At the start of May, I started the Environmental Visual Communications program at the ROM. That first day I walked into the ROM for the program, I also got to see the Blue Whale exhibit for the first time at Friday Night Lights. Although I was surrounded by hundreds of people, I felt instantly connected to this whale and the ROM. I really felt like I could learn and grow as storyteller, as a visual communicator, and most importantly, as a person. I wanted to explore these intersections of nature, art, culture, and education; I believed in the power of public institutions to be a catalyst for change. And so here I find myself, actively seeking out ways to tell Blue’s story to spark some inspiration, hope, and environmental change.
Blue, the ROM’s resident blue whale is larger than life – yet she lived a life of mystery. She captured our hearts when the ROM found her on the shores of Newfoundland.
The key message here was that the ROM played an incredible role in seeing the massive opportunity here to do something big with this whale (haha) and use this tragic incident for larger educational and advocacy purposes. Her death made headlines, but this exhibit is genuinely making a difference in research and awareness. It is difficult to see a tragic news story that feels so far away from you and your daily life, but now through the exhibit, the ROM is able to share so much more about Blue, about blue whales and marine conservation, and show how all of this is connected to people’s lives.
The exhibit highlights the importance of continuing scientific research to learn more about Blue and her species… Where was she born? What was her family like?
Since no one has seen a blue whale give birth, we cannot pinpoint the exact location where Blue was born. We do know that blue whales give birth in the winter when they migrate to warmer waters in one of three main locations near the equator. Knowing this means that we have to find global solutions, demand that governments co-operate internationally, to protect our oceans and conserve our wildlife.
This is important because there are only 1,400 blue whales across the North Atlantic! One hypothesis suggests that Blue belonged to a population of 200 – 400 blue whales that frequent Canadian coastal waters, particularly in the Gulf of St. Lawrence.
By having more data on blue whale migration and behaviour, we can advocate for better protection of our oceans and find solutions to preserve the largest animal to have ever existed on Earth. And we do already know a lot! Although we call her Blue, there is a 15% chance that she has already been identified, sampled, and named by researchers in the past. Oliver Haddrath, a researcher studying molecular genetics at the ROM, states that the genetic information from Blue’s DNA can be compared to a pre-existing blue whale database to in hopes of finding a match! This existing blue whale database is a genetic library created by the Mingan Island Cetacean Study (MICS) comprising of DNA samples collected from approximately 50% of the North Atlantic blue whale population. As we continue this research, updates will be shared through the ROM’s website and social media!
In early July, the EVC cohort got to spend two weeks helping MICS develop communications strategies and content. Through all of this, although I have never seen a blue whale in the wild, I understand that they are positive and necessary members of oceanic ecosystems. I feel strongly about marine conservation as a way to bridge international co-operation and work towards climate justice. People love our oceans and the life that exists within them.
I also felt a really truly deep connection to our whales through Kim Wheatley, a local Anishinaabe leader, when she engaged in a smudging ceremony in the Blue Whale exhibit in mid-June. Blue is far from her home in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, of multiple nations of Indigenous peoples throughout the centuries, including Mi’kmaq and the Innu-Montaignais. She has migrated to Toronto/tkaronto, (where I’m based!), of the traditional territory of the Haudenosaunee and most recently, the territory of the Mississaugas of the New Credit First Nation. For Kim and her community, Blue is still a living spirit despite her skeletal form. She brought Blue to life through our imaginations and emphasized the significance of blue whales to Indigenous peoples across Canada.
I think positive environmental change happens when we can understand how everything is linked together. By connecting with Blue in the present, we are contributing to a brighter future for blue whales as a species in Canada and around the world. Through scientific research, public education, and new legislation on marine protected areas, we are taking tangible steps to tackle marine conservation.
You too can contribute to the future of blue whales in Canada and globally by:
- Reducing your plastic consumption and one-use plastics
- Voting for leaders who care about marine conservation in oceans and great lakes
- Volunteering or supporting organizations like MICS that are making a difference in the field of marine research and conservation
- Contributing to whale research through citizen science and participating in whale research tourism
The more we know and the more we learn, the more we can help whales like Blue. We live in a world where everything is interconnected: our whales, our waters, and our futures. I hope you’ve had the opportunity to say hello to Blue herself, and know that we are all working together for better waters. Thanks for reading!
The ROM’s “Out of the Depths: the Blue Whale Story” exhibit is open until September 4th. Check it out in person to learn about blue whale research and conservation!