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American Museum of Natural History to Showcase Whales in New Exhibit

By Emily Frost | March 20, 2013 3:57pm

UPPER WEST SIDE — The American Museum of Natural History wants visitors to have a whale of a time in one of its upcoming exhibits.

The museum is opening a new exhibit — Whales: Giants of the Deep Saturday centered on the gigantic mammals.

Whales have the power to "intrigue, astound, and inspire us," said president Ellen Futter.

Visitors constantly hunt for the 94-foot blue whale replica the museum houses, Futter said.

"Where's the whale?" visitors always ask, she added.

The exhibit, which will feature real whale skeletons and will run through Jan. 5, 2014, is on loan from the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa. It includes a 58-foot male sperm whale skeleton that is so large it barely made it into the museum's elevators, according to staff. 

"The whales will speak to you both figuratively and literally [in the exhibit]," said co-curator John Flynn.

Sound booths share the varying calls of whales and a video shows how some toothed whales use echolocation, sending out high frequency clicks that alert them where to find prey in the water by the echo that bounces off of it.

The exhibit also traces the evolutionary history of whales, mammals that once walked on all fours, and why and how they grew to be so gargantuan. Some weighed nearly 200 tons, according to Michael Novacek, the museum's senior vice president. 

Energetic young (or old) explorers can climb through the replica of a blue whale's heart. The historically inclined can examine a log book from the William Rotch, a famed whaling ship that sailed from New Bedford, Massachusetts in the 1830s. 

A good portion of the exhibit focuses on the practice of whaling and its importance to indigenous cultures from the Arctic, South America and Pacific Northwest, and on the North American whaling industry.

"[A whale] was sort of a floating hardware store," explained Flynn of earlier American views of the creatures.

The origin of the exhibit is evident in the collection of artifacts and stories relating to the Maori tribe, a New Zealand tribe that has had a long relationship with whales, viewing them as guardians as well as food. 

Museum entry plus one special exhibition, IMAX film or Space Show is $25 for adults, $19 for students and seniors, $14.50 for children. The Museum is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5:45 p.m. and closed on Thanksgiving and Christmas.