Sperm whale

San Francisco (March 23, 2015) – Mighty and mysterious, colossal and charismatic—whales have captured our minds and inspired our wonder for centuries, yet remain some of the most elusive creatures on the planet. Starting Friday, April 3, 2015, visitors to the California Academy of Sciences can explore Whales: Giants of the Deep, an interactive new exhibit featuring enormous whale skeletons, interactive media, and rarely seen cultural artifacts. Whales is developed and presented by the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, home to one of the largest marine mammal collections in the world.

“As scientists, there is so much we can learn about the health of ocean ecosystems from studying whale populations in the wild. Each time we respond to a marine mammal stranding along our local coastlines, we gain valuable data about whale migration patterns, habitat threats, human impacts, and geographic distribution that help to inform critical conservation decisions and research,” says Moe Flannery, the Academy’s Ornithology and Mammalogy Collections Manager. “Through this exhibit, we hope our visitors will discover the diversity and wonder of whales and become inspired to protect these fascinating mammals.”

In this 4,100 sq. ft. exhibit, visitors will dive deep below the ocean’s surface to explore the fascinating evolutionary biology, adaptations, and diversity of whales. While gazing in awe at enormous whale skeletons and literally climbing through the inside of a life-sized blue whale heart model, adults and children alike will gain new perspectives of these majestic underwater giants. Through rich visual storytelling, the people of the South Pacific will come to life, including legendary whale riders, whale scientists, and former whaling families, whose traditions and livelihood have been inextricably linked with whales for generations. Rarely exhibited ancient whale artifacts and contemporary artwork from the Maori people of New Zealand illustrate the complex and compelling history between whales and human populations. Along the way, visitors will learn how Academy scientists are working to study and sustain whale populations in our own coastal backyard and bringing this research home to the museum through engaging exhibits and research programs.

At the center of the exhibit, two enormous articulated sperm whale skeletons—the largest of which measures more than 58 feet in length—will confirm this species’ place as the largest toothed predator on the planet while commanding the attention of visitors upon entrance. A display of 12 beaked whale skulls illustrates the diverse range of size and shape within beaked whales, the second largest family of whales next to dolphins. In a separate case, visitors can view scale models—from a gigantic blue whale to an ever-so-slight Hector’s dolphin. Through a visual timeline, visitors can trace the evolutionary history of fossilized whale skeletons and learn how prehistoric land mammals gave rise to modern whale species. In addition, they’ll learn how whale anatomy has evolved over time, allowing these marine mammals to thrive in dynamic and often demanding aquatic environments.

Throughout the exhibit, rich multimedia experiences will transport visitors and immerse them in the underwater world of whales with deep-ocean whale songs, captivating video of whale interactions, and informative graphics. Opportunities abound to connect with whales as never before, whether watching fascinating animations of the mighty sperm whale wrestling a giant squid, running fingers over the vertebra of a fin whale, or listening closely inside an entrancing whale sound chamber for throaty grumbles and melodious calls.

Despite their enormous size and scale, whales face a number of environmental threats that scientists around the world are on a quest to understand—including whale finning, ship strike, oil spills, and climate change. In order to study the behavior of whales in the wild and the impact these threats have on their population and life span, scientists turn to high-tech equipment and non-lethal tissue sampling techniques to investigate whales’ mysterious underwater lives.

Within this exhibit, visitors will learn what local conservation organizations are doing to protect whale populations—and about citizen science opportunities to help support whale research. They will discover the important role that Academy scientists play as part of the Marine Mammal Stranding Network. By responding to whale strandings along the California coast, scientists collect valuable data from deceased whales that can often provide clues about how an animal died, signs of disease or injury, and its age and species. This data helps scientists track population and migration patterns and informs conservation efforts, including recent shipping lane changes to reduce whale strikes in and around the San Francisco Bay.

Located in the Academy’s Forum, Whales will run through November 29, 2015. In support of this upcoming exhibit, the Academy will launch a suite of new programs. See below for program highlights and visit www.calacademy.org/events for a full event schedule.

Supporting Programs for Whales

Operation Whale Rescue

Daily at 11:00 am | Piazza

Help save the day! Join an exciting, on-stage whale rescue based on the real-life experiences of local marine mammal heroes, and discover how rescue workers untangle animals caught in fishing gear.

Opening Day Cultural Ceremony

Friday, April 3 from 10 – 11 am | Piazza

To kick-off the official opening of the Whales exhibit, the Academy will host a cultural ceremony in the Piazza beginning with a special Ohlone welcome to visiting Maori dignitaries from New Zealand. The ceremony will be conducted in both the Ohlone language and English and will include remarks, a traditional song, and the exchange of customary gifts. Following the Ohlone welcome, Maori dignitaries will respond in kind with remarks and song. The Ohlone and Maori will then lead visitors in a procession up to the Forum for the official public opening of the exhibit. Visitors are welcome to attend the ceremony, but please note that space is limited.

Whales Opening Weekend Family Festival

Friday to Sunday, April 3 to 5 from 10 am – 4 pm | Piazza

In honor of the Whales exhibit, the Academy and visiting Maori dignitaries will host a family festival during opening weekend. Visitors can experience the excitement and wonder of traditional Maori culture, including an interactive weaving demonstration with Maori cultural ambassador and master weaver Kohai Grace, traditional face painting and a talk about its symbolic role in Maori storytelling by Maori cultural ambassador and historian Te Waari Carkeek, a harbor porpoise articulation, a whale sound activity, whale-themed programs, and more.

Harbor Porpoise Articulation

April 1 to 19 (except Mondays)

10 am – 4 pm weekends, 11 am – 2 pm weekdays | Piazza

World-renowned “bone builder” Lee Post returns to lead a special harbor porpoise articulation in the Academy’s Piazza. Visitors can look on as the group carefully pieces together a skeleton from the Academy’s marine mammal collection bone-by-bone. Post and Academy volunteers will be on-hand to engage with the public and answer questions on Tuesdays through Sundays through April 19.

Naturalist Know-how

Sundays at 11:15 am | Naturalist Center

Become a naturalist-in-training and learn a new skill each month.

April 5 and 12 - Baleen, Blowholes, and Blubber: Explore the ways whales have adapted to life in the ocean.

April 19 and 26 – Skeleton Stories: Find clues about how whales evolved using real specimens.

May 3 and 10 – A Tale of Two Fisheries: Investigate how humans, fisheries, and ocean life intersect.

May 17, 24, and 31 – Past and Present Peoples: Dive deeply into the Maori and other human cultures.

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