February 4, 2015

Are dinosaurs going extinct in museums?

Posted by Laura Guertin

I’ll admit it – I’m a huge fan of dinosaurs.  Ever since I saw my first dinosaur display in the Springfield Science Museum (MA) as a kid, I still have that childlike curiosity and fascination with these extinct creatures.  I make it a point to try to visit natural history museums wherever I travel to view dinosaur displays and more.  And as a scientist, I value the important role these informal education centers play in engaging the public and getting the younger generation excited about science.

And I’m sure I’m not the only one that felt some sentimental tears upon hearing the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History closed its Dinosaur Hall in 2014 for a renovation project that would keep most of the dinosaurs out of site from visitors until 2019 (see my blog post about the closure).  Some dinosaurs, such as the Diplodocus, has “left the building” to have a new custom frame built to support its structure (see Smithsonian Fossil Hall Renovation: Diplodocus Update (12/19/2014)).  Although the Smithsonian will be bringing their Diplodocus back, it seems another natural history museum is removing their Diplodocus from the lobby and sending it away (location TBD).

This is the tweet that sent museum-visiting-dinosaur-fans on fire last week, from London’s Natural History Museum:


What is all the hype about?  You see, to make room for the blue whale, the museum is removing its Diplodocus from the lobby. Nicknamed “Dippy,” the Diplodocus carnegii has been at the museum for 109 years but was not moved to the lobby for display until 1979.  The skeleton is a plaster cast of a discovery by Jacob Wortman in 1899 in the Morrison Formation of Wyoming.  The expedition was funded by Andrew Carnegie and described and named by John Bell Hatcher.  The original skeleton calls the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh its home, but casts of this specimen can be found in museums on four continents.

Diplodocus in the lobby of London's Natural History Museum - but only until 20xx (photo taken by D. King, used with permission)

Diplodocus in the lobby of London’s Natural History Museum – but only until 2017 (photo taken by D. King, used with permission)


Mr. Richard Sabin, Vertebrates Collections Manager at the Natural History Museum, has become quite busy in recent days explaining the reason for the swap.  Here is a short interview where he explains the museum’s decision to move their real skeleton of a blue whale from its current museum location to the lobby, removing the spotlight from Dippy.


With people taking sides with #TeamDippy or #TeamWhale, some news sources are having fun with the debate:


And others are absolutely fine with removing something from the Mesozoic Era and showcasing something more recent:


The Natural History Museum has a couple of fantastic Storifys they compiled with posts from Twitter, taking advantage of the opportunity to engage the public in the “what” and “why” of this decision and transition.  So before you sign the change.org petition to Save Dippy, take the time to be informed and reflect upon the mission and vision of natural history museums not just for the present (and not just for sentimental reasons), but for the future.  Dippy might be losing center stage, but it doesn’t seem like dinosaurs are going anywhere (probably not for geologic time!).