I recently visited the Waloseum, a museum organised by the seal sanctuary Nationalpark-Haus Norddeich in Norden, on the German North Sea coast. While the seal sanctuary has its own exhibition, focussing on everything related to seals, the Waloseum showcases the local fauna with a strong specialisation on cetaceans and shore birds. Even though their name sounds a bit like it, they have no live whales, they show models, skeletons, videos, and audio recordings of whales. But since the Waloseum is part of the local seal sanctuary, the ground floor of the building also hosts the quarantine station for baby seals which were found sick, injured or abandoned on the beach. The visitors can spend some time observing baby seals; though to be honest, while very cute, a sick baby seal is not really doing a lot of interesting activities, so let’s move on, so they can rest and recover. Other live animals exhibited here include an aquarium with local fish that live close to the sea floor such as catsharks or flatfish, and benthic invertebrates like echinoderms, allowing visitors for example to closely observe the complicated anatomy of sea star locomotion in action (fig 1). Also included in this area is a wonderful collection of mollusc shells such as cone snails, fearsome predators.
The lower floor of the Museum hosts the whale exhibition, beginning with whale evolution (fig 2) and anatomy, for example showing a life size model of a blue whale’s heart (fig 3), which is illuminated in red light pulsating with the same frequency as a blue whale’s heartbeat. Across the museum and between the exhibits, hand painted wall decorations illustrate whale behaviour or anatomy, such as for example the feeding mechanism of baleen whales (fig.4). I especially enjoyed the displays showing the different extant whale species grouped by geographic area in which they live, such as this display of species of the Southern Ocean surrounding Antarctica (fig. 5).
But everyone agrees that the absolute highlight of the museum is the 15m (~50 feet) long skeleton of a male sperm whale that is exhibited in its own room (fig. 6). The skeleton is shown together with a replica of a human skull for size comparison, as well as a giant squid model, an important prey species for sperm whales. What is extra special about this specimen is the fact that the skeleton comes from a sperm whale that was washed up dead at the German coast in 2003 just a few kilometres from the museum. The whale weighed about 40 metric tons! Pictures of the washed up specimen are included on one of the walls, together with information on migration routes and many other interesting details. The entire room is very dark, only the whale is illuminated, the entire atmosphere feels like the deep sea. Sperm whale songs are played in the background. Everything about this is very impressive, the first step into the room takes your breath away.
A small side room branching off here shows very special deep sea ecosystems: hydrothermal vents! Lots of information about the geological processes leading to hydrothermal vents are shown in figures and illustrations, but the nicest part of this section is the hydrothermal vent model, which even includes tiny vent crabs and tube worms (fig. 7).
Following the natural environmental sequence, one floor above the sea floor and open ocean exhibit, sea and shore birds of the local area are showcased (fig. 8). Just like in the sperm whale room, the background is full of animal sounds, in this case seagulls’ and other birds’ calls. The upper floor also includes important information about human-environment interactions, a big topic is environmental destruction through pollution but also the importance of the local Lower Saxon Wadden Sea National Park, which has a size of almost 346,000 hectares (~1,300 square miles) and is the largest national park in Germany.
Even though this museum is very small, through modern exhibits, the very smart use of light and background sound, detailed models and illustrations, the museum creates the perfect atmosphere for learning about marine and coastal life. I highly recommend a visit, especially if you’re looking for something fun to do on one of the many, many rainy days this area gets.