The least understood two-thirds of planet Earth — the oceans — are soon to get needed attention from the Smithsonian Institution. "The oceans are a global system that is essential to all life in Earth, including you," acting Smithsonian Secretary Cristian Samper said Thursday at the construction site that will become Ocean Hall at the National Museum of Natural History.
Scheduled to open Sept. 27, the 23,000 square-foot hall represents the largest remodeling at the Natural History museum since it opened in 1910, Samper said.
As he spoke, a life-size replica of Phoenix, a North Atlantic right whale, loomed overhead. Born in 1987, the real Phoenix has been tracked by ocean experts since her birth, Samper said.
"The oceans and life in the oceans shapes our lives every day," added Mary Glackin, deputy undersecretary for oceans and atmosphere at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
NOAA and the Smithsonian have worked together for five years to develop the new hall
Anyone who has worried about modern sharks will likely be impressed with the display including the seven-foot tall jaw of a prehistoric shark.
A 1,500 gallon talk with a coral reef display will include dozens of plants and animals that live on reefs.
A 26-foot Tlingit canoe will illustrate the human connection to the sea and a 1,800 gallon tank will display a 24-foot female giant squid.
But such traditional museum fare as fossil bones and captive animals will be joined by high-tech video and displays like "Science on a Sphere," a giant globe that shows why the ocean's constant motion and interaction with land and the atmosphere make it a complex global system.
There will also be a series of galleries with varying exhibits including one that changes about every 18 months. The first of the temporary shows will be "Going to Sea," highlighting the many reasons people have gone out on the ocean over history.
Other galleries will include:
• Living on an Ocean Planet, underscoring the importance of the ocean to all life.
• Shores to Shallows, which highlights different kinds of coastal ecosystems around the world and how they are affected by people.
• The Poles, which demonstrate the differences between the North and South poles and how life thrives at both through extreme adaptations.
• Journey Through Time will give visitors the opportunity to compare fossils of a large number of ancient animals; some are more than 500 million years old.
• Deep Ocean Exploration, a 10-minute film in the Ocean Hall theater featuring scientists as they uncover some of the planets deepest mysteries.
• Ocean in the News, a kiosk providing interactive ocean news with regular updates on ocean-related topics around the world.
• Collections, a showcase displaying the world's largest and most diverse collection of marine specimens and explains how this collection helps scientists make sense of ocean life.
The related Ocean Initiative will also provide an Internet connection to bring ocean science to classrooms across the country.