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Raising a Whale

How to Get a Sperm Whale Up Four Floors

© Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, 2008


Whales Tohorā, a fascinating exhibition from the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, will soon be on display at the Canadian Museum of Nature. In the weeks preceding the March 2 opening, there is considerable behind-the-scenes activity to ensure that everything is ready for the upcoming launch date.

The museum's staff is very excited to be hosting such an exotic, amazing and educationally powerful show. But making it happen is no small feat.

This large, 750 square-metre (approx. 8,000 sq. ft.) exhibition is packed full of wonderful specimens, models and interactive displays, and presents numerous, culturally sensitive Māori artefacts such as weapons and adornments made from whale bone. The highlights are two huge sperm-whale skeletons, the largest being the male at 17.8 metres long (approx. 58 feet).

Getting these massive tohorā ("whales" in Māori) to the fourth floor where the exhibition will be located is where the real challenges begin!

A sperm-whale head takes up about one-third of its length, so it's no surprise that the skull is enormous (too big for the museum's freight elevator) and weighs several tonnes. In order to bring it up four floors, some creative engineering will be required. The huge skull of the male and four other oversized items will have to be hoisted!

Special beams have already been installed to enable hoisting. The action really gets under way in the evening of February 5 after the museum closes to the public. A multitude of crates bearing the exhibition contents will be unloaded from transport trucks. To protect the precious specimens in winter, a large heated tent will be erected at the entrance to the museum.

Museum staff and contractors will work long hours getting everything to the fourth floor. The biggest challenge, of course, is the tricky transport of the male sperm-whale skull. Front doors will be removed, and the gigantic specimen will be hoisted up to the fourth floor, a process estimated to take three hours for just the one skull!

In order to accomplish these tasks, the museum, which is closed on Mondays in the winter months, will also be closed on Tuesday, February 7, to ensure a smooth transition and to provide the staff with enough time to get these activities completed. Hours.

Photos will be taken of the hoisting adventure and live tweeting is planned. Be sure to follow the progress on Twitter (@museumofnature) and Facebook.

Read more about the behind-the-scenes work in preparing Whales Tohorā in the museum's blog post Do Iwi, Taonga and Motu Mean Anything to You?

Developed and presented by The Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa. This exhibition was made possible through the support of the New Zealand Government.