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The Deep Exhibition at the Natural History Museum

Published 1 July 2010

Anything below 200m is classified as the deep sea and this exhibition, located in the waterhouse gallery of the Natural History Museum, is an excellent overview of the history of deep sea exploration and conveys what is known about the inhabitants of this relatively unexplored habitat. The exhibition has been immersed in dark blue light and upon reading the first few explanatory notes, displayed with digitally lit blue lettering on a black background, I soon learn why. Below 100 meters everything is seen in dark blue light and below 1,000 meters everything is pitch black as sunlight does not penetrate below this depth. Blue light travels the furthest in water so many deep sea fish emit blue light to communicate and lure prey.

It is clear that the exhibition developer, Alex Gaffikin, has sought to recreate as far as possible the experience of being in the deep. But don’t worry, visitors have been spared from experiencing the worst of the deep sea’s inhospitable features, the freezing cold temperatures and enormous pressure.

A huge animated globe is suspended over the entrance of the exhibition and immediately captures your attention, and as you continue through the black walled corridors of the gallery you come across the bathysphere. This is a replica of the original which was used to reach a depth of 923 meters by William Beebe and Otis Barton in 1934. I would definitely recommend sticking your head in it to hear an audio diary of going into the deep, but be warned they seemed to have found a way to recreate the smell too. I mistakenly thought the centre-piece of this exhibition must be the life size submersible which you can walk through and watch footage taken from actual explorations.

In fact the exhibition’s centre piece is the partial skeleton of a real sperm whale which has never been on display before. Surrounding the skeleton are notes which explain how a whale carcass can feed the deep sea for 50 years. Unfortunately my enjoyment of this part of the exhibition was marred by the fact that I had to position myself in a specific way in order to avoid my shadow falling on the explanatory notes and thus preventing me from being able to read them. A rather tedious trial and error process was necessary to overcome the problem.

A huge model of a giant squid and a sperm whale are suspended from the ceiling and a whole host of weird and wonderful deep sea inhabitants are on view from the small to the large. The exhibition also highlights the threat of pollution and global warming to the health of the sea.  The nature plus kiosk gives you an opportunity to take some of the exhibition home with you. You are invited to pick from a selection of topics and have them sent to your e-mail address to be explored further at home. You can even browse through the HMS Challenger report when you get home which is on display at the exhibition but encased in glass as it dates from 1872.

The exhibition ends in its very own dedicated gift shop where you will find stuffed toys, books, dvds, t-shirts and mugs. I would highly recommend this exhibition to anyone even if you just have a passing interest in the deep ocean. The mix of information and impressive models makes this one for young and old alike.

The Deep

Dates: 28 May – 5 September 2010
Opening Times: 10.00 – 17.50, Monday to Sunday; last admission 17.15
Admission Prices: Adults £8, Child and concession £4.50, Family £22, Pupil in school group £3.50, Free to Members, Patrons and children aged 3 and under

You can visit The Deep after hours on the last Friday of the month until August.
This exhibition is suitable for families and older children aged 7 and over.

For more information on the exhibition and to book tickets, please visit: http://www.nhm.ac.uk/visit-us/whats-on/thedeep/index.html

All images in the article are copyright of the Natural History Museum (2010).