Pygmy right whale

Things are never, ever dull at Te Papa! Next week we have another team of international scientists coming to examine a pygmy right whale specimen. This small whale (Caperea marginata) stranded on 13 May 2007 in the far north of New Zealand.

> Follow the story of this examination blogged live

Pygmy right whales are one of the smallest baleen whales. They are a southern hemisphere species, found most often around New Zealand and southern Australia.

In 1997 Te Papa hosted a major dissection of this species. Recently scientists have become very interested in how pygmy right whales fit into the picture of whale evolution.

Anton van Helden, Te Papa’s Marine Mammal scientist, will be joined by four whale scientists from around the world to dissect the pygmy right whale:

Dr Catherine Kemper from The South Australian Museum, Adelaide – the world’s leading authority on pygmy right whales.

Dr Ewan Fordyce from Otago University, Dunedin – an anatomist and palaeontologist who specialises in whale evolution.

Dr Joy Reidenberg, Mount Sinai School of Medicine, New York – also an anatomist, who is interested in sound production and breathing in baleen whales.

Dr Sentiel ‘Butch’ Rommel, University of North Carolina, who took part in the 1997 pygmy right whale dissection. His research interests include mapping the skeleton and associated tissues of whale species.

We hope to bring you some live blog posts – and images – from the pygmy right whale dissection next week.

> Follow the story of this examination blogged live

Special whales talk
Wednesday 7 May, 6.30pm – 8.30pm
The team of international whale scientists will talk about their work and recent discoveries at a special event organised by Friends of Te Papa.

Telstra Clear Centre, Level 3 at Te Papa. Free entry.

To reserve a place please phone the Friends office (04) 381 7051 or email

9 Responses

  1. Youngmin Lim

    Here is Korea, and I have never seen photos like in this site.

    As a vet I thank you for posting precious photos. ㅋ

  2. tepapamuseum

    I’ve updated the post yesterday to add links. I sent a bad mailing pointing to this page instead of the whole blog, sorry about that! You can see all the updates on

    In fact, this whale is only 2 meters long 🙂


  3. Mark Smitheman

    Hi Pamela,
    Thanks for your response. Shame about the webcams. My main interest (besides a general liking for whales) is how you go about dissecting such a large creature.
    What tools/equipment do you employ and how do you handle something like the alimentary system which could be dozens of metres long!
    Where can I find the images and updates please (URL)?
    Thanks again, you people are stars!
    Mark (Smivs) Smitheman.

  4. Pamela

    Hi Mark
    We aren’t able to have a webcam for the whale dissection, sorry. But we are intending to post images and updates while the dissection is happening over the next couple of days. The scientists have just arrived this morning and will be getting organised today, ready to start the dissection.

    Is there anything in particular you’d like to know? or have an image of?


  5. Jolene

    Lemon juice works well to get rid of fishy smell on hands. Use it like soap then wash.

  6. Mark Smitheman

    The squid was awesome, the whale probably even more so. Please get those webcams into the ‘whale room’ so that we can see what’s going on. Is this likely?
    Yours (in hope),
    Mark Smitheman (AKA Smivs)

  7. Jonathan

    Thanks Pamela.

    I read some where that colossal squids are not good for eating as they have a very strong ammonia smell which is just as well. Otherwise they will be fished out of extinction! It’s interesting that you say it smells “fishy”.

    Thanks again for your speedy response.

  8. pamelalovis

    Hi Jonathan
    Good question, thanks! It’s quite hard to describe in words what anything smells like.

    When the smaller colossal squid was being looked at on the dissection table it smelt very “fishy” – and it got worse as the day went on. I touched it (carefully) and my hand didn’t smell very good for quite a long time after, even though I washed it several times.

    The bigger colossal squid was in the tank and didn’t smell much at all. Once it’s been preserved it will just smell of the preservatives we’ve used – a strong, chemical smell, and not very nice.

    Hope that helps.

  9. Jonathan

    What does the squid smell like?


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