Saturday, March 3, 2012

Date Night: Whales Tohora at the Museum of Nature

This week, Brian and I had the distinct pleasure of being invited to attend the grand opening of Whales Tohora, the new exhibition at the Canadian Museum of Nature, in Ottawa. We readily agreed to attend, and what a lovely evening it was. We recommend visiting this exhibit, here for a mere six months, with your sweetheart, kids, or by yourself.

The exhibit, put together in coordination with the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, is simple, beautiful, and moving. Entering the museum, our first sight was of the giant life-size whale hanging in the front tower, something that had been promised in the architectural sketches when the museum was being rejuvenated but hadn’t yet been in place. It was an awe-inspiring spectacle, and while I did hear a museum staff explaining how they’d managed to navigate the giant into the space, I opted not to listen. Sometimes it’s better to let the magician have his secrets.

When we first entered the exhibit space, we found ourselves in a giant room full of whale history. I was thrilled with the amount of Maori artifacts, carved pendants, tools, and ornaments made of whale bones; it reminded me so much of the love and respect that the North American Aboriginals had historically shown for the buffalo. To revere the mighty beasts for their beauty, as well as their ability to feed an entire village, and to use the entire animal so that nothing is wasted…this respect for a natural resource is always humbling to witness.

One of several theatres.
This show has something for the young and the old. Brian played the two interactive videogames, first trying to lead a dolphin through the dangerous world of the ocean, and later building the perfect dolphin before trying to navigate it through an obstacle course. He also climbed through the to-scale model of a whale heart, almost getting stuck halfway through as this is surely meant for tiny people.

Whale skulls.
We examined the numerous whale skulls, amazed at their size and diversity. Various audio-visual setups take the museum visitor on a journey undersea where a whale stalks a giant squid; another allows them to listen to the whale riders tell their stories.

Big boy.
Of course, the centrepiece of the exhibit is the pair of full whale skeletons, with the large one coming from a 58’ male sperm whale, and the smaller one (still giant) belonging to a 32’ female. The entire exhibit was well-balanced between presenting historical, ecological, and biological information. We really appreciated that the whales were not presented as simple, benign animals; rather, their hunting abilities and their carnivorous diets were fairly portrayed.

The area I found hardest to look through was the section on beaching, followed closely by the section on human invasion. Photos and footage of whales stuck on beaches, torn up by propellers, and hunted by whalers were hard to stomach; but I appreciated how these issues were presented, without the usual sensationalism—no twelve foot-tall signs dripping blood or anything.

Maori carvings.
Overall, the entire exhibit was a fair, broad look at whales and humanity’s interaction with them. I felt awestruck, humbled, and amazed all at once. I have had a fascination with Maori culture for many, many years, so it was wonderful to see some carvings and artifacts in person; the natural beauty of the whale remnants, sleek white skeletons and giant, broad curves, was complemented perfectly by the ornate, intricate, art nouveau-like carvings of the Maori.

When we’d seen everything there was to be seen, I found myself reluctant to leave the space. With all the excitement, I knew we’d only managed to digest a small fragment of the information and visuals that were in the space; but we vowed to return with my little cousins, who will provide Brian with someone to challenge him to the videogames next time.

From start to finish, we thoroughly enjoyed our night at the museum. From the reception—with the incredible edibles catered by Thyme & Again, and the delicious New Zealand wines provided by the NZ consulate, as well as the witty speech by the New Zealand high commissioner—to the tiniest whale tooth presented behind crystal clear glass, every part of the evening was magical. We heartily recommend you check out Whales Tohora not only because it’s beautiful, but also informative, and a lot of fun. As Brian says, “Where else do you get to climb through a giant whale heart?!” I’ll just remind you, he almost got stuck…leave it to the kiddies, perhaps, though it was hilarious to watch him struggling while various dignitaries smirked and simultaneously looked tempted to try it, too.

And now, some more eye candy...

A wonderful date night!

Whale in the front tower.

Fantastic displays.

Mom and Dad!

My shoes for the evening. My favourites!

Brian, in silent awe of the beautiful displays.

One of the theatres for audio-visual treats.

A magnificent building.

The NZ pinot noir that Brian and Mom enjoyed.

No comments:

Post a Comment