museum's roof
is not going to look good on anyone's CV.
It's like a tuning exercise.
By choosing the position very carefully,
we found that although we're adding 20% more load to the girder,
we'll actually only increase the stress by 2 or 3%.
With the structural engineers satisfied, Jen can start to relax.
It's looking really great. I just can't wait to see the final, final,
with the jawbones, with the mouth open and the flippers on.
So we're all kind of waiting for that moment, the final reveal.
Two weeks later, the whale is being packed up for her trip
back to the museum.
The skull will be travelling
in this specially designed wooden crate
that Jen hopes will solve her door problem.
Back at the museum, the scaffolding is around Dippy,
ready for him to be taken down.
Lorraine decides to start with her favourite part, the head.
Oh, good job.
Because Dippy is plaster and not a real skeleton,
he's less fragile and easier to manipulate than the whale.
But when the team reach his tail,
it seems Dippy doesn't want to leave after all,
because he starts to resist...
and Lorraine's trusty saw is required again.
Like a giant Airfix kit,
Dippy's bones have helpfully already been numbered.
Number five. Brilliant.
As Lorraine's favourite exhibit,
she can't help herself from cleaning him one last time.
Three weeks later, the beloved dinosaur has gone from Hintze Hall.
After being cleaned, fixed, and with a brand-new steel armature
to hold her together,
the whale is finally on her way back to the museum.
This is Jen's big day,
and she's counting on her newly designed crate
to fit through the museum's doors.
I'm nervous about today, it's fair to say.
The crate's as small as we can possibly make it,
so we really maximise our chances
of getting it back in through the front door.
But Lorraine isn't in any mood to help Jen put her mind at rest.
Maybe you should come up with another tape measure.
That's a bit harsh.
Maybe we should send Richard a message to say it won't fit through.
Oh, you're funny.
It's not happening, Jen. Shall I send it back?
I think you need to, you know, come up and reassess the door.
Probably post-whale conservation hysteria, do you think?
It's got here later in the day than we'd hoped,
so it could be a late one tonight.
It's the moment of truth for Jen.
Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa.
It's an incredibly tight fit...
We need to reverse again.
..with just a few centimetres to spare.
It's not that easy, even though it fits.
It takes two hours to push and pull this two-tonne crate into the hall.
It's a really big relief to have it in the building.
It's something we knew was going to be difficult
from the beginning of the project nearly two years ago,
and it's been a really long day and everyone's really tired,
but it's finally in now, as you can see, so it's great.
The next morning, piece by piece,
the rest of the giant skeleton arrives at the museum.
It's just a great feeling to finally get it in the space
and to start putting it together.
We've got to be ready for the whale to go up on Wednesday.
That's D-Day, everyone's booked in.
We've got quite a lot to do still in the next few days.
The pressure is on.
We have whale everywhere.
The team has just three days to rebuild the whale.
The biggest challenge is getting the vertebrae back onto the armature.
But for Lorraine,
watching these very precious bones
teetering five metres above the concrete floor
is getting a little bit too much.
When they were off-site, they had a lot more equipment
and so they're adapting to what equipment we've got here,
which is enough, actually,
but it just means they're adapting slightly.
With the last of the vertebrae safely in position,
there's just one thing left to do before the assembly is complete.
We've got much better handwriting, actually, than they had in 1934.
Much better. It's a better pencil.
I think we've done it proud.
The move has been a massive engineering challenge
and today is the day they've all be working towards -
the hoisting of Richard's whale into her final position.
Everything rests on it going well.
Any problem now could prevent the hall being ready
for the grand opening planned for the summer.
Our work is kind of over at this stage.
We've done all we can,
and so we just need to stand and watch the specimen going up.
It's a huge day for the whole team.
A lot of stress, sweat and tears
have gone towards getting to this moment.
And tensions are high.
Why are we doing this again?
Did anyone stop to ask why?
We should have asked that question. Two and a half years ago.
There's a lot of emotion going on, basically,
with the whole team because we've been waiting so long for this day
to happen and now the day has come.
There's lots of nerves, but good nerves, kind of an excitement.
Like it's Christmas, or it's your birthday, or something.
I'm probably going to burst into tears when it goes up.
I don't know. We'll see.
It's been a lot of long days in the last few weeks
getting to this point.
Jen has hired over 40 experts
to make sure this day goes as smoothly as possible.
Matt will be on hand to attach the mandibles
when the rest of the skeleton has been winched high enough
by the men in the rafters.
The structural engineers are back too.
A whale's meant to be in the water
and not the air.
What we've got here
is quite a complex task
of raising a fairly heavy skeleton
into a very accurate position.
So as soon as we identify there's a discrepancy in the tension
in either of the cables,
which means that one person's pulling harder than another,
we can inform that person and they are able to winch up a bit more
to make sure the load's balanced. That's the key.
Only seven metres stand between the whale
and what will hopefully be her final position.
Centimetre by centimetre, she rises towards the roof.
My butterflies are not...
My butterflies are not flying in formation today.
They are all over the place.
With everything going smoothly,
Jen's mind wanders to her party dress for the big opening event.
I've only got one dress, so you're going to have to work around me.
You're such a diva.
It's just it. It's just the only dress I have.
I too only have one dress.
What colour's yours? Blue and white.
Mine's blue. Mine's navy. Hey, mine too!
But just when they thought they could relax...
..the skeleton starts to wobble.
Everything is moving.
Matt is worried that one of the team in the roof
might be hoisting too quickly.
He is doing too much of this.
What's happening is we're going right then left, right then left.
And when it swings in the middle, it's causing...
More rock and roll.
God, this is testing the armature, at least, isn't it?
What was the noise?
No-one is quite sure what that sharp cracking noise was,
but what they can agree on is that it wasn't good.
Any serious breakage would mean they'd have to bring
the whole skeleton all the way down again.
The team stop the hoisting to investigate what's gone wrong.
At last, they spot the problem.
A bolt in the steelwork has sheared
and two of the vertebrae have slightly separated as a result.
Fortunately, Matt's reinforcing pipe down the spinal column
has kept the whale in shape...
I can't believe that thing was hanging off of one bar before.
..though the vertebrae have slipped slightly.
So what we're going to do is create a stronger hinge there
and then weld in some heavier plate.
Luckily for Jen, the repairs can be done while it's still suspended.
Sorry, this might be the guy the welding.
It is. Can I just get this really quickly?
And she's wasted no time in getting the equipment
Brett is going to need.
I'm not sure... What's the kind of...?
What do you want? Arc?
Shielded metal arc welding. Shielded metal arc welding.
Like most of us, Jen isn't an arc welding expert.
Does it have a canister of...
A canister? Whatever makes the welding go hot.
Don't put that in. Go hot!
Fortunately, Brett does know all about canistery things that get hot
and quickly gets to work repairing the hinge.
Hey, Brett. Bretty.
Can you send me a picture of the top and the bottom?
Do you think you can get a shot of it?
With both Adrian and Matt happy with the repair, the hoist can continue.
Well done, Brett.
This time, Matt is insisting that the team in the roof
hoist it much more slowly
to avoid any wobbling.
Oh, that was... A lot. That was at least a centimetre.
Three metres and six hours later...
Oh, God, it's a bit like childbirth, isn't it? It goes on for hours.
..the whale is finally ready to be reunited with its mandibles.
Once those mandibles are attached,
it's going to be the thing that people see
when they come through these doors, they stand here,
they have this enormous creature diving down towards them
with that mouth open.
You know, they are the krill, as far as I'm concerned.
We're going to see that today for the first time.
I'm really excited about that.
How to hug a mandible.
That's a man in love with his job. I know.
That's the ICI Christmas card, right there.
With the mandibles attached,
the whale can be lifted the last few metres into her final resting place.
The party is back on schedule.
It looks like Jen's going to need that dress after all.
Look at that.
Isn't she amazing?
I don't know... Look at the shadows.
..what I was expecting.
I don't know if I was expecting this. It looks incredible.
It's glowing. Yeah.
It's amazing, isn't it?
This is just remarkable.
How do you feel, Richard? This is your pose, your idea.
We've nailed it, haven't we? Yeah.
I mean, we've really, really nailed it.
We've got the dynamism, we've got the life, we've got the fluidity.
Everything that we tried to achieve, I think we've done it.
Every angle, everywhere you are in the space,
she looks slightly different. Yes. And you get that pose.
When you start a project all those years ago
and then suddenly you get here
and you've got this beautiful creature
diving from the ceiling. It's kind of strange to look back.
I honestly feel that we've created something totally unique here.
It's something that I'm hoping will make people think
about what we've achieved as a species
by saving these animals from extinction,
and it's a message for the future.
We need to apply that same level of compassion and cooperation
to the rest of the planet.
We're all in it together, basically, aren't we? Yeah. Yeah.
126 years ago,
a female blue whale got into trouble off the coast of Ireland and died.
Before long, only her bones remained.
They eventually found their way
to the Natural History Museum in London.
Now, in the grand entrance hall,
she finally flies free.
The day of the dinosaur is over,
and the whale,
an animal that symbolises life on our blue planet today,
takes its place.
She is free to swim here forever,
to inspire a new generation about the wonders of the natural world,
and to remind us just how fragile it really is.
Over the last two years, the BBC's science strand Horizon has been behind the scenes at London's Natural History Museum, following the dramatic replacement of the iconic Dippy the Dinosaur skeleton cast with the real skeleton of a blue whale - the world's biggest animal.
Narrated by Sir David Attenborough, this special film follows the teams involved in what has to be one of the world's most unique engineering challenges.
Replacing Dippy is brave and bold - it is the first thing visitors see when they enter the grand Hintze Hall, but the Natural History Museum is changing, and the installation of the colossal blue whale skeleton is the start of a new chapter. The largest animal ever to have lived, blue whales were driven to the brink of extinction by hunting and were the first species humans decided to save, telling an inspiring story of hope for the natural world.