a peek inside the fishbowl

06 Mar, 2012

An immersive new exhibition at the Museum of Nature: Whales Tohora

Posted by andrea tomkins in: - Ottawa for kids|Easy ways to make kids happy|Ottawa

My family and I were invited to attend a members-only preview of the new Whales Tohora exhibition at the Canadian Museum of Nature last week. We were pretty excited about this opportunity. We are big time nature buffs here at Casa Fishbowl and were looking forward to seeing what all the excitement was about.

Whale in the lantern ...

I find whales pretty amazing don’t you? Think about it, swimming mammals! With blowholes! Whales are the largest living animals on our planet. Some have giant teeth while others eat tiny things they strain through a comb-like sieve. They socialize and communicate with one another though clicks and songs and haunting melodies and for all we know they might even be smarter than we are. Then there’s the evolution side of things. Did you their know their skeletons are remarkably similar to our own?

YET they are so still very poorly understood, that’s why I really appreciated Whales Tohora, because it shed some light on topics that I find utterly fascinating.

Tohora means “whale” in Maori (they are the indigenous people of New Zealand) which is where this exhibition comes from. Whales are regarded with reverence here and the Maori have a complex relationship with them; they see whales as friends, guardians and food… and they figure prominently in Maori culture.

The centrepiece of this exhibition is two fully articulated sperm-whale skeletons, one male and one female. The little one is the female, and the big male is 17.8-metres long. It’s quite a sight.

Whales | Tohorä

Two articulated sperm whale skeletons are a highlight of the Whales | Tohorä exhibition. © Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, 2008

Note: Photography is strictly prohibited in this exhibition at the request of the lending institution, the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa. The Museum of Nature supplied this photo to me.

In case you’re wondering, Sperm whales are the ones with the odd-shaped mouth. They have the largest teeth of all mammals, and although they don’t have any teeth in the upper jaw there are about 60 in the lower one. Their teeth are about 20 cm long and weigh approximately 3 kg (6 or 7 lbs!) each.

There was so much to see and learn here. The girls were really impressed with a life-size model of the heart of a blue whale, the largest creature on Earth. You can crawl inside it … and it’s about the size of a small car. I really liked the cultural artifacts and the tooth/baleen displays. And the vocalization and sonar info. And the movie about how they hunt squid. As I said, lots to see!

After Whales Tohora we poked around a few other exhibits before we called it a day. It was a great way to spend a snowy afternoon and I really recommend paying a visit.

What about you? Have you seen Whales Tohora yet? Planning to go?

10 Responses to "An immersive new exhibition at the Museum of Nature: Whales Tohora"

1 | Binki

March 6th, 2012 at 12:29 pm


Whales rock! Can’t wait to see the big shooo. Have to admit though that nothing compares to seeing a wild whale up close (but not too close). Same feeling as staring up at the stars and then suddenly feeling both very small and absolutely amazed.

2 | Binki

March 6th, 2012 at 12:31 pm


….and not in a big friggin’ aquarium cage.

3 | Jen_nifer

March 6th, 2012 at 1:14 pm


I went on Sunday with one 4 & one 6 year old boy. They loved the whale heart as well.

4 | Shannon8foot6

March 6th, 2012 at 7:23 pm


So flipping cool! You can crawl inside their heart?

I’m freaked out by all things living underwater. But I have to admit, whales are magestic beasts!

5 | Sara

March 7th, 2012 at 7:38 am


We have a trip planned next week – can’t wait to see this exhibit!

6 | Gwen

March 9th, 2012 at 1:26 pm


Andrea, is there an extra charge to see the exhibit? (on top of museum admission) We want to go on March break :)

8 | Gwen

March 12th, 2012 at 8:56 am


Thank you Andrea!

9 | Welcome to a new patron: the Museum of Nature >> a peek inside the fishbowl

April 12th, 2012 at 7:22 am


[…] Tohora (which I wrote about here) is the Museum’s current blockbuster exhibition which runs until September 3, 2012. It was […]

10 | A giveaway from our friends at the Museum of Nature >> a peek inside the fishbowl

August 17th, 2012 at 9:28 am


[…] you seen Whales Tohora yet? I wrote about it when it first opened. This exhibition was developed by the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa and features two […]

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My name is Andrea and I live in the Westboro area of Ottawa with my husband Mark and our dog Piper who is kind of a big deal on Instagram. We also have two human daughters: Emma (20) and Sarah (18). During the day I work as a writer at The Royal Ottawa Mental Health Centre. I am a longtime Ottawa blogger and I've occupied this little corner of the WWW since 1999. The Fishbowl is my whiteboard, water cooler, and journal, all rolled into one. I'm passionate about healthy living, arts and culture, family travel, great gear, good food, and sharing the best of Ottawa for families. I also love vegetables, photography, gadgets, and great design.

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