by Katie Greulich
Support global conservation efforts and see ocean life through unprecedented means by visiting one of these US-based exhibitions in late 2021 and 2022.
Zoos, aquariums, museums, and botanical gardens are beautiful, thought-provoking educational venues, and they also form the backbone of national and global conservation efforts. Unfortunately, these institutions have struggled during the pandemic, losing revenue from admission and hustling to create safe, new policies and procedures alongside the care, research, curation, and education that is their primary mission. It is even more thrilling, then, to see a number of ambitious exhibitions opening in 2022 that aim to radically change how we understand ocean life--and humans’ impact on the ocean. Featuring rare species, innovative animal care, stunning design and artistic practice, and immersive augmented reality experiences, these US-based institutions promise unprecedented opportunities to connect with the creatures of the briny deep.
Sharks! Predators of the Deep Gallery, Georgia Aquarium, Atlanta, GA
Although this new permanent gallery at the Georgia Aquarium technically opened in late 2020, it is too fabulous not to feature here. The largest gallery devoted to sharks in the country, the exhibition features 20 foot tanks, refurbished and expanded viewing windows, and an interpretive emphasis on sharks’ critical and threatened role in maintaining ocean ecosystems. If you are feeling adventurous, you can tour the gallery via a 2.5 hour cage dive, cozying up to the multiple species of sharks--including tiger, silver tip, and great hammerhead--that call the aquarium home.
David Bowen: The Journey, Minnesota Marine Art Museum, Duluth, MN
On view now through January 2022
Art museums have played a significant role in assisting scientists’ conservation efforts by increasing public awareness of the ocean’s gifts to humankind. Nestled in the northern midwest, the Minnesota Marine Art Museum is pushing the boundaries of the maritime art tradition by collecting and exhibiting artwork from across the art historical canon that represents our complex relationship to the sea. David Bowen: The Journey, is one such example: the exhibition shows two large, kinetic sculptures based on seafloor and wave data collected by Bowen during a journey aboard the Schmitt Ocean Institute research vessel, Falkor, in 2019. Visitors will leave awed by the power of art, science, and design to change how we understand nature.
Critical Distance, Smithsonian Museum of Natural History, Washington, DC
On view until Summer 2022
The Smithsonian Museum of Natural History is an iconic institution, and its Sant Ocean Hall--with world class fossils, art, and specimens--teaches about humans’ impact on the ocean with unforgettable interpretive materials. But the second floor features the truly special temporary exhibition, Critical Distance, an immersive, augmented reality experience that submerges visitors in the daily struggles of an endangered orca pod currently living in the Pacific Ocean’s Salish Sea. Visitors experience how whales use echolocation to navigate, gain an understanding of their family tree, and learn about what they can do to protect this compelling species. For visitors 10 years of age and up.
Sheila Rodgers: Oceans of Plastic, George H.W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum, Corpus Christie, TX
On view now through July 5, 2022
Artist Sheila Rodgers’s installation at the George H.W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum addresses the problem at the heart of Solgaard’s mission: plastic pollution in our oceans. Featuring approximately 35 pieces of art crafted from plastics gathered along Texas’s Gulf Coast, the exhibition highlights the impact of plastics on our wildlife and marine ecosystems, and challenges us to make small changes to reduce plastic waste. On view alongside a historical exhibition documenting the history of the Texas Sea Legacy, this ethereal, oddly colorful exhibition moves visitors to take action for our planet.
Into the Deep, Monterey Bay Aquarium, CA
Opening April 2022
The result of numerous plunging dives into the dark, frigid deep sea, Into the Deep promises to bring to light the vast biodiversity of ocean life living several hundred meters below the surface. Developed in partnership with the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute, this first-of-its kind exhibition recreates deep sea environments within the aquarium’s walls. Researchers and curators created innovative methods of collection and animal care to make this exhibition possible: robotic submarines and ROVs helped researchers peer into complete darkness to collect weird and wonderful jellyfish, angler fish, and vampire squid, to name a few. Despite frigid water temperatures and immense pressure, these deep sea environments are extremely biodiverse, and worthy of humans’ attention and care.