Out of the Depths: The Blue Whale Story

2017, History, Royal Ontario Museum, Science, Temporary Exhibit
Atlantic Ocean, conservation, design drawing, ecology, history, installation photos, Newfoundland, oceans, science, whaling
About This Project

Date: March 11 – September 4, 2017

Partner: Royal Ontario Museum

Venue: Garfield Weston Exhibition Hall at the Royal Ontario Museum – map

Project Members: Katherine Ing


The Royal Ontario Museum (ROM)’s exhibit connects Canadians to the story of one blue whale. Out of the Depths: The Blue Whale Story inspires visitors to learn about the impact of industrial-scale whaling on the Northwest population through the products and images from the early 20th century. Visitors to the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) will comprehend how whales were needlessly hunted for oils and other ingredients to make everyday products that could be made from more sustainable materials. This awareness will spur visitors to reflect on how their efforts can help protect the remaining population.


The exhibit capitalizes on images, objects, and interactive, multi-sensory access points to draw an all ages audience into the mysterious realm of blue whales. This display panel also has a brief text panel written at a 9th-grade level to draw attention harvesting practices.


The Garfield Weston Exhibition hall, the ROM’s premiere space with 5000m2 floor space and 5m tall ceilings, accommodates the enormous 24m skeleton and educational content.


For the Conservation panel, partners include the Unilever Archives, the Toronto Archives, the Toronto Star Archives, the New Bedford Whaling Museum and other private collectors.


Dave Ireland was the supervisor of the project. After performing the initial research within the exhibition parameters, the following people approved and installed the display: Mark Engstrom, Senior Curator; Doug Currie, Senior Curator; Courtney Murfin, Interpretive Planner; Dave Holland, 3D Designer, Tom Henriksson, 2D Designer, and Tricia Walker, Manager, Registration.
Planning for the Conservation display started September 2016. In October – December 2016, research began by locating advertising and objects using whale by-products. These items received approval on December 15 and were input into a tracking document to acquire high-resolution enlargements. Objects for the exhibit arrived between November 2016 – February 2017. The final images and objects were installed between March 2 – 7, 2017 before the exhibit officially opened to the public on March 11 – September 4, 2017.


The Conservation display from Out of the Depths: The Blue Whale Exhibit, displays 8 images and 3 objects mounted into a temporary wall. To be accessible for all ages, the interpretive text panel is put into simple language written at a 9th grade level to the side. Advertisements, photographs, and artifacts are used to showcase the appeal of whale products and how they permeated everyday household items. Images selected were information- or text-rich to prevent the need for additional labelling. Advertisements were placed close to their associated products. Large images were side-lit with track lighting while each object had overhead lighting. Since the objects were inserted into the display, their cases were flush to the wall. In addition, to be visually appealing, an object with a distinct odor could be smelled through small openings in the glass casing.


Within the faculty, a project description was provided for the Museum Studies’ Project Exhibition brochure. Photographs of the exhibit opening were posted on the MUSSA Facebook newsfeed.


The ROM has the infrastructure to support several programming activities, lectures and events surrounding the Blue Whale exhibit catering to all ages visiting the ROM. Its active marketing strategy includes advertising across several media platforms around the Greater Toronto Area. The Promotions team goes out into the community providing the public with discounts while highlighting features of the exhibition, and the ROM’s research and conservation efforts.


Out of the Depths: The Blue Whale Exhibit is the result of over 3 years of planning and preparation to prepare the female blue whale skeleton for display. The story of this whale coincides with ROM’s Canada 150 celebration and is projected to attract 120,000 visitors.


The exhibit received much fanfare since its recovery and received 3 times the amount of coverage for a special exhibit. Its opening has garnered 1/3 of its projected attendance or over 40,000 visitors in its first week. In its first promotional effort, the outreach team surpassed its quota of 6,000 coupons by more than 2000 coupons at week long event. Attendance to the museum appears to be healthy and should continue to grow during the summer tourist season.