Art: enzymes save whale skeleton

The world’s largest museum of natural history was given a helping hand in cleaning a whale skeleton to be used as a work of art in a new exhibit on climate change. How do you clean it in the most environmentally friendly manner – enzymes, of course.

Mix two artists, a researcher, a dead minke whale and a couple of kilos of enzymes from Novozymes and you get a 6-metre long whale sculpture that welcomes guests to an exhibit at the Natural History Museum in London.

Novozymes supplied enzymes and expertise to artists Heather Ackroyd and Dan Harvey when they needed to clean a whale cadaver for the exhibit 'The Art of Climate Change'.

Harsh chemicals are the usual way to rinse bones; but harmful chemicals did not sit well with either the artists’ other works of art which are based on natural decomposition, nor with the theme of the exhibit.

At first, Heather Ackroyd and Dan Harvey stored the whale cadaver in a shed in their garden, but it soon became almost too natural when it began to rot. They quickly realised they needed to find a better solution if it should turn into the work of art they had envisioned.

Fortunately, they were put in touch with Novozymes and enzyme researcher Carsten Lauridsen. As Novozymes has worked with slaughterhouses in cleaning meat off bones, the artists could be told about enzymes that could expedite the process in a more effective and natural way. In fact, enzymes are completely biologically degradable proteins found everywhere in nature and, among other things, can dissolve fat and meat from, for example, a whale skeleton.

“It must have smelled and looked disgusting, but I recommended that they remove as much meat as possible by hand before bathing the bones in a tepid mixture of enzymes. We had never tried anything like this before, either, but luckily, it was a great success," says Carsten Lauridsen.

The 6-metre whale sculpture can be viewed at the Natural History Museum in London.