Topic: New England

New Bedford Whaling Museum

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whale museum


John Robson

It’s the responsibility of any good history museum to tell both sides of a story. That’s somewhat more difficult when one side is a whale.

The New Bedford Whaling Museum has successfully struck a balance between history and natural science that fully explores the complex and often bloody relationship between Earth’s two most dominant mammals.

The museum’s crown jewel is its entry hall. Suspended from the rafters are three massive whale skeletons, their bodies curved and flexed as though still swimming. (A separate exhibit, From the Deep, displays the skeleton of a sperm whale.) The head of the largest, a 65-foot juvenile blue whale, arcs downward, letting visitors come face to face with the leviathan. The newest addition is a female northern right whale (an extremely endangered species), killed when she collided with a ship’s propeller in 2004. Mounted inside her is the skeleton of her unborn calf.

Curled upon itself as though still in the womb, the fetal skeleton bears gaps and imperfections where the bones had not yet ossified–cut short in the act of creation. Simultaneously beautiful and provocative, the exhibit quietly pushes through a visitor’s awe at standing among these giants to send a clear message: Life is fragile for these animals, even in their largest forms.

The museum is careful not to cross the line between fact and activism but is quick to point out that whaling captains were the first to warn the world of the perils of overhunting. A new exhibit, titled From Pursuit to Preservation and debuting in July, will complement the museum’s skeletons, models, artwork, and other collections, telling the story of how New England went from being the whale’s greatest scourge to one of its staunchest allies.

New Bedford Whaling Museum, 18 Johnny Cake Hill, New Bedford, MA. 508-997-0046; whalingmuseum.org.

Open January-May Monday-Saturday 9-4, Sunday 12-4, 9-9 every second Thursday of the month; open June-December daily 9-5, 9-9 every second Thursday of the month. $10, students/seniors $9, ages 6-14 $6, ages 5 and under free.

More exhibits: Full Throttle: Vintage Motorcycles, Shelburne (VT) Museum

  • Michael

    Thanks for this posting of our new exhibit, “From Pursuit to Preservation: The History of Human Interaction with Whales”. Anyone who would like a little more info could go to our website to get it, http://bit.ly/gSAgE.

    One small correction, the exhibit “From the Deep”, which included a rearticulated sperm whale, is closed. The new exhibit, “From Pursuit to Preservation” has taken its place and also includes the sperm whale bones.

    Michael Lapides, Director of Digital Initiatives / Curator of Photography
    New Bedford Whaling Museum


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