Ahoy! Pirates Storm The Nat in San Diego!

Tickets Now Available for National Geographic’s Real Pirates Exhibition at the

San Diego Natural History Museum 

Blockbuster exhibition opens February 8 and showcases artifacts from the first fully authenticated pirate ship discovered in U.S. waters; bonus local components provided by UCSD, the Maritime Museum of San Diego, and local gem collector

The Whydah. Photo Premier Exhibitions, Inc.

The Whydah. Photo Premier Exhibitions, Inc.

Tickets are now on sale for the exhibition Real Pirates: The Untold Story of the Whydah from Slave Ship to Pirate Ship at the San Diego Natural History Museum.

A world first, this exhibition contains authentic pirate treasures and boasts more than 200 artifacts recovered from the first fully authenticated pirate ship ever discovered in U.S. waters. Organized by National Geographic and Premier Exhibitions, Inc., the traveling exhibition is scheduled to open February 8 at theNAT in Balboa Park. From the team behind Titanic: The Artifact Exhibition, recently at theNAT, this limited-engagement exhibition tells the story of the crew of the Whydah, a real pirate ship that was originally intended to be a slave ship. It also yields insight into the violence and idealism of early 18th century piracy. The exhibition will showcase treasure chests of gold coins, jewelry, cannons, pistols, knives, and a life-size replica of the ship’s stern that visitors can board. It also features real stories of the people who populated the Atlantic world in the age of slavery and piracy: artisans and traders from West Africa; slave ship captains and their captives; Native American boat pilots; impoverished sailors from all over Europe; and pirates—including women and children. The exhibition provides visitors with an unprecedented glimpse into the unique economic, political, and social circumstances of the early 18th century Caribbean. It is highlighted by the compelling stories of the diverse people whose lives converged on the vessel before it sank in a fierce storm on April 26, 1717.

The exhibition Real Pirates: The Untold Story of the Whydah from Slave Ship to Pirate Ship is a National Geographic exhibition, and opens at theNAT in Balboa Park on Feb. 8.

Pirates Treasure Gallery. Photo Premier Exhibitions, Inc.

Pirates Treasure Gallery. Photo Premier Exhibitions, Inc.

Exhibition Highlights

Real Pirates features a dozen multimedia galleries that showcase the reality of the slave trade in West Africa and the economic prosperity in the Caribbean in the early 18th century. The exhibition also features the history of the Whydah, a pirate ship located by underwater explorer Barry Clifford in 1984. Visitors will learn about the ship’s journey; its capture by Sam Bellamy, one of the boldest and most successful pirates of his day; the violent storm that sank the ship; its discovery by Clifford; and the recovery and conservation of its artifacts.

Artifacts include pirate dress items, daily objects used aboard the ship, weaponry, jewelry, and treasure from all over the world, including authentic coins that visitors can touch. At the core of the exhibition are items that have been painstakingly removed from the ocean floor. One of the most striking artifacts on display is the ship’s bell, inscribed “Whydah Galley 1716,” which was used to authenticate the shipwreck site as that of the Whydah. Today, Clifford continues to excavate the wreck site and continues to bring treasures to the surface every year.

Throughout the immersive, 10,000-square-foot exhibition, visitors will experience the perils and privileges of life during the “Golden Age of Piracy.” Interactive activities include climbing aboard the Scurvy Nat in the pirate’s playland; hoisting the Jolly Roger; tying pirate knots; and taking a photo with and speaking to a “real” pirate enactor on select days.

Local Exhibition Components

In addition to the featured Real Pirates exhibition, visitors will also have the opportunity to enjoy a small exhibit curated by theNAT in collaboration with local contributors. The exhibition will include some of the most important rare books documenting the “Golden Age of Piracy”  in existence, dating from the late 16th to early 18th century and on loan from the Special Collections Library of the University of California, San Diego (UCSD). Many pirates 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.

Additionally, theNAT will display a wide 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 personal collection of Will and Carl Larson (Palagems.com), international gem and mineral dealers from Fallbrook. 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.

Tickets for the General Public

Reserved timed-entrance tickets for Real Pirates are now on sale to the general public at www.sdnat.org/realpirates. Admission: $27 adults; $24 seniors (62+); $21 students and military (with ID); $21 youth (13-17); and $18 children (3-12). Children 2 and under are free. Admission includes general access to all other exhibitions in the Museum along with 2D and 3D films in the giant screen theater.

Tickets for Museum Members

Museum members receive up to 45 percent off regular admission. Tickets for members of all ages are $15. For more information on membership at theNAT, please visit www.sdnat.org/membership.

Group Ticket Sales

Real Pirates is appropriate for groups of all ages. For groups of 10 or more, reservations are now available with discounted rates of up to 20 percent off regular admission. Group admission: $22 adults; $19 seniors (62+); $17 students and military (with ID); $17 youth (13-17); and $15 children (3-12). School field trips are $12 per student. For more information on group reservations, please call 619.255.0347 or email groupsales@sdnhm.org.

Exhibition Hours

The exhibition and Museum will be open from 10 AM to 5 PM daily. The last entry time will be 60 minutes before the exhibition closes. Due to the expected popularity of the exhibition, purchasing tickets in advance is recommended. For additional information about Real Pirates, please visit www.sdnat.org/realpirates.

Whydah History

The three-masted, 300-ton galley Whydah was built as a slave ship in London in 1715 and represented the most advanced technology of her day. She was easy to maneuver, unusually fast, and heavily armed to protect her cargo. She was built to transport human captives from the West Coast of Africa to the Caribbean but made only one such voyage before being captured by pirates.

In February 1717, after the slaves were sold in the Caribbean, the Whydah was captured off the Bahamas by Bellamy. Shortly thereafter he and his crew hoisted the Jolly Roger—the slave ship was now a pirate ship.

Just two months later, on April 26, 1717, in one of the worst nor’easters ever recorded, the Whydah, packed with plunder from more than 50 captured ships, sank off the Massachusetts coast. All but two of the 146 people on board drowned.

In 1984, some 270 years after the demise of the Whydah, Clifford found the first remains of the ship. In a recovery operation that spans more than two decades, Clifford and his team have documented the wreck site and artifacts with digital camera equipment and brought up thousands of artifacts, not only gold and silver, but everyday objects that shed light on this tumultuous period of American and world history.

“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 the pirate captain Sam Bellamy and his crew, provides a rare window into the otherwise mysterious world of 18th century pirates. This exhibition is the culmination of many years of work. 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.”


  1. So fun to check out the different exhibitions happening there – I love that they are keeping current with the popularity of Pirates – argh!

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