Press Release

Acclaimed Whales Exhibition Makes a Splash at Fernbank Museum
Whales: Giants of the Deep Opens February 15, 2013

ATLANTA—Plunge into the mysterious world of whales and meet a culture that has lived intertwined with these majestic creatures throughout history in Fernbank Museum’s newest special exhibition, Whales: Giants of the Deep, on view February 15-August 24, 2014.

For centuries, whales have captured imaginations and ignited emotions. People have revered them, made them the subject of myth, hunted them to the brink of extinction, and passionately protected them. Now visitors can unlock their mysteries by examining whale evolution, exploring their diversity, and uncovering the details of how they swim, feed, mate, and sometimes become stranded on land.

Whales: Giants of the Deep was developed by the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, one of the world’s most innovative museums, with an exceptional marine mammal collection. The museum’s commitment to the bicultural partnership between Māori—the country’s indigenous people—and other New Zealanders is reflected in the exhibition’s rich stories about whales from Māori and Pacific perspectives.

Whales: Giants of the Deep explores the mysterious world of these majestic creatures and their relationships with people. Visitors will explore the vibrant underwater world of whales and discover some of the mightiest animals on Earth.

As visitors explore whale biology, anatomy, history and behavior, they’re introduced to the many species that inhabit the oceans as well as the origins of whales that lived 50 million years ago. Today’s family tree includes dolphins, porpoises, beaked whales and more. The exhibition features a scale of whales, ranging from the tiny Hector’s dolphin to the world’s largest animal, the blue whale.

Interactive features allow visitors to dive to the depths of the sea with a mighty sperm whale in the hunt for giant squid, climb through a life-sized whale heart as big as a VW “Beetle,” and design their own dolphin. They can also discover how whales swim, feed, communicate and reproduce.

One of the exhibit’s major highlights puts visitors almost eye level with two massive whale skeletons—each longer than a school bus—including an astonishing 58-foot-long sperm whale skeleton.  As they listen to the voices of different whales, visitors will see how they use sound to navigate, find food, and communicate with each other.

“People have a natural fascination with whales, whether it is because of their size, their intelligence or their mystery,” said Becky Facer, Fernbank’s environmental programs manager. “Whales: Giants of the Deep dives deep into the world of whales to discover what makes them so captivating. From a replica of a blue whale heart large enough for kids to crawl through to two full-sized sperm whale skeletons, Whales is exciting for all ages.”

Visitors will also meet the “Whale People” of the South Pacific whose lives have been linked with whales for centuries—from legendary whale riders to whale scientists and former whaling families. The exhibition reveals the complex relationships that the Māori people of the South Pacific have with whales—a source of food, status, legends and spirituality.

Within the galleries, visitors can listen to stories of the famous Māori whale riders, and enter a beautifully carved storehouse full of fantastic whale bone treasures. The exhibition features impressive weapons made from large whale bones and delicate ornaments fashioned from whale teeth, as well as other rare objects. One highlight is an authentic whale head model that forms part of one of the exhibition’s theaters. The southern Right Whale model is an authentic artifact from the film Whale Rider, which brought the Pacific whale riding tradition to a worldwide audience. 

Visitors will also learn more about the world of whaling, understand how whales get stranded, explore the techniques people use to save whales, and experience the changing attitude that has led people from hunting whales to protecting them.

Whales: Giants of the Deep is an unforgettable opportunity to explore the amazing world of whales through a unique blend of science and storytelling, filled with whale songs, South Pacific traditions, enormous whale skeletons, beautiful artifacts made from whale bone, and unique experiences.


Whales: Giants of the Deep is included with Museum admission, which is $18 for adults, $17 for students/seniors, $16 for children ages 3-12, free for children ages two and under, and free for Museum members. Annual family memberships begin at $120.

Add the IMAX® film Journey to the South Pacific to your visit as part of a Value Pass ticket for more underwater adventure. Narrated by Academy Award® winner Cate Blanchett, Journey to the South Pacific goes on an adventure to the lush tropical islands of remote West Papua, where life flourishes above and below the sea, including encounters with whale sharks, sea turtles, manta rays, and other iconic creatures of the sea. Value Pass admission includes tickets to the Museum and one IMAX film at $26 for adults, $24 for students/seniors, $22 for children, $8 for Museum members, and free for toddlers ages 2 and younger.


Fernbank Museum of Natural History is located at 767 Clifton Road NE in Atlanta. For tickets and visitor information, visit or call 404.929.6400. Visitors can also connect with Fernbank Museum by downloading the Fernbank app and on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and Twitter.

Whales: Giants of the Deep was 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 (and The Smithsonian Institution).


Whale Fun Facts:

  • At about 98 feet long and up to 330,000 pounds, Blue Whales are the largest animals to ever live on Earth.
  • A blue whale is the same size as a 737 airplane; its tongue alone weighs more than a whole elephant.
  • A blue whale can eat an astounding 4 tons of krill per day in the summer feeding season.
  • The blue whale’s heart can weigh up to 1,400 pounds and is the size of a Volkswagen “Beetle.” A small child could crawl through the blue whale’s largest blood vessel—and a model in the exhibition allows children to do just that!
  • Gray whales migrate over 12,000 miles a year, farther than any other mammal known.
  • Different kinds of whales make different sounds—throaty rumbles, melodious phrases, squeaks, whistles, clicks, and buzzes.
  • Using terms such as “whales,” “dolphins,” and “porpoises” can be misleading when people want a clear picture of how whales are related. The killer orca whale, for example, is actually the largest dolphin! And in fact, all porpoises and dolphins are toothed whales.
  • Whales can be divided into two types—baleen whales and toothed whales. Baleen whales are “batch feeders”—they use their plates of baleen to filter huge numbers of tiny prey out of the water. Toothed whales hunt their prey using echolocation.