Call me Ishmael....
So begins one of the greatest (and longest) works of English literature.
There's also the whale who swallowed Jonah. And the one who got his bristles on Pinocchio.
You can have a whale of a time (that's a good thing).
And you can whale away at somebody (less good).
Whales have been a part of popular culture across the world for eons, and, this spring, kids who are fascinated by these gargantuan mammals that rival even the famous dinosaurs for size have a chance to really get inside their passion (literally!) with the American Museum of Natural History's latest exhibition, Whales: Giants of the Deep.
On tour from the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, which houses one of the largest whale collections in the world, Whales features more than 20 skulls and skeletons from various whale species and showcases many rare specimens, including the real skeleton of a male sperm whale measuring 58 feet long (about the length of one and a half school buses); life-size and scale models of whales common in the South Pacific; and ancient and contemporary objects made from whale bone and other materials, such as weapons, chiefs’ adornments, and jewelry. The exhibition also includes rarely viewed specimens and artifacts from the American Museum of Natural History’s world-class collections, such as the massive skull of Andrewsarchus mongoliensis—an extinct land-dwelling relative of whales—cultural objects depicting the power and majesty of whales and their importance to humans, and a log book from the famed whaling ship William Rotch, which sailed out of New Bedford, Massachusetts, in the 1830s.
Whales are known as the giants of the sea, yet their ancestors were land animals (who knew?). Their astounding adaptation to ocean life came shortly after the rise of modern mammal groups, around 55 million years ago, during a hot period in the Earth’s history. One group of mammals spent more and more time in the water, living on the abundant food there. Eventually they left land altogether, evolving into the fully aquatic whales.
Researchers from the American Museum of Natural History work with scientists from around the world to study the family relationships between different types of mammals, a group of animals ranging from bats to humans to whales. Recently, with support from the U.S. National Science Foundation, this research team released the most comprehensive evolutionary tree of life for placental mammals—the most diverse subgroup of mammals, including whales, which nourish their young before birth through a specialized organ attached to the mother’s womb, called the placenta. The new research confirms previous work about the evolutionary position of whales in the tree of life: these marine animals are most closely related to the hoofed mammal group that includes hippos, sheep, deer, antelope, pigs and giraffes.
In Whales, visitors will explore this evolutionary tree and meet a number of whale cousins. Also on display are skeletal casts and artists’ renderings of the ancestors of modern whales. These range from what is considered the first whale, Pakicetus attocki—a wolf-sized fish-eater that lived on the margins of a large shallow ocean around 50 million years ago—to Dorudon atrox, a fully aquatic whale that lived between 34 and 40 million years ago and, from a distance, probably looked very much like modern species.
The exhibition officially opens on March 23, 2013 and runs through January 2014.
Please click through the photo gallery above for a preview of everything you'll find at this new installation (and more fun facts about really big whales - though you may not like finding out which end of the whale your perfume comes from), then visit amnh.org for more information.