Gulf oil spill’s potential impact on sperm whales examined in “Habitats through History” exhibit

A new installation in the Jacobs Family Gallery, titled “Habitats through History” uses sea charts, maps and illustrated whaling logbooks and journals to document historical sperm whale populations and other marine life forms in the immediate vicinity of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. It establishes the relevancy of such historical materials to aid in a better understanding of the current conditions of modern marine ecosystems, according to Michael Dyer, Maritime Curator, who conceived of the display.

Today, the Gulf of Mexico is home to an estimated population of 1600 to 1700 sperm whales. Dr. Randall R. Reeves, a biologist with Okapi Wildlife Associates, Quebec, Canada, and an Advisory Curator of the New Bedford Whaling Museum, noted that sperm whales “move through the water column to great depths, and they spend long periods at the surface ‘catching their breath’. Exposure to oil is inevitable, and it is very hard to imagine that such exposure will not be harmful to both the whales directly and to their prey.”

The display, which includes several whaling logbooks and charts from 1836 to 1932, is located in the Jacobs Family Gallery, an admission-free area of the Museum complex.

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