Museum of New Zealand
Te Papa Tongarewa
Plan your visit
Whakaritea tō toronga
Ngā kaupapa motuhake
He haerenga ārahi
Venues | Tākina Events
Discover the collections
Tūhuratia ngā kohinga
Read, watch, play
Kōrero, mātaki, purei
Kids and families
Mā te whānau
Mā te pouako
For museums and galleries
Mō ngā muhiama me ngā whare toi
Guides to caring for objects
Tiaki Kohinga, Tiaki Taonga
Mō Te Papa
What we do
Ā mātou mahi
Ngā kohinga taonga
Ko ō mātou whare
Ngā whakaaturanga poi haere
Ngā whakaaturanga o mua
Te Papa Press
Press and media
Media sales and licensing
Te hohoko papāho me te manatā
Support & Join
Tautokotia, kuhu mai
Friends of Te Papa: Our membership programme
Ngā Hoa o Te Papa: Te hōtaka mema
Donate to Te Papa
Koha ki Te Papa
Open every day 10am-6pm
(except Christmas Day)
Free entry for everyone
Charges apply to some short-term exhibitions and activities
Jump to related classroom activities
This skeleton is from a large male sperm whale. The bones give a sense of the whale’s size – the largest toothed predator on the planet. Globally, sperm whales are the most widespread of whale species.
Introduce the idea of skeletons to students with reference to the sperm whale skeletons in the exhibition. Explore the immediate area, then discuss the following questions and topics.
Why is the skeleton an important part of the body? Can you see any differences between these two skeletons? If so, what are they?
How do you think these huge creatures died?
How many bones can you count?
What is the purpose of a skeleton?
Make comparisons between a human and a whale skeleton. What is similar? What is different?
Feel your arm from the shoulder to the hand. How many bones can you count? Which of your arm bones are similar to those in a whale’s fin?
Where are the tail bones?
Sperm whales have very large heads. What is the purpose of having such a big nose?
Scientists find out important information from studying an animal’s skeleton. For example, the sperm whale’s skeleton reveals a thin, lower jaw that opens wider than expected and contains lots of impressive teeth. This is interesting because their teeth aren’t used for eating – the whale sucks prey into its mouth. Male sperm whales appear to use their teeth mostly for fighting other males.
Note the skeleton’s large skull. The sperm whale gets its name from the liquid waxes and oils – the spermaceti organ – in its head. This organ is part of a complex system of sound production in the nose of the whale.
The skeleton shows the whale’s massive ribs. The ribs support and protect the core internal organs, as they do in humans and other mammals. The ribs of whales are angled backwards and can move more freely than terrestrial mammals. For example, the chest compresses to help the animal dive to great depths.
Compare and contrast a whale skeleton to a human skeleton
Research and investigate the purpose of a skeleton in mammals.
Draw a picture of a human skeleton and name some of the main bones and some of the main groups of bones.
Calculate the mass that the human skeleton takes up as compared to the whole body.
Discuss movement and restrictions of movement in a human skeleton focussing on the direction that the joins in a skeleton move.
Investigate the sperm whale skeletons.
Count the bones in the skeletons.
Draw a sketch of the skeleton, naming some of the main bones.
Discuss the joins in the whale skeleton and the movement or restriction of movement in the whale skeleton.
Compare the arm bone of a human skeleton and the fin or flipper bones in whales, what are some of the similarities and the differences?
With the preliminary sketches during your visit use these as a basis to create a large poster naming some of the bones in a whale skeleton, and the purpose of the skeleton.
Compare the size of the nose of a Sperm whale and apply some of the measurements to a human body, eg the sperm whale has a nose that is 1/3 of its body mass. Create posters with human noses 1/3 of their bodily mass.
Make a model of a whale skeleton naming some of the bones
Create a articulated clay skeleton with each student identifying and creating a different piece of the skeleton
Compare toothed whale skeletons to baleen whale skeletons.
Identify the differences and similarities between creatures that live in water and on land