Fish Tales

The central diorama, a model of New England’s watersPhotograph by Jim Harrison
Specimens from the Museum of Comparative Zoology collections complete the exhibitionPhotograph by Jim Harrison

The Harvard Museum of Natural History in November unveiled its new exhibition on marine life. The centerpiece (shown here), a cleverly lit diorama, depicts New England coastal waters from the shallows to the depths: a pioneering way to educate and entrance visitors without penning living specimens in a small habitat. That display neatly complements the adjacent gallery on the region’s forests, and closes what curators describe as a “gaping hole” in the exhibitions, which have underrepresented Earth’s aquatic environment and the staggering biodiversity it supports.

A few hundred mounted specimens in surrounding cases (from the millions of molluscs and fish among the comparative zoology holdings) give a sense of evolution, species variation, and the sheer beauty of nature. Youngsters will enjoy the interactive explanations of nomenclature (focusing on jellies), and of Harvard scientists’ work. They will likely like the huge Australian trumpet shell (Syrinx aruanus, a type of snail), and be thrilled or repelled by the giant isopod (Bathynomus giganteus, a crustacean) at rest in its jar. What parent could resist the vivid orange lion’s paw scallop (Nodipecten nodosus)—or withhold a smile at the name of the diminutive Wolf fangbelly (Petroscirtes lupus, one of the Pacific coral-reef combtooth blennies)?

 

In the diorama at the center of the new marine-life exhibition, the lighting design subtly transports viewers from the the sunlit surface of the water, at right, toward deeper habitats, on the left.
Photograph by Jim Harrison

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