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Virtual museum out to save the whales

National Whale centre

Will a virtual museum prove enough of a pull for whale-loving punters?

The team behind the National Whale Centre certainly hopes so. The concept had its launch evening last night, and is backed by patrons including Dame Anne Salmond and former All Black captain Anton Oliver.

The National Whale Centre would be New Zealand's first virtual museum focused purely on marine mammals.

It will initially be a website and depending on funding, there are plans to house early exhibits in specially-designed shipping containers on land provided by the Marlborough District Council on a Picton foreshore site, followed by a permanent facility with exhibitions and a "new media info hub".

Picton was chosen due to its extensive whaling industry, active until 1964.

Oliver says the National Whale Centre will perform a crucial role in educating communities about New Zealand’s whaling past and creating awareness of threatened species that lurk, often unseen and out of mind, underwater.

“It's so much harder to create awareness for that which we cannot see. I hope the NWC will make us much more aware of how much we've lost and how much we stand to lose if we don't join arms and become custodians of our special marine environments: protecting that which we currently take for granted.

“I grew up fishing, diving and swimming in the Marlborough sounds – it was my aquatic back yard and I know the area well. Understanding our past enables us to create baselines - both in terms of what we have left in our oceans versus what we used to have and also how our attitude to the natural world has changed over time.”

The National Whale Centre aims to raise awareness of New Zealand’s whaling past in Marlborough and the Marlborough Sounds as well as current marine life conservation efforts through information, research and exhibition programmes.

“This is a world-first concept combining the history and future of the marine environment with the whale and other cetaceans as the focus,” says project director Luit Bieringa, a Wellington-based art historian and museum consultant.

Photo: Whit Welles, Wikimedia Commons