Dive into a world of ocean giants—their evolution, biology, and cultural significance—fascinating both for their eerie similarities to ourselves and for their awe-inspiring differences.

Beautiful and strange, graceful and magnificent, whales are evolutionary marvels and key players in marine ecosystems. For centuries, humans have revered them, feared them, and sometimes exploited them. Now it's your chance to journey into the world of whales and see them in all their glorious diversity.

In this immersive and interactive exhibit, learn about the evolution of whales, explore the functions they serve in ocean food webs, and find out what threats they face in the modern world—and the work Academy scientists are doing to protect them. Developed and presented by the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, the exhibit tells the story of whales in all its fascinating complexity, including the cultural significance of these magnificent creatures to the people who know them best.

This exhibit closed November 29, 2015.

Diversity of whales in the Whales exhibit


Walk among the giant and not-so-giant articulated skeletons of an astoundingly diverse collection of whale specimens, then explore the evolutionary paths that gave rise to this unique group of mammals.

Replica of a blue whale heart


Through a wide array of hands-on and multimedia exhibits—including a life-sized model of a blue whale heart and an animation of a lethal battle between sperm whale and giant squid—gain a true appreciation of the physical and behavioral traits that enable whales to make a living in the challenging and dynamic marine environment. 

Image of a whale-bone artifact

Cultural Significance

See ancient and contemporary works of art and hear stories from people of the South Pacific all celebrating the magnificence of whales and illustrating the powerful influence these creatures have had on human culture.

Image of humpback whale


See and hear about efforts being made by Academy scientists and others to protect whales from threats of entanglement, shipping and sonar use, and the continuation of whaling practices in some parts of the world. 

Experience the wonder

Visit an aquarium, planetarium, rainforest, and natural history museum—all under one living roof.

Whales: Giants of the Deep will be on exhibit through November 29, 2015.

Developed and presented by the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa

Te Papa logo

This exhibition was made possible through the support of the New Zealand Government and the Smithsonian Institution. 

Generously supported at the Academy by the Pacific Life Foundation

Shop the Whales Store Collection

Visit our online store, where you can shop for whales merchandise and help support the Academy's mission to explore, explain, and sustain life. 

Banner for Whales online store
Photo Credits

Sperm whale top of page: © Brandon Cole
Visitors touching rib bone: © Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, 2008
Model of blue whale heart: © Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, 2008
Whale-bone pendant: © Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, 2007
Humpback whale: © Dr Ingrid Visser, Orca Research Trust