Sharing our dolphins with Riverton

Sharing our dolphins with Riverton

Have you ever had to explain to customs at the airport what the odd-looking object is in your hand luggage? Head of Science Susan Waugh explains why she had a Hector’s dolphin skull in her carry-on.

I’ve been questioned a few times when carrying weird-shaped things in my hand luggage. Once when transporting a set of bagpipes for my dad, and, more recently, when I took a carefully-packed Hector’s dolphin skull to Dunedin, destined for display at Te Hikoi, the museum in Riverton, Southland.

Dolphin skull safely nestled in a special carry-case
Hector’s dolphin skull, 2019. Te Papa

A few months ago, we gave Karyn Owen from Te Hikoi Museum a tour of our natural history collection.

We discussed loaning some of our extensive marine mammal collection to Te Hikoi for their new exhibition celebrating Riverton’s connection with the iconic endemic Hector’s dolphin.

Whale and dolphin skeletons
Marine animals in the collection, 2016. Photograph by Michael Hall. Te Papa (86854)

The connection between Riverton and the Hector’s dolphin

Riverton is near an important population of Hector’s dolphins on the southern coast of the South Island.

The town and its museum have adopted Hector’s dolphins as a kind of living mascot for all that is great about that part of the world.

This exhibition was a really special opportunity to connect Te Papa specimens with a new audience in Riverton – particularly as the Hector’s dolphin is such an iconic part of their daily life.

three dolphins jumping in the sea
Hector’s dolphins, Cloudy Bay, 2012. Photo by Anjanette Baker/Oregon State University and University of Auckland, via Wikimedia. CC BY 4.0

Dolphin skulls in their new temporary home

Making our collections accessible to the public, and telling the stories of the species’ and their conservation challenges, is an important purpose. We want to inspire people to care and cherish New Zealand’s precious natural heritage.

As part of Te Papa’s active loans activity, we arranged the paperwork and transportation of the Hector’s dolphin skull, and later a bottlenose dolphin. We took advantage of some pre-arranged Te Papa staff travel, which is how I became courier for this taonga.

Te Hikoi board chair Helen McCurdy came up to Dunedin airport to collect the skull directly from me.

A lady smiles holding a case
Te Hikoi board chair Helen McCurdy takes delivery of the Hector’s dolphin skull at Dunedin Airport. Photo by Susan Waugh. Te Papa
Te Papa dolphin skull specimens sit on their foam mounts at Te Hikoi museum, Southland. Photo by Karyn Owen, courtesy of Te Hikoi

The loans process

Te Hikoi were a new partner for us, so before shipping, we did all the necessary work around the protection and care for the object at its new temporary home.

Once the objects were chosen, we arranged for them to be examined by Te Papa’s specialist natural history conservator Robert Clendon. Then they were packaged and mounted by our expert object support staff. Object Support Preparators Callum Strong and Paul Solly did some mount-making magic. Callum created a flexible and easy to use display mount (support structure) and some little wire pins to hold the skulls in place while they were on display.

Paul got the skull nestled into its foam surrounds to ensure the specimen, along with mounting system were keep it safe and secure for its journey to Te Hikoi and back to Te Papa again.

If you’re in Southland, make sure you visit For the Love of Dolphins | Ngā Aihe o Aotearoa at Te Hikoi, on display until Nov 2019

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