The origin of whales

This history tells how whales and dolphins came into being.

Many ages ago, it came time for Tāwhaki and his younger brother Karihi to go in search of their grandparents. Their sister Pūpūmainono told them they would have to cross Te Moana Tāpokopoko ā Tāwhaki (to some tribes the Tasman Sea). It is said that their grandmother Whaitiri sat at Te Pito o Papatūānuku (mother earth's belly-button, or Ayers Rock in Australia) holding the vines that were used by gods and goddesses to cross between Ngā Rangitūhāhā (the heavens) and Papatūānuku (the earth). While in this land across the sea, Tāwhaki met a woman called Hinetuatai. From that meeting came the ancestor of whales and dolphins, Te Ikanui, after whom all whales and dolphins are named.

Source: Tāwhaki Nui a Hema by Hirini Moko Mead. Publisher: Reed Consumer Books, 1996

Education resources     > Maori version

These education resources support a teacher-guided visit to the exhibition. They have been developed for both primary schools and secondary schools.

The education pages:

  • provide background information about whales (you'll find more detailed information about the exhibition on the main part of this website)
  • guide you through the exhibition and suggest questions for your students to help them interpret the content
  • offer activities for back at school.

Educators, please contact the venue or Te Papa's Manager of Touring Exhibitions for an exhibition walk-through.

Find a list of related websites and other resources on our Cool stuff page.

Whale people

~ Tinirau
~ Pātaka Taonga
~ Whale Land
~ Whaling, then and now

Whale lab

~ Whale Lab
~ Evolution
~ Sperm whale


~ Strandings

Top: Sperm whale, courtesy of Brandon Cole. Right: Orca fluke, photograph courtesy of Dr Ingrid Visser, Orca Research Trust