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BRING THE FAMILY

A trip worthy of Melville

(Milva Didomizio/Globe Staff)
By Milva DiDomizio
Globe Staff / February 26, 2011

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Claire is halfway through Herman Melville’s “Moby-Dick,’’ so it seemed like the right time to check out the New Bedford Whaling Museum. On the Sunday afternoon we went, we found a well-presented mix of history, science, anthropology, literature, and art, with dashes of Melville’s famous book sprinkled throughout.

Visitors are invited to start with an introductory film, which we missed because the theater was in use. Instead, we admired the gigantic whale skeletons hanging from the ceiling and pondered the question “How Do You Compare to a Sperm Whale?’’ Ezra, with his best deadpan expression, offered the observation that “whales have more blubber.’’ The exhibit highlighted more subtle differences like the number of bones (206 for humans versus 126 for sperm whales).

We touched baleen, listened to whale calls, learned about echolocation, and followed a detailed history of the whaling industry, complete with the harsh economic realities and its dangerous and often gory nature. For older kids, this is fascinating stuff. Younger kids may ignore some of the historical fine points but will like the hands-on craft activities (the day we went it was origami), spectacular whale skeletons, interactive exhibits, and one of the main attractions — the ship models, including a half-size reproduction of the Lagoda, a 19th-century whale ship that operated out of New Bedford. Climbing aboard is encouraged. The same goes for the model of a fo’c’sle, the part of a ship where the crew eats and sleeps. The crew I brought enjoyed hanging out in the bunks and listening to museum volunteers tell tales of adventure on the high seas.

Stepping into the “Classic Whaling Prints’’ exhibit was like entering an art museum devoted entirely to seafaring drama. We found several cultures represented, including Dutch, English, French (where Melville’s personal favorites reside), American, Japanese, and Inupiaq Eskimo. Although the day was brisk, it was still a pleasure to hang out on the observation deck and enjoy the fresh air and harbor views. Then it was back to checking out the wide variety of cool items on view, among them narwhal tusks, a corset made with whalebone, portraits carved into whale teeth, and more lances and harpoons than you can shake a stick at.

MILVA DIDOMIZIO

Winter hours (Jan.-May) Mon-Sat 9 a.m.-4 p.m., Sun noon-4 p.m., until 9 p.m. every second Thursday of the month. 18 Johnny Cake Hill, New Bedford. $10, $9 seniors and students, $6 ages 6-14. 508-997-0046, www.whalingmuseum.org.

WHO: Globe staff member Milva DiDomizio, daughters Claire (13) and Abby (12), and friend Ezra (13)

WHAT: Having a whale of a time

WHERE: The New Bedford Whaling Museum

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