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Whales at the Field Museum

June 6, 2011

Tom Travels June 4, 2011 Chicago, IL

On May 20 a new exhibit opened at the The Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago.
I have been anxiously awaiting for the moment in which the universe would present an opportunity for me to visit WHALES: Giants of the Deep. Over the past month I have studied chimpanzees and learned about their similarities to humans. Was today the day I would learn about another distant mammal relative of ours?

After a good night’s sleep, the morning started with me learning from a book I’m currently reading: The Unnatural History of the Sea by Callum Roberts. Chapter 7, Whaling: the first global industry, taught me about the early days of whale hunting. To give you a glimpse into the brutish activity of whaling, here is a passage from the chapter:

To kill the whale they must get close enough to plunge their lances deep into its belly, probing for vital organs. The oarsman pressed the boat close–but ready at a moment to pull away when the death flurry came. Soon the whale began spouting blood, giving boat and men a hellish aura as crimson spray froze over them and the sea turned red…Minutes later, the [large creature] gave a final heave and expired.

Thanks to Field Museum scientist/marine biologist, Dr. Josh Drew (@labroides), for loaning me the book which opened my eyes to our destruction of the oceans. For more information about it, here is a review from Conservation Maven (@conservmaven):

Review of The Unnatural History of the Sea

science conservation chicago

Coincidentally, Whale Wars—a show documenting the battle between whale hunters and devoted conservationists (The Sea Shepards, left)–premiered on Animal Planet less than 24 hours ago. The Sea Shepards are a marine wildlife conservation organization made up of a passionate, focused, and wild group of individuals. Add to the mix the beauty of the Antarctican environment + stink bombs + Hollywood editing and the result should end up on your DVR on Friday at 9PM.

I watched the season opener of Whale Wars after reading about whales, and realized the universe had presented me an opportunity to visit the Field Museum. A superstitious friend once told me good things happen in 3’s. So I decided to complete the trifecta with a 3rd whale experience for the day. I took advantage of the weather, rode a bus to the museum, and used one of my 5 member passes to WHALES.

Are you aware that whales are mammals, like you, with hair & nipples and a set of lungs to breath air? Recently I wrote a post about chimpanzees (also mammals) and their similarity to humans. I called chimps the ‘grandparents of society’ since we share a common ancestor estimated to have lived 5-6 million years ago. Well this makes whales the great great great great uncles of society. About 50 million years ago a 4-legged mammal left the competitive environment on land and headed to the calmer seas where it evolved into this Ambulocetus natans:

conservation science atom travels

And eventually evolved into our contemporary, Megaptera novaeangliae:

science atom travels chicago

For many millennia they lived comfortably at the top of the food chain, until the 1600’s, when man took to the seas. The WHALES: Giants of the Deep at The Field Museum tells a cool story about the history of whales, from their dominance to their downfall. Highlights of the exhibit include:

  • The evolutionary path of whales from land mammals during the Eocene Epoch to contemporaries at sea today
  • You can climb into and explore a life-sized blue whale’s heart, the largest animal to have ever lived on Planet Earth
  • Follow the history of whaling including its purpose, the tools used, and the countries involved
  • You will stand before two massive whale skeletons—each longer than a school bus, giving you an idea of how large these mammals really are

Thanks to volunteer Steve P., a former entomologist, who was knowledgeable and handled all of my questions very well. The exhibit is educational, well designed, and has a cool gift shop at the end. I have 4 member passes left. If you are interested in seeing WHALES and having a conversation about it, I’ll donate a pass to the first person who asks me for one (you’ll have to go with me though). If you want to go on your own, find more information here: WHALES: Giants of the Deep.

Below are more pictures from my day. Remember, be kind to your environment and it’ll be kind to you. Thanks for reading, let you be you.

atom travels

Outrunning the dark storm that was approaching

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I made it, the north entrance

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After the storm passed and I visited the whales, I felt larger than life and attempted to pick up the Trump Tower

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For fun, I took this picture a day later, but I'm on the opposite side of the city, trying to pickup Trump Tower (photo taken by ATP)

atom travels

I was attacked by a bird for the 1st time in my life (it flew into my head). This red-winged blackbird was very territorial while protecting...

atom travels

...Mrs. red-winged blackbird. I came too close to her nest

atom travels science

As the sun sets, the sea gull heads towards Willis (Sears) Tower. Goodnight and Goodbye.


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