SI White
div style="clear: both; height: 2em;"> 

Spying On Whales: The Past, Present, and Future of Earth's Most Awesome Creatures
Baird Auditorium

 20170905_PYENSON_Carolyn Van Houten_smaller.jpg

Image credit: Carolyn Van Houten

FREE ticketed event

From Moby Dick to Free Willy to Blackfish, whales have long intrigued us. They are among the largest, most intelligent, deepest diving species to have ever lived on our planet—they seem almost too majestic, too fantastical to be believed. They evolved from land-roaming creatures the size of German shepherds into animals that move like fish, breathe like us, can grow to 300,000 pounds, live 200 years and travel entire ocean basins. Whales fill us with awe, terror, and affection, but because they live 99% of their lives underwater, they remain mysteries to us.

In Spying on Whales, paleontologist at the National Museum of Natural History, Nick Pyenson, takes readers to the ends of the earth and the cutting edge of research to answer some of our biggest questions about whales. Why and how did they evolve to such enormous sizes? How did their ancestors return from land to the sea? What do their lives tell us about our oceans and about evolution as a whole? How have hundreds of years of whaling affected their population, and what does climate change mean for their survival?

Join us for a presentation followed by a conversation with Sant Director of the National Museum of Natural History, Kirk Johnson, tackling these questions and more, tapping into our fascination with these aquatic titans and shedding light on where they came from, how they live, and what they reveal about our changing world.

Those who register and check in at the program will enter a chance to receive a signed copy of Spying on Whales at the end of the program. One winner will be selected.


Nick Pyenson is the curator of fossil marine mammals at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C. His work has taken him to every continent, and his scientific discoveries frequently appear in The New York Times, The Washington Post, National Geographic, the Los Angeles Times, The Economist, Popular Mechanics, USA Today, and on NPR, NBC, CBC, and the BBC. Along with the highest research awards from the Smithsonian, he has also received a Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers from the Obama White House.

Accessibility Information

The National Museum of Natural History is committed to providing inclusive experiences for all audiences. Please contact 202-633-3611 or email for access services. To view and print a map with accessible entrances, curb cuts, designated parking, and more for Smithsonian facilities on the National Mall, please download the Accessibility Map here. 

Sign Language Interpretation

If you would like to have a sign language interpreter or real-time captioning (CART), you should call (202) 633-3611 or send an e-mail to Please allow time to schedule the request by contacting the Accessbility Office at least 2 weeks prior to the program. We will do our best to accomodate last-minute requests.

Time: 6:45 PM - 8:30 PM
Ground Floor, National Museum of Natural History
10th St. and Constitution Ave., N.W.
Washington, DC 20013-7012
United States

We're sorry, the deadline for buying tickets for this event has passed.