Tuesday, December 16, 2008

10,000 Kitty Cats!?

The new Sant Ocean Hall at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History is an intense visual experience. They've done a lot to immerse visitors into the realm of oceanic wonder. The hall itself is rectangular with the entrance off the first floor rotunda. My first instinct was to look up; the ceiling spans two floors and there are many things to see above the floor exhibits.

The most eye-catching exhibit is Phoenix, a model of a resilient Northern Right Whale. At one point in her life, she was entangled by a mess of fishing line, but she made it out fine -- save for some scarring on her fluke and bottom lip. All these scars were visible on the model as well.

All through the hall, a graphic of Phoenix accompanied a word bubble with text pointing out a key fact about that exhibit. Often there would be a follow-up question to the visitor, or a humorous anecdote. For example, one of Phoenix's bubbles stated that an adult Northern Right Whale weights 140,000 pounds, which is equal to twelve African Elephants or 10,000 kitty cats!

Along with general species information, the biological exhibits had three main questions emblazoned on the cases:

1) Where does it live?
2) Is it big (or small)?
3) What is it related to?

It was easy to see the main education objectives of the exhibit developers.

One of my favorite exhibits was on vertebrates, and compared the largest -- Blue Whale -- with the smallest -- the Goby. To reach the weight of a Blue, one would need 155,000,000,000 gobies. That's a lot of gobies!

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