Diving in with Whales Tohora: Alex visits the Museum of Nature’s latest showstopper

A full-size skeleton of a sperm whale is the showstopper at Whales Tohora (Photo credit: Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa)

Alex Hosselet (blog/Twitter) likes to keep it real, and there are few places in Ottawa more real than the Museum of Nature. That’s why he we went back to see the newest exhibit and write about the highlights.

The Canadian Museum of Nature is easily one of my favourite locations in Ottawa, which is why I was incredibly excited to be invited to the reception and launch of the museum’s newest exhibit: Whales Tohorā (tohorā being the Maori word for whale). Presented through a partnership with the New Zealand High Commission and the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa (New Zealand’s national museum), Whales Tohorā brings us a glimpse into the lives of one of nature’s most majestic and mysterious creatures – all from a uniquely New Zealand perspective.

The evening was started with an introduction to the exhibit by the curator, an ambassador from the High Commission, and a representative from the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa. An especially nice touch was the selection of New Zealand wine being served – as an aside, if you haven’t tried New Zealand wine, I highly recommend it! Afterward, the guests were given a first glimpse of the exhibit, which opens today.

Whales grace the entrance of Whales Tohora (Photo credit: Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa)

Reproduction of a right whale head … and a prop from the movie Whale Rider! (Photo credit: Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa)

Whales Tohora begins with a history of the relationship between New Zealanders and whales, particularly the native Maori. On display is an impressive collection of tools, ornaments, and jewellery carved intricately by the Maori. Although a Commonwealth cousin, I feel that there’s a lot that we can learn about New Zealand, and this exhibit is a great starting point.

As you move further into the exhibit, you learn more about the whales themselves: 153 graphic panels, 7 interactive stations, 11 videos, as well as 75 rare animal specimens that are on the endangered species list. In the centre of it all is the most impressive piece in the collection: a full sperm whale skeleton, suspended in the middle of the room. In order to bring the whale into the space, the museum had to install a whole new hoist system in the atrium roof! You can see a video of it below:

The most notable parts of the exhibit were the most unconventional. There is a full-sized model of a blue whale’s heart, which children (or adventurous adults like myself) can crawl into. The interactive stations use game-like learning, such as designing a dolphin body to maximize speed and energy. There’s even a sample of ambergris to smell – ambergris being a residue on whale intestines that was traditionally used for a lot of applications, including perfumes. I’ll warn you: it is potent!

Model of a full-sized blue whale heart, fun for kids and adventurous adults alike. (Photo credit: Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa)

The exhibit has a lot to offer for both adults and children, with an impressive collection of bones, artifacts, and information. For anyone that is a remote fan of whales, animals, or nature in general, I strongly recommend taking in Whales Tohorā.

Sounds like a whale of a time, Alex! The exhibit will be at the Canadian Museum of Nature until September 3, 2012, so lots of time to check it out!