Te Papa whale skeleton stored in 'grubby' building with birds and rodents

7:36 am on 28 August 2018

One of Te Papa's most important whale skeletons is being stored in a building that was dirty, and had birds, insects, and possibly rats and mice living in it.

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Photo: Supplied

Experts are shocked to hear how the national museum has stored the pygmy blue whale skeleton.

Emails released under the Official Information Act show that in February a staff member wrote to the head of collection services detailing the state the building was in.

The email sent in February said:

"The not so good news is; the damaged insulation needs to be repaired. The site is very grubby with dust, contrition debris and rubbish on the floor and in corners. Birds are actively living inside the building. There is insect [sic] and I suspect rodent activity within the building."

In the OIA response Te Papa said the issues noted had since been fixed. Pest control was actively managed on an ongoing basis, and the damaged insulation fixed.

Spokesperson Kate Camp said Te Papa took a lease on the building in August 2016, which was a warehouse environment.

From December collection items were stored there, and for each item a risk assessment was done, and items were wrapped in specialised crating or wrapping to make sure it was well protected.

Even so, the state of the storage as noted in February was not what would be expected from the museum, said Mike Rudge, the former manager of collection managers at Te Papa.

"I'd have thought that a national museum, which is what this is, would have had the facilities and the people to make sure that anything that went into that storeroom, was safe."

The pygmy blue whale referred to in the emails was a significant item in the Te Papa collection, Mr Rudge said.

"I can remember when that was collected and a huge investment went into putting it all together in the right way so it could be an exhibit, and it was an exhibit because it was one of the very few of the complete skeletons of a large marine mammal."

In July RNZ revealed details of a restructure which could see up top 25 people lose their jobs.

Concerns were raised by scientists and conservators that the collections area was the hardest hit, and that it might not be properly managed.

A few weeks later Te Papa announced it would carry out an independent review into how its natural history collections were managed.

Anton van Heldon used to look after the marine mammals collection, but was made redundant in a previous restructure.

He said in the past, someone called a preventative conservator used to make sure things were stored in the right facilities.

"It's really disturbing to think that they could have not checked those things really, they no longer have a preventative conservator as I understand it, at Te Papa, and that means that those sorts of things...are more likely.

Conservator Diana Coop agreed.

"This is exactly why you need the conservators to be able to advise on the best environment and the best way to store things, and the best way to prevent any damage occurring to our national collections."

Ms Camp said the warehouse was formally checked every month and staff checked it informally whenever they visited.

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