Sunday, November 30, 2008

Tere tohora, tere tangata

Translated from Maori as, "Where whales journey, people follow."

This was the subtitle for the whale exhibition at the National Geographic Museum in Washington D.C. It was so artfully, skillfully, factually put together -- like walking into the pages of National Geographic, but much more interactive. The exhibition's acceptance of cultural traditions were wonderful and something that National Geographic has come to be known for.

The central exhibit was two sperm whale skeletons; one, a large male and the other a mature female with weakened bones. It was fascinating comparing the two to one another, side by side. Directly underneath the skeletons were some sort of black plexiglass and small lights. This created two wonderful effects that added a reflection of the skeletons from underneath, as well as producing dramatic shadows upon the ceiling.

In one corner of the room stood a small cave-like room. Once inside, I realized that the cave was shaped like the interior of a sperm whale's head. Towards the front was a screen that played a simulation video of a sperm whale diving for a squid, called "Search and Destroy." Like the rest of the exhibition, this film was exceptionally well done. It made no use of vocal narration and allowed visitors to focus on the whale's task.

A series of short films on "Whale People" were scattered around the perimeters of the room, spotlighting a few different people who study whales in New Zealand. Some were locals, others were foreign researchers who have come to love the country as well as the whales. Each video was a glimpse of the life of someone who lives in New Zealand and studies whales.

It's too bad I don't live nearer to D.C.; I would have enjoyed another visitor or two (or three!) to the Tohora exhibition. One day I'd like to go one better than an exhibit; one day I'd like to go to New Zealand and see for myself!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Whales on Hydrophones

So, where are the whale exhibit reviews? They're a-comin', I promise! In fact, some of them have been written up in my paper journal and are just waiting to be typed up here. Until then, my friends, check out, the hydrophone network of the Salish Sea. For most of this morning I was listening to distant calls of orcas on the Lime Kiln hydrophone. That's got to be some of the best background music to listen to while writing curriculum about orca communication -- which, incidentally, is what I've been doing all morning. Take care, and let me know if you hear anything on those hydrophones!

Monday, November 17, 2008

Whales on the East Coast

In less than 24 hours I'll be boarding a plane back to Seattle after spending a wonderful few days on the east coast, mostly in New York City and Washington DC.

After visiting a few museums -- American Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, and the National Geographic Museum -- I'm reminded of how important museological collections are to society. Seeing the Blue Whale in AMNH, the Northern Right Whale in the Smithsonian, and the Tohora exhibit at the NatGeo were all enlightening experiences. Not just for what I learned from the exhibitions themselves, but also from observing the interactions of fellow visitors, especially with regards to kids. Hearing parents interpret text panels, kids ooh and aah over the size of Big Blue, and seeing kids climb inside a model heart of a blue whale -- all of these interactions confirmed the important roles of collections and interpretation of collections to me. Even in the current Internet/TV age that we live in, it is becoming increasingly important to experience as much as we can in the flesh, instead of on the screen.

I'll be posting on each museum experience over the next few days. Keep your eyes peeled. =)

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Belated Exploding Whale Day

There are three types of exploding whale. One is an explosion triggered by the natural buildup of internal gasses, while another is by using dynamite. The last is the kind where children sit around eating sandwiches and watching it explode. Okay, so that last one doesn't really happen all that often, but my friend, Kevin Arnold of the Robopocalypse Comics Collective, created an image so relevant, it's needs to be in this post.

Art by Kevin Arnold, 2008
(Click for full-size image.)

Yesterday marked the 38th anniversary of the explosion of a whale near Florence, Oregon. If you haven't seen the video I definitely recommend viewing it as soon as possible. The reporter in the video, Paul Linnman, still remembers "making his way out of the area as huge chunks of blubber fell everywhere." Yes, these huge chunks of blubber even traveled a quarter mile away and rained down on the land, including an unfortunately smashed in car. Luckily, no one was hurt, although they all went away with little souvenirs -- dead whale particles all over themselves. Sounds fun, right?

Now, for the other type of exploding whale, we can turn to a sperm whale in Taiwan in 2004. This whale had died naturally and was simply being carted off to a research facility to be necropsied. The problem? Well, have you ever tried to relocate a whale on a flatbed truck? Sadly, the Physeter macrocephalus couldn't hold the gas in long enough, and exploded on the streets and people nearby.

A couple years before that, in 2002, a mature female orca beached near Dungeness Spit in Washington. The Seattle PI reports, "The necropsy, performed on a trailer, was neither pretty to see nor pleasant to smell. Scientists from state, federal and private organizations cut off the head, which almost exploded with gas when first punctured." Lucky for the scientists and people gathered around, there was no explosion to be had.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

An Introduction to Callosities

What are callosities?
Callosities are roughened patches of skin found on the Eubalaena genus of whale, more commonly known as the Right Whale. These patches can be likened to the calluses that can be found on our own feet or hands after some especially harsh activity, such as a long hike or trying to open a stuck lid of a jar. The callosities themselves are not white -- they're gray -- it's the "whale lice" that lives on and around these callosities that give the right whales their patchy white appearance.

What is whale lice?
Whale Lice, believe it or not, is not actually lice in the way that we humanoids think of them. They're actually a crustacean, like crabs and shrimp. Scientifically known as three different species -- Cyamus ovalis, C. gracilis, and C. erraticus -- these "lice" occupy the callosities of right whales while feeding on dead skin. What a treat!

Why, then, is this blog called 'Callosities'?
There are so many amazing, fascinating, extraordinary things to know in this world. There is so much that we humans don't know, but we're taking steps to learn every day. When someone asks me about whales -- which happens quite frequently, as I seem to have a growing reputation as someone who knows things about whales -- I try to tell them something they haven't heard before. Often this leads to me excitedly describing callosities and whale lice.

We've all been told to "save the whales," but I think that many people feel bombarded with so much do this and do that that it can be easy to forget the intelligence and beauty of these majestic megafauna, and how we can appreciate them as a creature in our world.

And so, future readers, I hope you enjoy this blog for what it is: An attempt to reach more people and share the wonder that whales bring to our world every day.


For those interested in learning a bit more, I suggest you head over to The Other 95% for a great post about callosities and whale lice. Enjoy!