The Gallery of Cetaceans is more than 100 meters long and its space was once used by the monks of the Charterhouse for walking during bad weather. Today it hosts a spectacular exhibition of cetacean skeletons, as well as fossil remains of ancient whales lived millions of years ago and life-size models.
The collection of skeletons is among the most important in Europe and boasts a very long tradition: cetacean bones are, in fact, cited in the seventeenth-century inventories of the Museum even if the oldest specimens currently present date back to the early eighteenth century. Most of the skeletons, however, were purchased by Sebastiano Richiardi, director of the Museum between 1871 and 1904. Today the Museum’s collection preserves over 50 skeletons and 30 of them are on display in the Gallery of Cetaceans.
In continuity with the Archaeocetes hall, the great wall illustration at one end of the exhibit shows the evolution of the two groups of Cetaceans (odontocetes and mysticetes) and presents the latest discoveries that are changing our knowledge on the origin of dolphins and whales. Then, a series of life-size models guides us towards the skeletons, showing the diversity of shape and size of these wonderful animals.
The skeletons of dolphins and whales are flanked by the fossil record of their ancestors in order to facilitate the understanding of the evolution of their structures and behaviors over the time. The most spectacular of the fossil specimens on exhibition (both originals and casts) is certainly the model of the skull of Leviathan (Livyatan melvillei), an ancestor of the Sperm whale with a predatory behavior similar to that of Killer whale. The original skull was discovered in 2008 in Peru, in sediments of about 9 million years ago.
The exhibition is enriched by touchable models and videos on key topics on dolphins and whales: how they feed, how they reproduce, where they live and what dangers we are exposing them to. The last skeleton on exhibit is the Blue whale, the largest animal ever lived, but the final spot is dedicated to Sebastiano Richiardi with historical anatomical preparations and some evidences of the work and practical problems connected to the creation of a collection of this size.