Moby’s giant whale skull back at National Museum

Moby's giant skull. Picture: Ian Rutherford
Moby's giant skull. Picture: Ian Rutherford
Have your say

HIS enduring battle for survival in the shallow waters of the Forth captured the hearts of many 16 years ago.

Now Moby the sperm whale is expected to attract the masses once again when his skull goes on permanent display at the National Museum of Scotland.

Moby  stranded in 1997

Moby stranded in 1997

Nicknamed by locals, Moby beached and died on the foreshore at Airth, near the Kincardine Bridge, in 1997 – the first sperm whale to be stranded in the Forth in more than 200 years.

For years the skeletal remains of the 40ft giant have been hidden from public view as part of the museum’s marine mammal research collection.

He briefly went on show in the aftermath of his death and was the focal point of Turner Prize nominee Lucy Skaer’s installation, Leviathan Edge, at Tate Britain, London, in 2009.

But this will be the first time he has ever been on permanent show, with the 15ft bone set to be lifted into place in the grand gallery on Wednesday.

Dr Andrew Kitchener, principal curator of vertebrates for the museum, said he was certain Moby’s addition would be a popular one.

“Moby’s plight truly captured the heart of the nation and his skull is a dramatic and enticing specimen which represents the fantastic natural science collections we hold here,” he said.

“I’m sure visitors to the museum will be delighted to see Moby on permanent display and will certainly be astounded by the incredible size of his skull.”

Rescuers, including the pleasure boat Maid of the Forth, tried desperately to push him back out to sea during efforts that lasted more than two weeks.

A postmortem carried out by Dr Kitchener found the bone at the back of the skull showed signs of disease. It is likely he died from septicaemia as a result of a long-standing injury, believed to be the reason he ended up so far from the usual home of sperm whales in the Atlantic Ocean.

His remains will sit alongside artefacts including the Cockcroft-Walton generator, developed at Cambridge University in the 1930s to artificially split the atom, and a statue of James Watt which used to be in Westminster Abbey.

Ocean trek that ended in tragedy

Reports from 1997 revealed Moby the whale was migrating to the Azores from the Arctic when he took a wrong turn, with his companions waiting at sea for him to join them.

A major rescue operation mounted by a flotilla of tugs and boats succeeded in shepherding him out to safety. Days later he returned to the estuary, but was thought to have escaped again after he wasn’t sighted for another five days.

Sadly he had beached at Airth, and children sobbed as they saw the massive mammal swish his tail in what seemed like one last desperate bid to get free of the mud. He died beached on March 31, 1997, as we reported, above.