If you have ever visited the Natural History Museum in London, you might have come across Hope – the blue whale skeleton that hangs from the ceiling of the main hall. But have you ever wondered how old this magnificent creature was when it was alive?
Thanks to extensive research and analysis, scientists have been able to determine that Hope was approximately 126 years old at the time of its death.
The Story Behind Hope
Hope’s story begins in 1891 when she was first spotted in the waters off the southern coast of South Georgia, a remote island in the South Atlantic Ocean. Whalers who were on a hunting expedition spotted her and decided to pursue her for her valuable blubber and oil.
After a long chase, they finally harpooned her and towed her to shore where they began processing her remains. It took them almost three days to strip away all of her flesh and blubber before they were left with just her bones.
Her skeleton remained on display at the whaling station for almost 10 years until it was purchased by the British Museum (now known as the Natural History Museum) in 1934.
Determining Her Age
Determining the age of a whale can be challenging as there are no obvious physical markers like rings on a tree trunk or growth rings on a clamshell. However, scientists were able to use a few different techniques to estimate Hope’s age.
Firstly, they analyzed samples of Hope’s earwax (yes, whales have earwax!) which contains layers that correspond with different periods of time. By analyzing these layers, scientists were able to determine that Hope was at least 50 years old when she died.
They also analyzed samples of Hope’s eye lenses which contain proteins that are laid down during development. By measuring these proteins, scientists were able to determine that Hope was at least 63 years old when she died.
Finally, they analyzed samples of Hope’s bones which contain growth layers that can be counted to determine age. By analyzing these layers, scientists were able to determine that Hope was approximately 126 years old when she died.
- The Legacy of Hope
Hope’s story is a poignant reminder of the devastating impact of commercial whaling on these magnificent creatures. It is estimated that over 2 million blue whales were killed during the 20th century alone, reducing their population by over 95%.
Today, blue whales remain an endangered species with only around 10,000 individuals left in the wild. However, thanks to conservation efforts and international agreements like the International Whaling Commission’s moratorium on commercial whaling, their numbers are slowly recovering.
Hope’s legacy lives on as a symbol of the importance of protecting these incredible creatures for future generations to enjoy.
Hope may no longer be swimming in the ocean, but her legacy lives on in the form of her magnificent skeleton. By analyzing her remains, scientists have been able to determine that she was approximately 126 years old when she died – a remarkable age for any creature.
Her story is a testament to the resilience and beauty of these incredible animals and a reminder of the importance of protecting them for future generations to enjoy.