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The World’s Only Taxidermied Whale Was Once a Romantic Place to Have Dinner (and Do It, Apparently)

There was a time when you could grab drinks inside the world's only taxidermied whale — that is, until one pair got too frisky and ruined the fun for all.


When urges take over and inhibitions subside, people have all too often been exposed “getting busy” in some surprisingly strange and unsuspecting places. From roadsides and rooftops to banks and bridges, it’s safe to say humans have pretty much “done it” everywhere.

Still, there nevertheless exists a spot that only one canoodling couple can claim as their own — and that’s within the deep, dark esophageal abyss of the world’s first and only taxidermied whale.

 

Photo Credit: Gothenburg Natural History Museum

 

The Malm Whale — a stuffed 7-month-old blue whale calf — serves as the “jewel” of the natural history museum in Gothenburg, Sweden. Although just a juvenile, its body measures a massive 16 meters long and dates back 152 years.

The whale was named after the man who arranged for its preservation, August Wilhelm Malm — a zoologist, taxidermist and the museum's first curator — after finding it along the west coast of Sweden on October 29, 1865.

Back then, people were far less likely to rescue beached whales rather than they were to slaughter them — and unfortunately this whale was met with the latter fate. Two fishermen spent several days axing, spearing and shooting the helpless whale until it tragically drowned in its own blood.

Then, for quite the pretty penny, the fishermen sold the whale to Malm, who set out to become the creator of a historically unique specimen — one that, still to this day, has never been replicated... and hopefully never will be (for many reasons, including blue whales are endangered).

 

Photo Credit: National Library of Sweden

 

But first, the whale had to be shipped to the museum. And this was no easy task, most notably because Malm refused to separate the whale into pieces. Instead, he insisted it remain whole and intact — which, casually, meant deploying a fleet of three steamboats and two coal barges to do so.

While we stop and take a moment to envision this spectacle (and perhaps try and work out the logistics involved), let us also pause to imagine the putrid aromas that must have been emanating from its decomposing body.

 

Aaaah, the sweet smells of days-old whale carcass …

 

Upon arrival to the Göteborg shore, the taxidermy process began. The whale's organs were preserved in barrels on the museum's yard; the skin was treated over several weeks; the baleen was salted and hung to dry; and the skeleton was boiled and polished.

Because Malm intended for the skeleton to be an exhibit of of its own, apart from the stuffed body, he had a wooden frame handmade for the dark blue hide to be stitched and stretched around, which was altogether secured by small copper and brass tacks.

 

A segment of the stitched and pinned blue whale hide. Photo Credit: Cecilia Grönberg & Jonas J. Magnusson

 

But the real magic came from the frame’s hinged jaw, which extended widely and exposed a gaping path throughout the whale’s enormous hollow body. The jaw is what ultimately drew people in from all over the globe:

Not only could you externally examine one of the world’s most wondrous and mysterious creatures, but you could also explore it internally — albeit decked out with benches, red carpet and wall art — and enjoy a drink, a romantic dinner or even a spiritual experience reflecting on the story of Jonah and the whale (which was often a common occurrence) while you did.

 

Photo Credit: Gothenburg Natural History Museum

 

The fun came to an end, however, when one couple in the 1930s decided to kick the romance up a notch and crawl into the "belly of the beast" after-hours.

They were caught doing the deed in the whale’s esophagus, and its jaws have been hinged tightly shut to the public ever since — with the exception of every four years when Sweden’s national elections are held. Fun fact: Valdagen, or “election day,” also translates as “whale day.”

More-fun fact: A chairman of the museum is reported to have, we assume, attempted to comfort rightfully irritated local museum-goers by once saying, “We must be content with the fact that it was two citizens of our own city that enjoyed this privilege.”

Even though we'll have to wait until Sweden's next national elections in September 2018 to peek inside this whale again, there's something about this chairman's outlook that allows us to rest easy while we count down.

 

Still, if that's not enough to hold you over, here's an amateur video tour of the whale to help pass the time:

 

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Illustration by Fabio Manucci

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