New Bedford Whaling Museum

 

Visit New Bedford Whaling Museum to see three flying goliaths and learn the difficult history of America\’s whaling enterprise.  Explore the world\’s largest scale-model ship, learn about the diverse cultural influences that whaling enabled, and study the art that was inspired by whaling.  Nearby you will find the Seamen\’s Bethel and Mariner\’s Home – historic buildings in New Bedford.

New Bedford Whaling Museum

Greetings friends!  Or should I say, Ahoy me mateys? I\’m feeling nautically inspired, as I stroll along the New Bedford Whaling Museum! So I shall send out my nautically-themed greeting. Ahoy!

I wish you were here with me, on this beautiful sunny weekend in Massachusetts. We\’re exploring New Bedford, an operating port and marina town.  New Bedford Whaling National Historic Park is a water-front region dedicated to our whaling history. Small sections of the town act as a time capsule – preserving the buildings, history, and culture of our nautical past. The whaling museum is the gem of the national park, housing an impressive collection of artifacts and history.

Flying Whales

As we entered the museum, our eyes were immediately drawn up to the flying goliaths mounted overhead. As you enter the museum, three whale skeletons soar overhead, painted with bluish-purple lights. It creates an eerie scene. I noticed one of the whales was a mother, with a tiny baby nestled under her spine, representing her pregnancy. I was instantly saddened. I took a moment to learn about these whales:

\"\"Reyna is a 49\’ female North Atlantic Right whale, who was struck and killed while ten months pregnant. She and her baby are mounted very near the staircase, so you can climb up and get a closer look at her skeleton and baby.  The museum acquired and displayed her skeleton, complete with her ten month fetus, in the museum.  Looking at her and her baby makes me so sad.  To imagine creatures so large yet so fragile – I wonder how many more die that we do not know about.

Next to Reyna is KOBO (King of the Blue Ocean). He is a 66\’ juvenile Blue whale. He is quite a large skeleton! Again, another whale struck and killed at sea.  He\’s the whale you can see most closely from the balcony and his massive jaw bones jut towards you.  He\’s so large that it looks like you could be swallowed whole – while sitting in your car!

The third skeleton is named Quasimodo. He is a 37\’ humpback whale skeleton.  From the balcony, he\’s the farthest skeleton and appears to be swimming away from you.  I want to imagine him swimming out of the museum windows and finding his way back to the sea where he belongs.

These are the three giants greeting visitors to the museum. As impressive and interesting as these skeletons are, it only inspires me to experience whales as living creatures in the wild, rather than impressive skeletons.

\"KOBO

Discovering a Difficult History

Carol, Melissa and I began exploring the museum and learning about the whaling history of the region. Did you know how long whaling hunts could last?  I don\’t think I appreciated the time that whaling boats committed to their mission. I assumed they set sail in spring and returned before winter – having hunted in the deeper seas and ending before winter storms made sailing too challenging.  I guess I assumed there might be a cross-Atlantic voyage or two – but those would be rare trips.  I don\’t know where my assumptions came from.  So I was shocked to learn that whale hunts could last for years!  I was doubly shocked to imagine that some hunting trips would make their way to the South Pacific.

Could you imagine being on a tiny boat bobbing in the ocean?  A tiny boat that is NOT a giant cruise liner with the midnight chocolate bar? Can you imagine living like that for years? I can\’t. These guys didn\’t exactly have a lido deck and open bar.  So I already failed at being a whaler before we got to the really hard stuff.

Whaling sounds like a horrible experience.

\"Whale

Did you know that when a whale was spotted, the whalers jumped into an even smaller row boat and then rowed like crazy to catch up with the whales? This is madness!  I tried to imagine being one of these men and sitting in this tiny row boat while trying to spear a whale.

The museum displayed the small whaling row boat next to a sperm whale skeleton, which is a perfect way to get a sense of size and scale. I tried to imagine what it would be like to live the life of a whaler, and I cringed. I would be terrified being in such a tiny boat bobbing on ocean waves. But imagine spearing a giant whale and lassoing the injured and frightened animal to this tiny boat?  Now you and your rowboat buddies are tied to a panicked whale that is trying to escape.  Apparently you have to hold onto the rope and go on a wild ride that most likely would end in injury and possibly death for the whalers, and the eventual death of the whale.

I couldn\’t fathom this experience or life style. Obviously I wasn\’t built for whaling.  I\’m genuinely surprised anyone survived. That\’s some difficult history.

Art and Culture

\"Domestic

As you stroll along the museum rooms you\’ll see stunning scrimshaw art carved into tusks and bones. Then you\’ll see domestic items that were created using whale bone. Most of these items are stunning and beautiful. To me, the most amazing items were the ladies\’ items, including yarn spooling tools, sewing kits, desks, and hair ornaments all built with bones from whales or tusks from other marine life. The art work is beautiful and enticing. But this art is literally made with the bones of the deceased. Was this an efficient use of every part of the animal, or a morbid display of death? To me, it feels like a bit of both.

The Lagoda

In the large gallery room you will find the half-scale model of a whaling ship named the Lagoda. It is the world\’s largest ship model in existence.

My friends – the Lagoda is quite large! At first I thought the model would be child-sized. But I was stunned to see the size and scale of the Lagoda.  It truly gives an up-close examination of the masts, sails, and rigging. The rigging is so complex and confusing that it looks like a puzzle.

Climb aboard the ship and walk under the sails while imaging living on board a ship like this for years. *shivers*

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Stamps

In the museum are several log books kept from various vessels – and on most of the logs you\’ll find a whale stamp.  Who knew Captains were collecting stamps way back then?  I feel a kinship, as I\’m still trying to get all the National Park stamps!

\"Log

Observation Deck

Happily, Carol and I found an observation deck.  We instantly pulled up two chairs and sat down to stare out over the water, listen to the clangs of the ships, and the busy streets below.  It was quite lovely. Just below the observation deck was a small roof with an art installation of a migrating fish.

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Time Traveling Ladies

\"Historically

We left the museum to explore the Mariner\’s House and Seamen\’s Bethel and stumbled upon two time traveling  ladies. As they explained it, they magically travel from their time to our time via the old bank\’s vault – which is now the National Park visitor\’s center.

These women were amazing and very funny! They told stories about their time and how they lived, and the amazing things they\’ve discovered when traveling to our time – such as crock pots.  Cooking pots with tails!  And one of the women had some type of sewing craft in her basket, which she said was hooking work – which made her an hooker. Boy did I laugh!

They were very funny and creative.  If you see these two ladies roaming around town, I strongly advise you to stop and chat with them.