A Tale of a Right Whale

Suspended at the center of the Sant Ocean Hall is a life-size model of a North Atlantic right whale named Phoenix. The result of four years of work, and collaboration between exhibit fabricators, whale biologists, sculptors, painters, engineers, and many others, this exhibit is unique and exciting in that it represents a live animal. Phoenix is part of a long tradition of exhibiting whales at the Smithsonian. In 1903, the Museum created the first full-cast of a whale ever displayed.

Phoenix has been tracked in her Atlantic Ocean environment by marine biologists at the New England Aquarium in Boston, ever since her birth off the coast of Georgia in 1987. Phoenix was chosen because so much is known about her and her family (her mother's name is Stumpy). She is the mother of three calves and became a grandmother in 2007. It's estimated that there are fewer than 500 of these whales alive today. Read her story in this slideshow, and learn more about North Atlantic right whales.

Phoenix the right whale diving in North Atlantic.
Phoenix swimming with her calf. Yankee Whalers: An 1856 Currier & Ives print shows whalers harpooning a right whale.The rough patches of skin known as callosities occur in unique patterns on all North Atlantic right whales and help researchers identify and track individual whales. This whale is named Phoenix.Researchers have identified five areas of high North Atlantic right whale concentration between Canada and Florida.Phoenix’s entanglement badly injured her right lip, leaving a distinctive scar from that ordeal.Phoenix’s mother, Stumpy (number 1004), was killed in a collision with a ship near Virginia in February 2004. She was pregnant with her sixth known calf.A view of the injured fluke belonging to Phoenix’s mother, Stumpy. It is not known what caused this injury. It possibly could have been an entanglement.Workers prepare to hoist the model of Phoenix, a North Atlantic Right Whale, into position above the exhibit hall floor in the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History in Washington, DC.