Cymraeg

One of the great things about being a museum curator is that I am always learning new things on the job. I have been a museum curator for 15 years.  In this time, my job has been to care for the mollusca collections but I have also now taken on the role of overseeing the care of the vertebrate collections. This has meant a whole raft of new things to learn and deal with, the least of which being that the animals all have backbones!

I was recently asked on behalf of the Sawfish Conservation Society (SCS) to investigate what sawfish rostra we have in our collections. So what is a sawfish? And what is a rostrum? Sawfish are incredible. They live in tropical and sub-tropical waters across the world. Also known as Carpenter sharks, they are in the same family as stingrays, electric rays and skates. Their characteristic feature is a long narrow nose extension called a rostrum which is lined with sharp teeth. These run down the length of the nose giving it the appearance of a saw.  To make this nose extension all the weirder, it is covered with electro sensitive pores that allow the sawfish to detect the smallest of movements on the sea floor. Little is known about the wild feeding strategies of sawfish, but it seems they skim the surface of the muddy sea floor looking for fish and crustacea, the way we might swish around a metal detector. The rostrum can be also be used to slash and impale anything that might be passing!

It is mostly due to this excellent nose that all sawfish species are listed as endangered or critically endangered. Seen as a curiosity, these sawfish rostra were prized by collectors. Overfishing and habitat destruction have had a devastating impact upon sawfish numbers, they have disappeared from at least 80-90% of the areas they once inhabited. They are now protected in a large number of countries making it illegal to harm them or trade in the removed saws.

The SCS has come up with a plan to help us better understand these amazing animals. They are partnering with researchers and institutes from around the world, which in the UK includes the Deep Aquarium and The Shark Trust, to launch the ‘See a Saw’ Citizen Science Sawfish Project.  Although the removal of saws has had a negative impact on their populations, researchers want to turn this negative into a positive. By using these saws to learn important information about them, they can then be used to conserve the remaining populations. They have the added bonus that the rostra are much easier to measure if the sawfish is not attached!

So with this in mind, I met with Al Reeve and his volunteer Sharon Williams from the South East Wales Biodiversity Records Centre (SEWBRec). Al is an avid elasmobranch enthusiast and it is through him that the enquiry first reached me. We set about photographing, measuring and counting the teeth of a whole series of rostra from the collections. It was an amazing experience to handle these specimens and to learn so much from Al about this group of animals. In the future, we may also be taking tissue samples from these rostra to send on to researchers for analysis. I quote Jeff Whitty, Founder and co-administrator of SCS to explain why:

"The data and tissue samples will be used in multiple international studies to further sawfish management and conservation. Sawfish have been suggested to be the most threatened shark or ray in the world and yet we know little about them, which makes conserving the remaining populations difficult. The morphometric data that you provided will help us improve our identification guides of sawfish and will provide us with a better understanding of the distributions of these species. The tissue samples from the rostra will be used by multiple genetic studies that are exploring the differences in the genetic diversity between historic and contemporary populations of various sawfish species. Information from these genetic studies will allow us to better understand if genetic diversity in current populations have declined or remained steady through the years and thus will inform managers if genetic health of a sawfish species or population is a topic of concern."

It is an unbelievably rewarding experience to know that this work can in a small way contribute to the conservation of this most endangered and enigmatic animal. We are often asked why we hold collections in museums. What good can come out of preserving animals? Why would we want to keep such a negative reminder of the wildlife that we have slaughtered on mass in our past? And we can answer that some good can come out of it. To conserve, to learn, to educate, to enthuse, and to help us do things better in the future. It is a great job that I am privileged to hold.

You can learn more about Sawfish by going on the Sawfish Conservation website. You can find out more about the Sawfish project and who else is involved here, or watch this video about measuring saws.

Yes, you have guessed it, it's time to roll out our annual #MuseumAdvent Calendar at National Museum Cardiff.

Each year throughout December we like to highlight our fantastic collections and spread some Christmassy cheer.

So why not find out what is behind each door of our advent calendar by following the @CardiffCurator Twitter account and see what wonderful suprises we have in store for you behind each one. We have delved deep into our collections to find some great Christmas objects. This year the theme of our advent calendar is lines from Christmas songs and poems. See if you can work out which song or poem each line comes from.

We have started off the calendar with:

Diwrnod 1 #AdfentAmgueddfa: ‘Aur, thus a myrr a gafodd ef, gan ddoethion ddaeth o bell’. Aur Cymru o gasgliadau @Museum_Cardiff

Day 1 of #MuseumAdvent - ‘Five gold rings!’, 5 nuggets of Welsh Gold from @Museum_Cardiff collections

Enjoy!

Update:

Well, now that the festive period is over and the decorations are coming down. We thought that we would put all of our Christmassy tweets together in this Storify for you to read.

The @CardiffCurator Twitter account tweets the latest news, research and events from the Natural Sciences Department at Amgueddfa Cymru - National Museum Wales. This can be anything from shells, insects, plants and fossils to minerals and birds. From specimens in our collections, to an insight of the research that happens every day just beyond the museum gallery walls. So what are our followers most interested in?

Here's a look back at the TOP TWEET and TOP MEDIA TWEET of each month during 2016 from the the account: TOP TWEETS 2016

 

Here at the Mary Gillham Archive Project hub we’ve recently begun ‘timehopping’ on social media.

This involves using Mary’s detailed writings to find out what she was doing on today’s date, so many years ago, and then posting it on Twitter and Facebook (i.e. “on this date, in this year, Mary was doing this…”). It’s an interesting way to learn about Mary’s life history and see the many activities that she got up to in her day-to-day life.

A recent and particularly intriguing timehop posted on 16th October described how on that day in 1982, Mary witnessed the enormous humpback whale lying washed up on Gilestone beach at Aberthaw, near the Power Station.

This sparked the interest of many and after a twitter conversation with National Museum Cardiff it turns out that the bones of the whale are now on display at the museum, right here in Cardiff! This means that you can still visit this gigantic sea mammal today and see a part of Welsh history with your own eyes, just like Mary did.

Crowds on Aberthaw Beach

For those fortunate enough to be there in 1982 Aberthaw, the experience was an unforgettable one.

In her archive, Mary explains that it was almost “impossible to photograph the whale” due to the thousands of people congregating to get a glimpse.

The coastguard had tied the tail of the whale to a large iron post in the ground with ropes (to prevent the animal from washing back out to sea).

Mary describes how she got the chance to hold one of the whale’s gigantic flippers while Piers Langhalt, formerly of National Museum Cardiff, cut the large barnacles from the animal. These same barnacles can be found preserved at the museum, alongside the whale!

One volunteer on the Mary Gillham Archive Project, Julia Banks, recalls the “overpowering, rotting smell” of the beached whale that she witnessed as a young child. Julia visited the scene with her parents and remembers joining the masses of locals all gathering for the unusual sight, as well as seeing a group of people measuring the whale in order to figure out its age.

Julia also remembers visiting National Museum Cardiff when the skeleton was put up on display, and “feeling proud that [their] whale was in the museum”.

For more of the story and info on how the whale was managed by National Museum Cardiff, why not take a trip to the museum to see for yourself how it stands today?

 

The Mary Gillham Archive Project is a Heritage Lottery funded project at South East Wales Biodiversity Records Centre
For more info about the project visit our website: https://marygillhamarchiveproject.com/the-project/

 

 

The Department of Natural Sciences at Amgueddfa Cymru in collaboration with the Wildlife Trust for South and West Wales organised the sixth Unknown Wales for the 8th October. The day to celebrate Welsh wildlife was funded by a generous donation from a museum patron. This year, Dr Richard Bevins, head of the Natural Sciences Department, welcomed a record 240 members of the public to the Reardon Smith lecture theatre at National Museum Cardiff. Attendees came from across South and Mid-Wales as well as from over the Channel in Bristol.

We had overwhelming feedback this time - 88 people have responded. A third of respondents were new to the event, but many people return every year:

“As usual superb presentations by passionate presenters, many thanks”

“Gwych unwaith eto – dw i’n dod pob blwyddyn, diolch!"

We always aim for a broad range of natural history topics delivered in an accessible way:

“A really enjoyable day and very well pitched at all generations and interests”

“John Archer-Thomson – very engaging speaker, made a potentially dry subject [limpets] interesting and informative. Lovely films of Pine Martens.”

A-level and University students felt the topics were relevant to their studies.

“The enthusiasm of the speakers for their subjects, the beautiful location and applying real ecological issues to my studies (I am a student at Cardiff Uni studying biology)”

“Fungi and colliery spoils were especially interesting and the limpets talk gave information that’s very helpful for A-level biology”

Our special guest was Prof. Mike Benton from Bristol University. He spoke about how the discovery of Wales’s newest dinosaur, Dracoraptor hanigani, tells us more about the origins of the dinosaurs.

“Good to see Palaeontology within context of contemporary talk…Fab.”

People have given us many suggestions for topics for next time; “foraging”, “bats” or “urban greening” are just some of the ideas that could be appearing in the future.

We sacrificed question and answer time to enable speakers to finish their talks. However, feedback showed many people missed the interactive aspect. There was some chance for people to talk to speakers informally alongside the displays in the Oriel Suite at lunch, but we acknowledge this is not a substitute for audience participation at the time of the talks.

The Storify article shows how people followed the event live on the day via social media: https://storify.com/CardiffCurator/unknown-wales-2016

For first time we have created a display using the museum collections to link into topics covered at the event. We have just incorporated some of the feedback we received into it. The display is at the top for the restaurant stairs in National Museum Cardiff and runs until 30th October 2016.