The NAT’s pirates exhibit is no place for lily-livered landlubbers!

Visitors to theNAT can board a life-size replica of the stern for the Whydah, a pirate ship that sank off the coast of Cape Cod nearly 300 years ago. Courtesy of Premier Exhibitions and National Geographic

From Museum Reports

Arrrr you ready, buccaneers? It’s time for some swashbucklin’ at The San Diego Natural History Museum (theNAT) where the blockbuster exhibition, ”Real Pirates: The Untold Story of the Whydah from Slave Ship to Pirate Ship,” is on view through Sept. 1.

“Real Pirates will give visitors a sense of what life was like on board a pirate ship while teaching a bit about the history of piracy,” said Michael Hager, Ph.D., president and CEO of theNAT. “We expect this exhibition to be a ‘must-see’ for residents as well as visitors to San Diego. Visitors will be as surprised as I was about how different piracy was compared to present-day perceptions.”

Organized by Premier Exhibitions, Inc., in partnership with National Geographic, “Real Pirates” tells the true story of the Whydah, the first fully authenticated pirate shipwreck discovered in U.S. waters. In 1984, famed underwater explorer Barry Clifford made world headlines with his sighting of the remains of the ship, which was wrecked in a storm off Cape Cod on April 26, 1717.

From its origins as a slave ship to its takeover and conversion into a pirate ship in the early 1700s by pirate captain Sam Bellamy and his crew, the salvaged Whydah provides visitors with an unprecedented glimpse into the economic, political and social circumstances of the early 18th century Caribbean. Its exhibition showcases recovered treasure chests of gold and silver coins, the oldest collection of Akan jewelry in the world, cannons, pistols, knives and a life-size replica of the ship’s stern that visitors can board.

“Discovering the Whydah was the most exciting moment in my career,” said Clifford. “The sheer volume of artifacts the Whydah carried — from more than 50 other ships captured by Bellamy — provides a rare window into the otherwise mysterious world of 18th century pirates. Most important, it is a chance to bring the real story of pirates to the public as it’s never been told before — through real objects last touched by real pirates.”

Artifact recovery and conservation processes are also highlighted in the exhibition, as is the slave trade gambit, with its own artifacts — shackles, branding irons, ivory and gold, and cowrie shells, a form of African currency.

One of the most striking artifacts on view is the ship’s bell, inscribed ‘Whydah Galley 1716,’ which was used to authenticate the shipwreck site as that of the Whydah.

At the core of “Real Pirates” are:

n The Whydah’s bell, inscribed “Whydah Galley 1716,” which was used to authenticate the shipwreck site.

n A treasure chest filled with authentic coins last touched by pirates and authentic coins that visitors can touch.

n Technologically advanced weaponry of the time — grenades, cannons, muskets, pistols, cutlasses, swords and more.

n Artifacts that represent the daily lives of pirates — from a commode and plates to jewelry, clothing and game pieces.

n Portions of the Whydah’s rigging and tools the crew used to maintain it.

n Navigational tools like sounding weights and ring dials.

Pirate Journals

In addition to Real Pirates, visitors may also view a bonus exhibition, “Pirates: Unlikely Naturalists,” curated by theNAT in partnership with local contributors. It includes some of the rare books documenting the “Golden Age of Piracy” in existence — dating from the late 16th to early 18th century — on loan from Mandeville Special Collections of the UC San Diego Library.

Many pirates or privateers from the late 17th century produced illustrated journals that contributed to the early rise of natural history, and their observations heavily influenced the work of scores of scientists, including Charles Darwin.

Pirate Pearls

TheNAT will also display a collection of the types of pearls sought by Spanish explorers and English pirates while cruising off the coast of Baja or in the Sea of Cortez during the 16th and 17th centuries.

The pearls, as well as authentic books and maps, are on loan to the Museum from the collection of Will and Carl Larson (, international gem and mineral dealers from Fallbrook.

Pirate Rigging

Last but not least, as guests enter the museum, they will experience authentic rigging, sails and other items on loan from the Maritime Museum of San Diego.

Editor Susan DeMaggio contributed to this report

If you go

What: ‘Real Pirates:  The Untold Story of the Whydah from Slave Ship
to Pirate Ship’

When: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily

Where: San Diego Natural History Museum, 1788 El Prado, Balboa Park

Time to allot: About two hours to take in the various presentations

Tickets: $15-$27

Front Desk: (619) 232-3821

On the Web:

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Posted by Staff on Feb 20, 2014. Filed under A & E, Art Galleries & Institutions. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

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