Wednesday, 14 May 2014




The existence of dinosaurs on earth has inspired a multitude of research, excavation, and entertainment since the 19th century. How could such creatures exist on the very planet in which humans evolved? After watching the terrifying scene of ferocious Velociraptors in the kitchen in Jurassic Park, I'm pretty sure I'm not the only one who is relieved that we don't share a habitat with such large creatures. But we're forgetting one massive animal that continues to exist on our planet; one that far surpasses the size of any dinosaur: the blue whale! 

Newfoundland Blue Whale

The biggest news in museums right now is the recent tragic deaths of nine blue whales. While the circumstances of their deaths is unclear, it is assumed they drowned or were crushed by ice. Three bodies were beached along the western shores of Newfoundland, however one drifted back into the ocean. With help from the locals, Mark Engstrom (Senior Curator and Deputy Director of Collections & Research) and Burton Lim (Assistant Curator of Mammalogy in the Department of Natural History) from the Royal Ontario Museum Biodiversity team, took it upon themselves to relocate the whale from Trout River to Rocky Harbour in Newfoundland. They subsequently began the challenging and putrid process of deboning, collecting, and removing at least one of the decomposing whales from the quiet harbour. If you’re like me, and can’t help but look at the nauseating photos of this process, follow their Twitter page for regular (graphic) updates! Also look for #BlueWhale.

During the 19th century and the first half of the 20th century, blue whales became endangered as whalers obliterated an estimated 350,000 animals. They eventually gained protection, in 1966, under the International Whaling Commission. While the recent deaths of these endangered animals is undeniable devastating—as they encompass 5% of the entire population of this baleen species—the efforts of the BioDiversity team will ultimately facilitate valuable research. The team of scientists have turned this unfortunate event into a positive research initiative, that may help humanity better understand and appreciate this majestic being. While blue whales will never be held in the same esteem as dinosaurs, for obvious reasons, perhaps now they will play a larger role in our collective psyche. We share our planet with these enormous and incredible forces of life, so we therefore have a duty to protect them. As far as I'm concerned, the ROM (along with other museums that have previously collected blue whale specimens) has taken this rare opportunity to enrich the scientific, educational, and cultural climate surrounding blue whales.   

Blue Whale

Here are a couple of interesting facts about blue whales:

- Blue whales are the largest known animal to have ever lived on Earth. They typically weigh twice the
  size of a large dinosaur!
- Their hearts alone can weigh as much as a car.
- In good conditions, they can hear other blue whales up to 1,000 miles away.
- They have few predators, considering their size, however large shark and orca attacks occur  


  1. I think it is fascinating to consider the ways in which, in our case an animal, becomes almost iconic through the work of various institutions, such as museums and media. When something is "canonized" into a Keep Calm iteration, we are signified that it matters culturally. The whale is an ideal "object" because of its amazing characteristics (especially its size and extreme sensorial capacities) but also because it can be humanized in our imagination. I find that, much like the dolphin, the owl and more recently, the fox, the whale is a relatable animal. Great post - it made me think a lot about how animals becomes canvases for current debates, ideologies and discourses.

  2. I definitely agree with you, Irina. After attending a de-brief with Mark Engstrom (the main ROM large mammal expert and head of the project) at the ROM the other day, I couldn't help but think about how the media may have been a primary reason for why this project was even viable. Mark has uncovered several other species of whale in the past, much in the same manner as this one, but his efforts were never widely publicized like this one. Despite the fact that the whale gained attention because the media falsely stated that it may explode, I am happy that people are now more aware of blue whales and the protection they so desperately need. Thanks for reading!