At 08:36 05.11.00 +1100, you wrote:
My family visited the new Melbourne Museum yesterday.
I just wondered if any birding-aus list members work there.
My daughter asked 'why did they have to kill all the birds'?
As a museums curator, even in northern Norway, where
according to the media 'we kill whales for fun', I know that question quite
well, and find it somewhat complicated to answer. I never have seen the
Melbourne Museum, so my reply may be off on that score, but for our
exhibitions the answer would be about as follows.
" In earlier times, the study of animals (and plants, for
that matter) was mainly by collecting the organisms, conserving them in
some way (stuffing them or making them into study skins, when for a large
museum, when it concerned birds) and studying the collections, i.e. the
dead animals. Nowadays there are many new and modern methods of catching
live birds and releasing them, photographing and filming, etc etc, so that
even though it is in my opinion still necessary now and then to collect
(i.e. kill) a few specimens as type material, as not everything can really
be studied well enough from photo's, videos, banding data, and blood
samples, museums collect much less of the higher animals than they did
before, and they are very careful (ideally) not to endanger any population
in any way by collecting.
Dead mammals and birds still come in to musea, though; here in Tromsø we
compete with the finders of being allotted so-called 'fall-vilt', animals
being found dead, in the case of birds most often after having been killed
by traffic, flown into houses or other structures, or drowned in various
types of fishing-nets.
So in the case of the exhibitions of our museum, most of the birds shown
there are a mixture of such that have been collected expressly for the
museum a long time ago, and such that have come in as 'fall-vilt', and only
in a few cases the birds have been collected with the express purpose of
being exhibited in a museum.(An example in our museum is a group of Bean
Geese in a diorama---a species which is hunted in Norway, or at least was
20 years ago---, which we shot for the purpose)
The last part of the question is probably: Why show dead animals in a
museum at all? Why not let the people enjoy the live animals in nature , or
even in a zoo, instead? (In our case zoos are very severely restricted, so
there are almost none in Norway).
The answer to this is the same as for all musea: we want
to interest people in the things we exhibit, and get them to look at these
things for themselves in nature. Tromsø is but a small town, and most of
its people have outdoors hobbies or work, but even so they need to be
'pointed in the right direction', and shown how to enjoy their hours
outdoors still more.
And Melbourne is a city of a size, that makes me quite
sure that many people have lost much of normal contact with the nature
around, and kids think e.g. that 'milk comes out of a carton'. In such
cities musea of natural history are extremely important, and all experience
has taught us, that you at least in part must show 'the real thing' in
order to succeed with your task as a museum. You need to show real
archaeological finds, not just replicas, and you must show real animals ,
not just movies of them."
A longer answer probably than the attention span of your daughter, but as
the Dutch proverb says: What the heart is full of, the mouth runs over with!
Best greetings from a Tromsø still hovering between autumn and winter.
Wim Vader, Tromsø Museum
9037 Tromsø, Norway
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