The Best and Worst of Ocean Hall - Oceana USA
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October 14, 2008

The Best and Worst of Ocean Hall

Last week Oceana took a field trip to the new Ocean hall at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History. Reviews have been mixed. Here’s our assessment, in list form:Most impressive1. The North Atlantic right whale — Phoenix, a model of a real whale (pictured above), so-named because she was entangled in fishing gear and was “re-born” into the wild, where she currently resides. A compelling story about an individual whale and her species. 2. Coelacanth and pup — an incredible back-from-extinction story not to be missed. 3. Videos on a spinning globe — I was mesmerized by this, and I sat and watched several chapters about Pangaea and Panthalassa, the recent tsunami and ocean currents. But Suzannah pointed out that there was nowhere to sit besides the floor.Least impressive/most disappointing1. Conservation messages — You knew I was gonna say this, but the conservation message was, no pun intended, very watered down. While it is clearly not the goal of the museum, the only conservation messages I saw were about orange roughy, bluefin tuna, plus a small section in the back featuring a carbon footprint calculator, info about debris, overfishing, and invasives. There was, however, a cool interactive program in which you attempt to manage a bottom trawl fishery. 2. General size/organization — After all the waiting and hype, most of us were disappointed with the size and scope of the hall, as well as the organization. As Miriam, a development intern from Spain, noted with a frown as we entered the hall, “It’s so messy!” Suzannah agreed, saying it was cluttered and disorganized, lacking a cohesive story or narrative to guide you.Other comments?Jon simply said he prefers aquariums — they represent the live, dynamic ocean that he is most passionate about. Plus, he said, the small coral reef aquarium tank at the Ocean Hall lacked good descriptions of the fish and corals. Jeff, a self-professed “fish geek,” said: “There’s some really unique specimens for the fish/ocean buff who thinks they’ve seen everything, like the coelacanth and pup, antarctic ice fish and a really amazing fossil of spiral Helicoprion shark jaw, but a really poor sign explaining it. It seemed to me, in general, like they struggled to make an exhibit that both catered to the masses and was collegiate/exceptional.”Ben liked the fossils, like the megalodon jaws, the dunkleosteus skull and the blue whale skull but said the identification was poor.Bottom line? I think we give it a low B.Anyone else recently visited and want to weigh in?