San Diego Natural History Museum--Your Nature Connection[San Diego Natural History Museum: Collections Care & Conservation]
Why do we want to make specimens last forever?

Because of their value!
Because they are unique—and a limited resource!
Because of the costs involved with acquiring a specimen!

young black bear skull (1-year-old), photo by T.Murray
adult female black bear, photo by T.Murray adult male black bear, photo by T.Murray

Black bear skulls, from top to bottom:
Young, 1 year old
Adult, female, 19 years old
Adult, male

Permission granted by the Science Museum of Minnesota to photograph these skulls from their exhibtion Bears: Imagination and Reality.

drawer showing variety of colors in gophers, photo by P.Cato

Series of gophers collected in 1941 shows color variation.

Caring for Collections

Because of their value!

The value is based in the unique characteristics of each specimen.


Sometimes the uniqueness is due to the time and location the specimen was collected.

Black bear mount, photo T.Murray
Black Bear mount.
Shot near Santa Ysabel, California
(central San Diego County) May 2000.


Sometimes a specimen is unique because of its set of characteristics, such as measurements, colors, gender, or biochemical components. Scientists compare skulls and skins from different individuals to learn about variation in these characteristics.

variations of black bear pelts, photo T. Murray
Comparing color variation in three black bear pelts

A pocket gopher collected as part of a series, that is one of several collected at one time and one place, is valuable. It helps us learn about variation, such as variation in hair color, or variation in body size.

It might be unique if it is unusually large, or an unusual color.

For scientists, the value of a specimen is measured in information and the key to knowledge.

For teachers and museum docents, the value is measured by how well a specimen illustrates a concept or a fact.

For artists, the value is measured by how well a specimen can serve as a model.

For YOU—the value may be measured in many ways!

  • tease your curiosity, and lead you to discover more.
  • inspire awe and amazement in its beauty or uniqueness.
  • remind you of a past experience—

Is the value ever measured in dollars?


It can be, such as the value of minerals that might be sold at gem and mineral shows.

For the vast majority of our 7,500,000 specimens, however, there is no market value and we don't try to put a 'resale' dollar value on the specimens. The dollar value reflects the cost of collecting and taking care of the specimens, as well as the cost of making information available for use.

Because they are unique--and a limited resource!
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