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A Blue Whale’s Tale

You're invited: experience Memorial's blue whale interpretive exhibit

Campus and Community

By Mandy Cook

Now is a great time to immerse yourself in the epic story of Memorial’s blue whale.

Memorial University’s new interpretive exhibit, titled A Blue Whale’s Tale, honours both the power and fragility of the natural world.

The whale, which was recovered from the west coast of Newfoundland in 2014 after washing ashore in Bonne Bay, N.L., is posed as if it swimming— a nod to Memorial’s motto Provehito in Altum, which means “launch forth into the deep.”

The 23-metre-long blue whale skeleton suspended in the Core Science Facility atrium is now accompanied by historical, environmental and scientific material meant to inform and inspire visitors. The exhibit is open to anyone who wants to learn more about this majestic creature.

Below, you can find just some of the fascinating imagery and rich information that await you in A Blue Whale’s Tale.

1/ Immersive exhibit

A Blue Whale's Tale incorporates information and imagery on the columns on the mezzanine surrounding the whale atrium in the Core Science Facility on the St. John's campus.

Photo: Rich Blenkinsopp

2/ Flensing the whale

Memorial's female blue whale weighed more than 90,000 kilograms when she washed ashore. To manage such a large creature, the team towed her to a slipway in Rocky Harbour, N.L. There, she was flensed to preserve her bones. Flensing is the process of removing soft tissue, skin, blubber, muscle and organs. Her skeleton was taken apart, and every bone was carefully tagged. Then, her bones were loaded into shipping containers for the journey to Research Casting International's facility in Trenton, Ont.

Photo: Royal Ontario Museum/Research Casting International

3/ Flippers and fingers

This exhibit illustration demonstrates how the bones in a blue whale’s flipper are equivalent to the bones of the human arm and hand. Our fingers are joined to our hands but are separate from each other. Blue whales have soft tissue that encases all the bones of their forelimb, including the fingers.

Photo: Marketing & Communications

4/ Whale of a journey

The cleaned bones of Memorial's blue whale awaiting skeleton reassembly at the Research Casting International Facility in Trenton, Ont.

Photo: Royal Ontario Museum/Research Casting International

5/ Whale evolution

One of the exhibit's illustrations depicts six stages of blue whale evolution. The six animals in descending order are balaena (BA-leena), the modern whale; dorudon (DOR-oo-don), an extinct whale ancestor from about 40 million years ago; rodhocetus (ROD-hoe-SEE-tus); ambulocetus (AM-bew-low-SEE-tus); pakicetus (pa-kuh-SEE-tus), an extinct whale ancestor from about 52 million years ago; and indohyus (in-do-HI-us), a four-legged, extinct whale cousin from about 48 million years ago.

Photo: Marketing & Communications

6/ Fun facts

Did you know that baby blue whales gestate in their mother’s womb for about a year and are typically born in warm waters closer to the equator? What about the fact that a blue whale’s heart weighs around the same weight as a female lion? Did you know that the Mi’kmaw word for whale is putup (boo-doop)? Then there's this fascinating tidbit: a blue whale’s call can be as loud or louder than a jet engine. They use their songs to talk to each other over long distances, sometimes more than 800 kilometres away. So, a blue whale singing off the coast of St. John’s, N.L., could be heard as far away as Halifax, N.S.

Photo: Rich Blenkinsopp

Learn more about Memorial’s blue whale here.

Acknowledgements

Memorial University gratefully acknowledges the work of Fiona Cuthbert, Department of Biology, who provided most of the textual information on display in the exhibit.

Additional information was provided by Dr. Suzanne Dufour, Department of Biology; Dr. Rod Taylor, Department of Earth Sciences; and Andrea Van Nostrand, Geo Centre.

The acquisition and display of the blue whale skeleton were made possible by a generous donation from Mark and Sandra Dobbin and Craig and Lisa Dobbin in honour of Mark and Craig’s mother, Eleanor “Penney” Dobbin.

A horizontally oriented black and white illustration of a blue whale skeleton from below.

 

 


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