Bar Harbor Whale Museum

This morning we visited the Bar Harbor Whale Museum, a small museum located in the town of Bar Harbor and operated by the College of the Atlantic. The centerpiece display is a skeleton of a subadult humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae); at 29 feet in length, it’s still as long as an adult Eobalaenoptera. The skeleton was nicely mounted, and I was particularly impressed with the lower jaws:

They are correctly mounted for a closed mouth, with the dentaries rotated out along the long axis so that the curve of the dentary follows the curve of the maxilla in the upper jaw. The jaws are frequently mounted incorrectly (in fact, our Eobalaenoptera mount has them wrong, although I hope to get that corrected when we have funds to do so).

There were several other nicely mounted skeletons on exhibit. One near and dear to my heart was a pygmy sperm whale, Kogia breviceps (the first whale skeleton I ever reconstructed was a K. breviceps):

A long-finned pilot whale, Globicephala melas:

We spent a pleasant hour at this excellent (and free!) museum, and I highly recommend spending some time there if you’re in Bar Harbor.

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4 Responses to Bar Harbor Whale Museum

  1. boesse says:

    I visited that museum in 2005! It looks like they’ve grown quite a bit since I was there; I don’t remember the humpback skeleton. That was a great little museum! Was the funky Ambulocetus sculpture still there?

    That’s probably one of the only rorqual mounts I’ve ever seen with the mandible correctly articulated; California Academy of Sciences recently reopened with it’s huge blue whale skeleton (collected in 1910) on a hanging display, and the mandibular condyle is a full meter from the glenoid fossa, and not rotated correctly.

  2. Alton Dooley says:

    Ambulocetus is still there; I have to say, it wasn’t one of their highlights.

    Apparently the museum wasn’t originally operated by the college. I get the impression that they’ve grown quite a bit and become a more serious institution since the college took them over in 2003.

  3. Doug says:

    What do you think is the reason most whale jaws are mounted incorrectly?

  4. Alton Dooley says:

    Prior to around 20 years ago or so, it wasn’t really known how the jaws closed. It’s still not generally known among scientists (even biologists and paleontologists) that don’t work on whales.

    The jaw closure mechanism is unique among mammals, as far as I know. Rotating the jaw around two axes like a baleen whale requires an unfused mandibular symphysis, and I don’t think any other mammals have that. That’s one of the reasons it probably took so long to understand the mechanism, along with the difficulty of studying large whales.

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