Delilah the whale finds new home after N.B Museum closes exhibit space
Many of the New Brunswick Museum's artifacts have been sitting in storage since its Market Square location in Saint John was emptied in October, but Delilah the right whale has found a new place to hang.
The 13-metre model of the North Atlantic right whale whose death led to conservation efforts in the Bay of Fundy will be part of a new exhibit at the Huntsman Marine Science Centre's Fundy Discovery Aquarium in Saint Andrews.
The model previously hung from the ceiling of the New Brunswick Museum's exhibit space.
"For us to be able to exhibit her, [to] show just how large right whales are, and also to tell the story of right whales and their life cycle and all the struggles that they have — that's really important to us," said Laura Barrett, an education and outreach supervisor and youth education specialist at the centre.
The new exhibit will be launched in May 2023, said Barrett. It will explore the whales of the Bay of Fundy, including the North Atlantic right whale and other species.
The centre will also house a beluga whale and calf whale model from the museum. The museum also has Delilah's real skeleton, but her bones will remain in storage until it finds a new space, Barrett said.
Delilah's importance to the Bay of Fundy
Delilah hasn't been hung in the centre yet, but Danielle Dion, senior naturalist with the whale-watching tour provider Quoddy Link Marine, recently got a sneak peek of the model in its new habitat.
Dion frequently visited the museum in Saint John for the unique perspective of whales Delilah's model affords viewers.
"I'm on the water all day with them, but to see them out of the water, to see their sheer size is amazing," she said. "And when Delilah gets hung in the Fundy Discovery Aquarium people are — their jaws are going to drop to the floor."
Barrett said it's new for Huntsman to have a model of this size.
Dion said Delilah is an important whale to the Bay of Fundy because of the conservation efforts her death inspired.
In 1992, Delilah was killed in what's called a vessel strike, meaning she was hit by a boat or ship. As a result, shipping lanes in the Bay of Fundy were shifted around the right whale habitat, she said.
"It went from, you know, 80 per cent of the right whales that were in the Bay of Fundy being right in the middle of the shipping lanes to less than five per cent," Dion said. "So it was a huge conservation effort that was done."
She noted that right whales are rarely seen in the Bay of Fundy these days but the diversion of shipping lanes still helps protect other wildlife.
The outlook for right whales might seem bleak, she said. A North Atlantic right whale consortium recently announced that the population of the species fell to 340 in 2021.
But Dion said Delilah's story demonstrates that humans can do something to reverse the human-made threats facing the species.
She said having places like Huntsman where people can learn about the species are important for its survival.
"There is hope for them. And caring about them and learning about them is huge. Because you protect what you love, and protect what you care about."
Moving a 13-metre model
Getting Delilah from the museum in Saint John to Saint Andrews took some work, Barrett said.
The transportation effort was aided by Cooke Aquaculture and futureNETS, an aquaculture net provider. The model was stored at a futureNETS building after the centre removed a door and windows from one of its walls so Delilah could make it inside.
A crane lifted her off the flatbed, then about 20 Huntsman staff members carried all 13 metres of Delilah into the centre.
Barrett said Delilah is relatively light for the model's size. The model is made of fibreglass and wood.
Delilah's fluke, meaning her tail, and flippers had to be removed during transport but will be added on in the coming weeks.
The aquarium closed its summer season in October and will reopen for general visitors in May.
But once Delilah's back in one piece, she'll be hung from the ceiling. That means people visiting for special events or during March break may get a glimpse of her before the new exhibit opens in May.
"We're very excited to be able to showcase Delilah," Barrett said.