A new virtual exhibit on prehistoric whales opens at the University of Michigan’s Museum of Natural History

ANN ARBOR – Although the University of Michigan Natural History Museum will be closed to visitors during the pandemic, its staff have found innovative ways to involve students, educators and sponsors from home.

A new online 3D experience on prehistoric whales launches this week, offering audiences a “full exploration of the unusual evolution and adaptation of whales whose ancient ancestors went ashore,” according to the museum.

Developed in collaboration with Ann Arbor Company Saganworks, Whale Evolution: From Land to Sea invites the audience to learn more about three prehistoric whale skeletons currently on display at the museum: Basilosaurus, Dorudon and Maiacetus.


“We are proud of this presentation because it uniquely brings together information and images that are scattered around our physical museum, as well as digital content that is not easily accessible,” said Amy Harris, director of the UM Museum of Natural History. in a statement.

“For the first time, visitors have the opportunity to experience one of the prehistoric whale skeletons that are exhibited high up in our entrance atrium.”

The Maiacetus skeleton hanging in the University of Michigan Natural History Museum is a cast of one of the best-preserved early whale fossils ever found. Most of the entire skeleton was there, and most of the bones were still connected. Maiacetus was only a little taller than a human with a length of about two meters. It can be seen in the new virtual exhibition “Whale Evolution: From Land to Sea”. (Saganworks)

Viewers can use on-screen joysticks to move around the virtual space. You can also hover over it and click photos and copies to watch videos made by UM researchers explaining the materials they are seeing or to read didactic materials.

“One thing that was very close to my heart was that I didn’t want to recreate the personal experience at the museum,” said Melissa Westlake, deputy director of exhibits at UMMNH, in a statement.

“360 video and virtual tours have become the norm over the past year, but I was invested in creating something new for our audiences that would survive the pandemic and be a great resource as an extension of our physical space instead of replication. ”


Westlake and UMMNH not only designed the virtual room with Saganworks, they also worked with Museums Victoria in Australia to scan an additional pygmy right whale skeleton.

“The beauty of this exhibition is that it brings together diverse resources that are difficult to put together in an actual space,” Westlake said in a statement.

“Whale Evolution: From Land to Sea” is now available online and is available for 24/7 consultation by members of the public and teachers. Ann Arbor Public Schools will incorporate the exhibit into their 7th grade courses as well as several members of the UM faculty.

“The concept of Saganworks started after a visit to the British Museum. I thought, what if I could take these collections home with me? I started Saganworks four years later, ”said Don Hicks, UM alumnus and CEO of Saganworks, in a statement.

Graphic images cover the walls of the new virtual exhibition “Whale Evolution: From Land to Sea” at the Natural History Museum of the University of Michigan and show interesting facts about these ancient whales. (Saganworks)

“This exhibition and partnership with the UM Museum of Natural History closes the loop of my vision for this application by giving visitors the opportunity to take home exclusive collections and barriers to curators such as time, place and the limits of physical space dismantle. “


Harris said visitors “will be returning to our room in the near future,” but did not offer an official appointment.

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