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Natural History Museum Opens Whale Of An Exhibit

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A new exhibit at the American Museum of Natural History examines whales and the human fascination with them. NY1's Stephanie Simon filed the following report.

A special blessing of the whales ushered in a new exhibition at the American Museum of Natural History.

Elders of New Zealand's Maori people traveled with the new exhibit and offered their traditional chants.

"We acknowledge those, and we acknowledge the ancestors, and we bring the energy to the exhibition," said Rhonda Paku, senior curator for the Museum of New Zealand.

The Maori culture reveres the whale, and "Whales: Giants of the Deep" includes Maori cultural artifacts, as well as the latest scientific research, such as whale calls.

So why do whales fascinate us? Organizers said it's because the largest of them, the blue whale, is also the largest animal on the planet. It's also because they're mammals, just like us, except they live in the water.

"Whales came from the land and evolved into the ocean 50 million years ago, and we have the entire record of that here in this exhibition," said Mark Donovan, director of exhibits at the Museum of New Zealand. "But, they produce milk for their young. They have live birth. They care for their young."

So do dolphins, who are cousins of the whale.

"One of the things that is interesting is, when you look at a giant whale like this that has a flipper, you think that's a very strange thing for life in the water," said John Flynn, curator at the American Museum of Natural History. "But in fact, the bones are exactly the same as the bones on our arm. There's an upper arm bone, two lower arm bones, wrist bones and fingers, although they are much longer in a whale because it has to have a paddle in order to steer itself."

There are a lot of interactive features at the exhibit, including a model of a whale's heart that you can crawl through. Visitors will also learn an important Maori proverb.

"'Tete Torta, Tete Tanta,' which actually means, 'Wherever whales journey, people will follow,'" Paku said.

For More Information

Whales: Giants of the Deep
March 23, 2013 - January 5, 2014
Central Park West and 79th Street, Manhattan
www.amnh.org

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