Five years ago, the Museum of Natural History got together a group of people with the goal of expanding the Museum’s reach beyond just the land. The incredible wealth of life below the water’s surface, and the great span of the ocean, was a missing spot in the museum’s coverage. Thus, they began the most extensive renovation in the Museum’s History. Tomorrow, the NMNH opens the brand new Sant Ocean Hall. The ceremonies kick off at 11am out front of the Museum, where the Aloha Boys & Halau O’Aulani Dancers, as well as the Tlingit community, who will be performing a drum ceremony to bless the exhibit.
Once inside, the centerpiece is Phoenix, the Right Whale, suspended in the dead center of the exhibit about 10 feet off the ground. Phoenix is a model built off a living Right Whale living in the North Atlantic that scientists from the New England Aquarium have tracked for the last 21 years. Right whales represent one of the North Atlantic’s most endangered species, though their population is on the rebound with some of the more recent preservation efforts.
The Ocean Hall is 23,000 square feet, the largest single exhibit space in the Museum. It features a central corridor that features exhibits on coastal ocean life, and leads back toward the Open Ocean exhibit, featuring a couple of specially displayed giant squid. See, the fire marshall just about had a conniption when he found out the Smithsonian wanted to put a bunch of jars of flammable, toxic alcohol in the middle of a bunch of children. So, they went to the 3M corporation and they came back with their Novec 7100 Engineered Fluid, by the tankful. See, it still allows for neutral buoyancy, and the preservation of the specimen, it just doesn’t catch fire easily, or poison people.
The side exhibits feature some smaller exhibits, including one that will drive creationists like Sarah Palin into a faith crisis, featuring a major-league fossil history of a number of different early ocean species. There’s 400,000,000-year-old trilobyte sample there from Russia. A whole fossil history up through the Cambrian period is available for view, including a whole exhibit on the extinction-level events that happened around the disappearance of the dinosaurs.
There’s also a living coral reef, featuring 74 species from the Indo-Pacific region. Director Samper said that if the museum didn’t feature “Nemo” in some way, his daughter was going to have a field day, so that makes it the only exhibit in the hall that features living creatures. Well, currently-living creatures. Everything else was living before it became one of the 100+ million specimens that the Smithsonian has as part of their collection.
But the one thing that you just can’t miss the Science on a Sphere® exhibit. It’s a 6-foot globe suspended in the middle of a room, where four projectors put up a single continuous movie onto the globe. There are four short movies, featuring plate tectonics (also guaranteed to send creationists into apoplexy.) and ocean currents, amongst other things. For a sample, check out the video we shot. It’s an astonishing visual presentation, and probably the single coolest museum piece that I’ve seen anywhere. So go, and see that. The rest is just icing after that.