Story URL: http://news.medill.northwestern.edu/washington/news.aspx?id=101275
Story Retrieval Date: 5/24/2013 4:04:26 PM CST
Since its opening in September, the Sant Ocean Hall at the Natural History Museum in Washington has hosted more than 270,000 visitors—that’s more than 13,000 people per day.
“The main message for our new ocean exhibit is that the ocean is a global system essential to all life including yours,” said Carole Baldwin, one of the curators of the exhibit. Baldwin worked on the project for five years and was excited to share some of her favorite displays.
“One of the reasons that the ocean is essential to all life is that it produces at least half of the oxygen available to breathe on this planet,” said Baldwin as she referred to the models of organisms behind her. “The oxygen comes from tiny microscopic plant-like organisms in the ocean called phytoplankton.”
Baldwin explained that phytoplankton use energy from the sun to create oxygen. The process occurs only on the ocean’s surface because that’s the only part of the ocean where sunlight penetrates.
“And we refer to them as the most amazing creatures that you’ll never see,” said Baldwin.
But seeing is believing, especially when you spot the coelacanth, which was thought by scientists to have gone extinct more than 65 million years ago.
“Then in 1938, a living coelacanth was found off South Africa,” said Baldwin. “For the ocean world, it was the equivalent of finding a T-Rex.”
But that’s not the only surprise.
“She kinda goes all the way down to the end there,” Baldwin said as she pointed across the hall to the 24-foot long giant squid, which was “originally 30-something feet, but once you put them in preservative they shrink.”
That word "shrink" seemed to be a theme for more than one of the fish on display.
Baldwin said as she walked over to a glass jar displaying a wrinkly, round fish: “This fish is called a triple wart Sea Devil.”
That Sea Devil, was actually a she devil, who has a unique way of meeting her he devil.
“These two projections hanging off the belly there, are males, and they go in search of a female and when they find one, they bite into her,” said Baldwin.
Another one of Baldwin’s favorites is the view from the second floor, where one can see the entire exhibit, including the North Atlantic right whale named Phoenix.
“Our model was based on a living individual,” said Baldwin. “She’s out there somewhere swimming. She’s about 21-years-old, and she’s a grandmother.”
But while the museum is known for its minutely detailed animal models, this exhibit has a special exception.
“We couldn’t have an exhibit about the ocean and not have anything alive!” said Baldwin smiling.
Baldwin said scientists thought they had already documented all of the types of fish in existence, but they were wrong.
“When we employ new tools in science we often find new things,” said Baldwin, who has been using DNA and technology to discover new fish species.
Regardless of the number of fish in the aquarium, your little one, may only want to see one fish.
“When kids come to this exhibit, the first thing they look for is the ‘Nemo’ fish,” said Baldwin, who explained that ‘Nemo’ refers to the orange and while banded fish made popular by the Disney movie Finding Nemo. “They’re actually called clownfish or inemity fish.”
Nonetheless, Baldwin assures, “Yes we’ve got nemo in the tank.”