A participant in the inaugural build of the “Build-a-Whale” interactive display

A whale of a time at the Aquarium

New interactive presentation provides a hands-on look at the science of orcas for the next few months

A new interactive display and educational opportunity has arrived in Campbell River that will hopefully help children and adults alike learn more about one of our favourite sea mammals.

The new “Build-a-Whale” display and presentation was unveiled last week at Discovery Passage Aquarium, and about a dozen children and their parents were on hand to be a part of the inaugural build.

“We’ve got the Build-a-Whale for a couple of months. It comes from the Strawberry Isle Marine Research Society near Tofino, and the whale is a real skeleton from an offshore orca who washed ashore in 1997,” said Deb Cowper, manager of the Aquarium and Explorer Lab.

“What we do is we have an hour-long program where we actually build the whale,” Cowper said. “It’s very interactive. We talk about the whales, we talk about the different eco-types of whales we have around here, we talk about how it’s a mammal and how we’re mammals, and then we build it.

“Then we talk about some of the threats to the Orcas, and everybody has a good time and learn a lot.”

The dead whale, named O-120, was discovered about 17 miles off the west coast of the Island in 1997, towed to shore and cleaned before being made into the educational display.

“They say it took over 700 man-hours to clean the bones,” Cowper said, “so it was obviously quite an ordeal.”

So what can people learn from building a model of a whale with the bones of a whale that they can’t learn from a book – or from Wikipedia?

“It’s a well-know thing that we all learn in very different ways,” Cowper said. “From a book, you can learn a lot of different facts and things, but with this you can really feel and connect and really get a sense of it. For example, I never really realized just how big she was until she arrived – and she’s actually a small version of an orca – and I was really able to see and feel and appreciate and connect to it more.”

There will be public events held during the few months the display is in town, “probably on Sundays, but that has yet to be finalized,” says Cowper, and classes of children from the schools will be coming down to the Explorer Lab when it opens in a couple of weeks to build the whale, as well.

Thanks to local supporters, the Stubbs Island Whale Watching Company and Discovery Marine Safaris – who sponsored the loan of the whale from the Strawberry Isle Marine Research Society – children and adults alike will be able to enjoy the interactive display for the next two to three months.

While the schedule of public events has not yet been set, Cowper said, they will likely be on Sundays. During the week, classes of children will be coming down to the Explorer Lab to do the build and learn about orcas.

Watch Discovery Passage Aquarium on Facebook for updates on when you might be able to take in the show – and be a part of building an orca.