In 1883 when this 17.4-metre-long Sperm Whale skeleton was first displayed, it was the largest of only four Sperm Whales exhibited worldwide.
This whale’s rotting carcass washed up on Tom Thumb Lagoon at Port Kembla, which is approximately 100 kilometres south of Sydney, on 13 November 1871. Despite the foul smell, hundreds of people came every day to look at the giant marine mammal.
The museum taxidermist, J A Thorpe, and two assistants spent a week at the beach removing the whale’s flesh before sending off four cartloads of bones via steam boat to Sydney. Back at the Museum, the bones were soaked in cold water to remove the remaining flesh. The skeleton was then assembled. The Curator at the time was Gerrard Krefft. The term ‘Curator’ has now been replaced by the term ‘Director’. He kept the public engaged by publishing a note in the Daily Mail offering samples of the prized spermaceti oil from the whale’s head to any interested people.
The skeleton was first displayed on a stand and then suspended in its current position in 1910. It’s likely to stay there for the foreseeable future because moving it is truly a whale of a task.