Examine Prehistoric Whale Skeletons in This New 3D Exhibit

U-M Museum of Natural History’s new virtual offering dives into the evolution of whales
prehistoric whale
View prehistoric whale skeletons, like the Durodun pictured above, in U-M Museum of Natural History’s new digital exhibit. // Image courtesy of Saganworks

With its new virtual exhibit, the University of Michigan Museum of Natural History is giving the public an up-close look at the prehistoric whale skeletons that hang in its entrance atrium.

Whale Evolution: From Land to Sea, which debuted last week and can be accessed via the museum’s website, is laid out like a gallery. Visitors can digitally walk around the space — similar to how you would in a video game — to view the exhibit’s main focal point: 3D renderings of the Museum of Natural History’s Maiacetus, Dorudon, and Basilosaurus skeletons.

By hovering over the specimens and photos, guests can access writings about whales’ unusual evolution from land mammal to marine mammal, ancestors, connection to the hippopotamus, and more. They can also watch videos about whales and the fossilization process that feature U-M researchers. For educators who wish to use the exhibit in their curriculum, there’s even a bookshelf space for homework and supplemental materials.

“We’re proud of this presentation because it uniquely brings together information and images that are scattered around our physical museum as well as digital content that is not easily accessible,” says Amy Harris, director of the U-M Museum of Natural History, in a press release. “For the first time, visitors will have an opportunity to have a close encounter with one of the prehistoric whale skeletons displayed far overhead in our entrance atrium.”

U-M Museum of Natural History worked with Saganworks — a software company in Ann Arbor that creates 3D immersive experiences for digital platforms — to develop Whale Evolution: From Land to Sea. Melissa Westlake, assistant director for exhibits at the museum, says the goal was to create a virtual exhibit that complemented in-person offerings.

“One thing that I felt very strongly about is that I did not want to re-create the in-person experience at the museum,” Westlake says in a press release. “360-degree videos and virtual tours have become the norm over the past year, but I was invested in creating something new for our audiences that will outlive the pandemic and offer a great resource as an extension of our physical space, instead of a replication.”

To view Whale Evolution: From Land to Sea, visit lsa.umich.edu.