The Tay Whale, also known as the “Monster,” was a humpback whale that entered the Firth of Tay in eastern Scotland in 1883. The whale was hunted, but managed to escape and was found dead a week later. It was then taken advantage of by showman John Woods who had the whale towed to Dundee and put it on a train tour to be exhibited in Scotland and England.
The event caused a great deal of excitement and was widely reported in the press at the time. It remains an important part of Scotland’s cultural heritage and serves as a reminder of the impact humans have had on the natural world. The Regius Professor of Anatomy at Aberdeen University, John Struthers, performed a public dissection of the Tay Whale, with a military band playing in the background, organized by John Woods.
The decomposing whale made Woods a great deal of money and helped to make Struthers famous. The event also inspired the notoriously bad poet William McGonagall to write a poem about the Tay Whale, which added to the notoriety of the event and has since become famous in its own right. McGonagall’s poem “The Famous Tay Whale” is considered one of the worst pieces of poetry in the English language and serves as a reminder of the eccentricity and humor that can be found in local folk traditions.
In December 1883, a humpback whale appeared in the Firth of Tay near Dundee, Scotland, which was then a major whaling port. The local whalers decided to hunt the whale, but after several failed attempts, the whale escaped. A week later, it was found dead floating at sea and was towed to Stonehaven and dragged onto the beach.
John Struthers, the Regius Professor of Anatomy at Aberdeen University, visited the carcass and recorded its measurements. The whale was then bought by local entrepreneur John Woods and transported to his yard in Dundee, where it drew a large number of visitors and was the subject of numerous newspaper articles.
The local newspaper, the Dundee Courier, published at least 21 stories on the Tay Whale between November 12, 1883, and January 11, 1884, adding to the notoriety of the event and its place in local history. On January 25, 1884, when the whale was too decomposed for further public exhibition, Struthers was allowed to perform a dissection of the famous specimen.
Despite snow showers, Struthers was able to remove much of the skeleton before the flesh was embalmed by John Woods and taken on a tour. Struthers eventually wrote several anatomy articles and a monograph on the humpback whale, and in 2011, the whale’s skeleton was displayed at the McManus Galleries in Dundee. The event remains a notable and unique chapter in the history of the city and the wider scientific community.
John Struthers became popularly famous for his dissection of the Tay Whale, which was one of his largest specimens, and helped him to establish a museum of zoology. He was a passionate collector of specimens from many species, which he used to illustrate Darwin’s theories and advance the study of anatomy and zoology. His work on the Tay Whale further cemented his reputation as a skilled anatomist and helped to popularize the study of natural sciences in Scotland and beyond.
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The Tay Whale, also known as the "Monster," was a humpback whale that entered the Firth of Tay in eastern Scotland in 1883.
The Tay Whale, also known as the “Monster,” was a humpback whale that entered the Firth of Tay in eastern Scotland in 1883. Photo Credit – Struthers, John (1889) Memoir on the Anatomy of the Humpback Whale, Megaptera LongimanaEdinburgh: Maclachlan
Anatomical drawings of the Tay Whale by John Struthers
Anatomical drawings of the Tay Whale by John Struthers. Photo Credit – Struthers, John (1889) Memoir on the Anatomy of the Humpback Whale, Megaptera LongimanaEdinburgh: Maclachlan

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