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Photography by Deborah Baic • Video production by Patrick Dell

Molding and casting supervisor Michael Thom, exhibition technician Campbell Fair and Stephen Lee of Research Casting International attach ribs to the skeleton of a blue whale at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto, which reopens to the public on July 17. Watch to learn more about what to expect. The Globe and Mail

The last time a big whale parked itself at the Royal Ontario Museum, thousands crowded in to see it, pushing annual attendance over 1.4 million. This Saturday, another exhibit devoted to three great whales will open to carefully distanced members of the public who will be the museum’s first visitors of 2021.

After a painful closure lasting eight months, the ROM is reopening with a show titled “Great Whales: Up Close and Personal.” It’s a sequel to the successful 2017 exhibition “Out of the Depths: The Blue Whale Story,” which featured one of the largest blue whale skeletons in the world. That skeleton, retrieved from a pod that got caught in sea ice in 2014, will make a repeat appearance in the new show, as the ROM unveils more research on whale carcasses found on the Atlantic coast. This exhibition features three skeletons cleaned by the ROM: the blue whale, a sperm whale and a North Atlantic right whale, an endangered species that comes under threat from shipping when it follows its prey into the St. Lawrence. This specimen was an adult male that had sired several offspring and survived entanglements in fishing lines before it was hit by a ship in 2017.

With timed tickets, and foot-activated pads replacing buttons on interactive displays, the ROM is hoping the exhibition about behaviour, evolution and conservation will convince visitors that whales must be saved – and that museum spaces are safe.

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A dinosaur skeleton stands in the ROM's main atrium. The museum closed to visitors in November when the pandemic's third wave sent Toronto and Peel regions into lockdown.

A sign on elevator doors urges visitors to stay apart. The museum's precautions include timed ticketing and replacing the buttons of interactive displays with foot-activated pads.

The lights are dim in the empty Eaton Gallery of Rome, advertised as Canada's largest collection of ancient Roman artifacts.

Sperm-whale bones are organized on a foam pad before being added to the skeleton. Before the global whaling industry emerged in the early 1800s, there may have been as many as 1.1 million sperm whales on Earth; now there are only about 360,000.

The sperm-whale display takes shape. Sperm whales have teeth and hunt for squid in deep water, unlike the other whales at the exhibit, which have mouthfuls of bristles they use to filter and feed on tiny crustaceans called krill.

Bill Kochie of Research Casting International hoists a North Atlantic right whale skull so the rest of the skeleton can be assembled. A ship hit and killed the adult male whale in the Gulf of St. Lawrence in 2017, when 17 of the endangered animals died in one season.

A wall of photographs shows surviving North Atlantic right whales. At the end of 2020, there were fewer than 375 whales in the world. Exhibits like these aim to underscore the work Canada still has to do to make sure shipping, climate change and other threats don't wipe the animals out completely.

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