Big Summer Fun: Whales, Weather and Bugs—Oh, My!

This summer just got bigger thanks to the Witte Museum and the San Antonio Zoo. The two San Antonio family favorites are hosting special exhibits sure to delight little (and big) fans over the next few months. So if you’re already wondering how to keep your littles from saying whining “I’m bored!” this summer, don’t worry: they can have a whale of a time, get blown away, and bug out.

A Whale of a Time

My love—or really, my son’s love—of the Witte knows no bounds. But I think it’s pretty cool, too. If you haven’t been to the “new” Witte, you need to make it a must for your summer plans. Even if you have been, you need to make it a must for your summer plans because (1) you know you’re going to need some air-conditioned diversions; and (2) in that glorious cool air are amazing whales. Yes, full-sized whales, inside the Witte. More proof that the Witte is amazing!

Whales: Giants of the Deep is truly giant, featuring two gigantic sperm whale skeletons. Not replicas, but real skeletons that are almost impossible to believe. One of the two is an adult female, while the other a juvenile male. At more than 55 feet long, the juvenile is the larger of the two. But they’re not all that’s big about the exhibit. How about a life-size replica of a blue whale heart that’s big enough for your kids to climb through??? (It even has a video for them to watch while they’re inside.)

Your kids will want to get to the “heart” of Whales and not leave.

Climbing through the heart’s chambers isn’t all that will keep your kids busy. The exhibit is interactive, with educational stations to do rubbings, measurements, and more, while computer games allow them to design their own dolphin and help sea life navigate trash-filled waters (so kids understand how important it is to keep trash out of our oceans). You can also step into a sound chamber to hear the sounds made by eight different whales or take a whiff of ambergris, a fragrant, resin-like substance that forms in the intestines of sperm whales. It actually washes up on beaches after it’s been, umm, “discarded” by the whale. (I’m not going to lie—I’m not sure I needed to know what happens inside whale intestines or that part of their poop can wash ashore, but my son loved it.)

After exploring the biology of whales, we dove into their evolution. My future marine biologist/race car driver/paleontologist/astronaut (depends on the day of the week) and I were astounded to learn that whales evolved from a rat-like land animal. The exhibit includes videos of the long-gone ancestors as well as replicas of their skeletons, and you won’t be alone as you stand there with your mouth open, marveling at nature.There are other educational videos throughout the exhibit, including one inside a mini-theater that shows how whales hunt, and another inside a replica of a southern right whale head from the film Whale Rider.

Developed by the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, the exhibit also features the role of whales in the culture of the Maori, the indigenous people of New Zealand. You’ll also see artifacts, adornments, and weapons fashioned from whale bones and teeth. It’s important to note that due to the cultural sensitivity of the exhibit, attendees are asked not to take photographs. In today’s world where we snap pictures of everything with our phones, I know that seems odd, but please respect the request. (The photos taken for this post were approved by the Witte. Thank you to Katye Brought, Communications Manager, for allowing me to document the exhibit during my family’s visit.)

“Whales” is open through September 4th. Admission costs $7 for members (though the website says $11) and $20 for nonmembers (that includes museum general admission and admission to “Whales”). You can check out ticket packages and purchase online.

Get Blown Away

Considering how often our weather seems to change—except in the summer when we seem to have the same scorching heat and lovely humidity day after day after day—going behind the scenes to check out weather extremes is a natural diversion to forget our blistering days. Wild Weather at the Witte does just that, taking you through the science and awe behind thunderstorms, tornadoes, hurricanes, and blizzards.

The exhibit delves into the science of weather forecasting, especially the efforts to better forecast severe weather events. Interactive displays let you create tornadoes, lightning, and blizzards, as well as learn how to track a hurricane. After last spring’s tornadoes, we were in awe using augmented reality to see the destructive force of an EF1 vs. an EF5.

You can make your own “Sharknado” and watch him spin while dropping in other objects to see how tornadoes whirl.

Part of the exhibit is dedicated to emergency preparedness, a terrific opportunity to discuss storm preparation with your family. There’s also a section that lets you see how weather affects your body, giving you the opportunity to highlight how important it is to stay hydrated and wear appropriate clothing for our scorching summers—and yes, children, you do need to wear a jacket to defend against wind chill. (In other words, it gives you the science to back up all of the mom-isms you spout about drinking water, wearing a hat to provide shade, and yes, even though we live in Texas, the need to wear a jacket every now and then.)

If you want to check out Wild Weather, Whales, and everything else the Witte has to offer, all-inclusive tickets are $20, or $4 for museum members. You can check out ticket packages and purchase online.

Bug Out

Bug Mania!, larger-than-life bugs that have taken over the San Antonio Zoo, changes your perspective on bugs. Running through September 3rd, Bug Mania! features huge replicas of bugs throughout the zoo. Yes, it’s as if your worst nightmares have come to life. But, once you see these HUGE bugs, you won’t feel so bad about the occasional creepy crawly that crosses your path.  

I’m not sure I needed to see larger than life scorpions. Don’t we get enough of those in San Antonio???

To the delight of little ones, most of the displays are animatronic, and to creep you out even more, many of them have sound as well.  There’s even one that allows kids to control its movements, so the antenna and more can wiggle as you like. Most are positioned to make great photo ops, so roam the zoo and keep your eyes peeled, though most are pretty impossible to miss, like the giant tarantula (see my son’s reaction above) that greets you just inside the gate.

Bug Mania! is included in your regular zoo admission and during Jungle Boogie Nights, special summer fun at the zoo on Friday nights, June 2nd through September 1st, from 6:00–9:00 P.M. If you haven’t been to the zoo at night, it’s definitely worth a visit. It can be a bit cooler than standard summer weather, and many of the animals are out and about enjoying their evenings (a few will be snoozing, too—they’re not all party animals!).

Jungle Boogie Nights features a discounted admission price ($9 vs. regular zoo admission) and is included for those with zoo memberships. Each Friday night will feature live music and happy hour specials on food and beverages, as well as food trucks and special activities. Follow the website to see what bands and food trucks are featured each week.

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