Typically, when someone thinks of animals at the River Museum, they think of the living animals. However, there are animals represented in the historic collection too, like this whale vertebra!

The note sheds light on its history and reads “Piece of Backbone of Whale captured in Magdalene [sic] Bay. Kindness of Wm M. Ehmer Chief Machinist Mate, November 1908.” It is likely a vertebra from an eastern North Pacific gray whale, once commonly found near Bahía Magdalena (Magdalena Bay) on the Western coast of Baja California during winter migration and calving season.

This vertebra came to the Museum from Richard Herrmann who was interested in natural history. After his death, his collection was donated to the Dubuque County Historical Society in 1964 as part of the Society’s founding collection. Therefore, you could say aquatic animals first came to the museum decades before we officially became an aquarium!

While Eastern Iowa on the banks of the Mississippi River may initially sound like a strange home for a whale bone from the Mexican Pacific coast, it is a perfect home here at the National Mississippi River Museum & Aquarium. As explored in our Rivers to the Sea exhibit, people are, and always have been, connected across the world via our waterways and we can use them to learn about the world. One way is through conservation stories, such as animals like the eastern North Pacific gray whale now seen as a conservation success story.  After decades of protection, they are no longer listed as endangered as of 1994. Nevertheless, they still face threats such as getting trapped in fishing gear, colliding with ships, and habitat loss. If you’d like to learn more about conservation stories, endangered species, and Dubuque’s connections to the world’s oceans, check out our Rivers to the Sea Exhibit!