The Beacon

Field Trip: Whales | Tohor?

On Friday afternoon, I took a field trip, as I'd hoped, to the new exhibit at the National Geographic museum, Whales | Tohor?. I thought it was exceptional; it engaged all the senses (except taste) with interactive features both scientific and and cultural. The centerpiece of the exhibit -- the first thing I noticed -- was an impressive 58-foot long male sperm whale skeleton that was found beached in 2003. Next I checked out the series of ancient whale skeletons. The world's first whale, pakicetus attocki, looked an awful lot to me like an R.O.U.S.... It was neat to watch as each successive skeleton's limbs grew smaller and smaller, until they started to look like the whales we know and love -- 'twas quite a visual lesson in evolution. I was also a fan of both the underwater simulator booth, where you can see and feel what it's like to dive with whales, and the sound chamber, where you can listen to eight different cetacean whistles and clicks. And yes, I did crawl through the model of the blue whale heart. (Plus, scandal of scandals, there is even a section on whale sex. I won't get into the details here... you'll have to check it out yourself.) A section on threats spotlighted the Hector's dolphin, whose population is declining as a result of fishing nets. In other words, the dolphins are being caught incidentally as bycatch, which Oceana is campaigning to stop. And in case you wonder where all your plastic waste goes, there's a case with a large, thick plastic bag that was removed from the stomach of a shepherd's beaked whale. Finally, I wandered through the the Pataka taonga, or Maori storehouse of treasures, which included whale bone weapons and jewelry that were frightening and beautiful, and I took a whiff of ambergris from the intestines of a sperm whale. (It was stinky.) Sorry Smithsonian, but I think I enjoyed this exhibit more than the Ocean Hall...


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