In what is one of the most dramatic dioramas in the Museum, a giant squid is caught in the sperm whale’s mouth, its tentacles grasping at the whale’s head, which is actually an oversized snout. Sperm whales (Physeter macrocephulus) interpret reflections of sounds generated by this uniquely shaped snout, employing a form of echolocation akin to that used by bats, to “see” their way through deep, dark water and to hunt prey. Unlike baleen whales which feed by straining large quantities of water, sperm whales are in the category known as toothed whales and they pursue individual prey.
The sperm whale and giant squid diorama in the Irma and Paul Milstein Family Hall of Ocean Life is now celebrating the 10th anniversary of a masterful renovation.
Visitors often ask why the sperm whale and giant squid diorama is so dark and why, unlike all other dioramas, there is no glass on the front. The darkness is deliberate—to approximate the pitch-black conditions of the deep ocean where no sunlight penetrates. The glass was removed in the 2003 renovation because reflections created a mirror effect against dark interior leading visitors to think the diorama was empty. Also in 2003, blue-colored fluorescent light was installed and color, based on the best scientific data available at the time, was added to the figures, which originally had been painted a flat black.