- Digital Scholarship
From the Deep: The sperm whale, bone by bone
Exhibition Date: 2004
The 45-ton whale was found beached off Great Point, Nantucket, on June 7, 2002. The National Marine Fisheries Service awarded the specimen to the Museum because of the institution’s historic ties with the sperm whale and its commitment to placing the whale on public view.
Skeleton of a 45-ton sperm whale, found beached on Nantucket in 2002.
Sperm whales made New Bedford the whaling capital of the world and one of America’s wealthiest cities in the 1800s. Throughout the 1850s, fortunes were made and the city was built around the profits garnered from the huge stores of whale oil and the spermaceti that was found in the large heads, or “cases,” of sperm whales. The oil was used for lighting lamps and the spermaceti for candles in the era before electricity.
The skeleton had been carefully rearticulated by a team from the Museum working with faculty, researchers, and students from the marine biology department at Roger Williams University of Bristol, Rhode Island.
In addition to showcasing the methods of skeletal articulation and study, From the Deep examined whale genetics and evolution. After the whale was rearticulated, a long-term exhibition was installed to explore how and why whales were hunted in the past, as well as the historical importance of sperm whales to the New Bedford region and the early American economy.