Suspended above the center of the Sant Ocean Hall is one of the biggest animals that ever lived. It is a life-sized model of an actual living North Atlantic right whale named Phoenix. Phoenix is a baleen whale. Whales have evolved into two groups: those with teeth and those with baleen. Adult whales range from under 2 m to 33 m (6.56-108 ft).Researchers calculate Phoenix's size using measurement photographs (photogrammetry). At age 13, in August 2000, she was 13.1 meters (43 feet) long and over 4 meters (13 feet) wide. North Atlantic right whales are big, but not the biggest whales. Adults reach about 63,503 kilograms (140,000 pounds), equal to 12 African elephants—or 10,000 kitty cats!

How Do We Know So Much About Phoenix?

Researchers snap photos of whales from ships and airplanes. They then match these snapshots to photos in the North Atlantic Right Whale Catalog to identify the individual. Records of these sightings provide a diary of each whale.

Despite this monitoring, some whales disappear each year to unknown locations. Others reappear, often after a decade's absence. And some young whales just show up unexpectedly.

How can researchers lose track of a huge whale for years at a time? Whales may be big…but the ocean is bigger.


  • Title: North Atlantic Right Whale (model)
  • Type: Model
  • Rights: This image was obtained from the Smithsonian Institution. The image or its contents may be protected by international copyright laws. http://www.si.edu/termsofuse
  • Scientific Name: <i>Eubalaena glacialis</i>
  • Photo Credit: Chip Clark, Smithsonian Institution National Museum of Natural History

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