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American Museum of Natural History’s iconic blue whale gets its annual spring cleaning

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Staff members broke out the heavy equipment to give the whale a good scrub down

Photos courtesy ©AMNH/C.Chesek.

It was a special day for the iconic blue whale that looms over the Milstein Hall of Ocean Life at the American Museum of Natural History. A specialized team of museum staff broker out the supplies to give the 94-foot replica its annual spring cleaning.

As you can imagine, giving the 21,000-pound replica of one of the ocean’s largest creatures a bath is no easy feat (hence why its done just once a year) and Untapped Cities was on site to capture the action with a live stream of the event as it unfolded.

Whereas the process once involved erecting scaffolding the whale, the museum has revolutionized its approach and now uses a lift to bolster workers, strapped with hosed vacuums and other cleaning supplies, up and around the model. This new method has shortened the process from a week to just two or three days.

The fiberglass and polyurethane whale has seen some changes since it was first installed back in 1969. In 2003, its eyes were altered, the tail tapered, and it received a fresh gallon (25 gallons to be exact) of paint.

The American Museum of Natural History is seeing some changes of its own. A $340 million expansion plan, designed by Studio Gang and Davis Brody Bond, is in the works and is expected to wrap up in 2020. The changes require demolishing three older buildings on the property to make way for the new Richard Gilder Center for Science, Education, and Innovation.

To give you an idea of what the cleaning process looks like, here’s a time-lapse video from 2011. For the most part, the method has remained the same since then: