One of the prized collections of Gothenburg’s Natural History Museum is a blue whale called Malm Whale, eponymously named after A. W. Malm. It is the only mounted blue whale in the world, and it was found stranded on the shore at a bay in Askim in Gothenburg in 1865. The whale was exhibited first at the East India Company building, where Gothenburg City Museum is located, but shifted to the Natural History Museum when it had its own building and collections.
The whale in the museum almost stretches from one end of the hall to another end and it is a kid whale. “This is a kid. It is a young whale, it is half the size of an adult whale. 60 metres,” says Renée Göthburg, communications officer at the museum. One can go inside the whale but it is opened for internal viewing only during Valborg (or Valborgsmässoafton), Valdagen (election day) and around Christmas – during Christmas one can find the Santa Claus.
The visitor can see the Malm Whale which is a kid whale and compare it with an adult whale in the museum with the jaw bones: The jaw bone of an adult whale and the jaw bone of a young whale.
An aspect of interest and a point of reflection about the whales in the museum is the evolution of whales. “When you talk about evolution you usually talk about animals leaving the oceans and getting up on land and then evolving. We always talk about (they came) from the sea to land. Whales, they came up to the land and then they went back … they have different … evolution. They went up to the land from sea to land and they went from land to sea. That is why they are mammals … they have land characteristics, skeletal structures in their hands, remnants of legs … mammalian features,” says Renée Göthburg.
One can compare and contrast two types of whales: toothed whales and baleen whales, and there are about 90 different species of whales (some of them are extinct, and some of them are endangered). Sperm whale is a toothed whale and blue whale is a baleen whale.
The blue whale offers a chance for a visitor to know its origins, the efforts that went behind in to bring it to the museum, to feel its enormous size, and the need to preserve such animals for the future generations to learn about the genetic biodiversity of whales.
Before the Malm whale was moved to the Natural History Museum in Gothenburg, the whale toured to different cities: Stockholm, Copenhagen, Hamburg, Berlin, Paris, London and several other cities. Once on its journey, the whale was confiscated but a Dickson to pay its ransom and was brought back to its home in Gothenburg.
The colour of the whale has changed over the years to a shade of brown though when it was found it was in blue. According to the museum authorities, “The whale skin has been prepared alternately with salt and absorbing sawdust, and finally with powderized ball clay. Next, it is washed and the inside and is coated with a saturated arsenic solution. It is mounted on frames with some 30,000 zinc and copper nails. By mid-April it is beginning to dry. Any oil seepage is wiped off with turpentine. Then outside is also covered in arsenic, mercuric chloride and a top coat of colourless copal varnish. But when the skin is ready to be put on the whale frame, a slight problem ensues. The measurements are all wrong, since they have been taken from just one side of the creature, which was impossible to turn over at the time. There is not enough skin …”
Olof Larsson, a local fisherman, found the kid whale washed ashore along with his brother-in-law and sell it to August Malm the curator at the Gothenburg Museum of Natural History. Malm saw the opportunity to make a scientific dream come true.
And, the Malm Whale at Gothenburg’s Natural History Museum has a penfriend! They correspond with one another regularly exchanging titbits of news, and all things related to the whales in the world.
Please check the website before you visit, the whale section of the museum has a plan for renovation: www.gnm.se