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Monsters of the sea revealed in new MOSI exhibit

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Published:   |   Updated: March 18, 2013 at 10:11 PM

The 6-foot wide manta ray glides through the depths, its fins spread so wide it looks as if it's flying.

Around the corner lurks a 28-foot long giant squid, its baseball-sized eyes scanning the ocean floor for prey.

Go ahead. Get closer to these denizens of the deep and take a gander at their gills, their tails and their gaping maws. You know you want to. In fact, it's encouraged.

Welcome to "Sea Monsters Revealed," a traveling exhibition making its worldwide premiere Saturday at the Museum of Science and Industry in Tampa.

For the first time, visitors will not only see some of the ocean's largest creatures on land, but they'll also be able to take a look inside them.

The specimens are preserved using the polymer plastination technique used for the popular "Bodies" exhibit, allowing people to take a peek into the anatomies of some of the world's most elusive aquatic animals.

"When you think about the sea, it's somewhere we can't go," said John Zaller, the creator of the "Sea Monsters Revealed" and the "Bodies" exhibits. "We wanted to create a truly unique experience that you don't get from looking at a book or going to the beach."

To bring the ocean-dwelling behemoths to the public, Zaller and his team spent months plastinating each large specimen.

It took 18 months to prepare an 18-foot long, 3,000-pound whale shark, Zaller said. For the "Bodies" exhibit, it took between six to nine months to create one human "statue."

"We needed a massive tank to put it into," Zaller said. "It was a long process and very painstaking."

The end result: at the exhibit, the whale shark is posed to float above visitors, letting people look up and into cross sections of its belly.

"The goal is to create a greater connection to the ocean," Zaller said.

And to do that, he said, the exhibit's creators chose to turn "Sea Monsters Revealed" into an interactive experience that's similar to those found in theme parks.

"Instead of just placing it in a room with beautiful lighting, we've created a concept that focuses on our fascination with the deep sea," Zaller said. "It has a '20,000 Leagues Under the Sea' feel to it."

The journey begins in a large room with a world map on the floor. But this map is different — all the landmasses are blacked out and it's the geography of the ocean floors that are highlighted.

Next, visitors take a step back in time and enter a replica of an 18th century oceanographer's study. But there's a cool 21st century twist: a large table in the center of the room is a touch-screen computer displaying an interactive map and lessons from Victorian-era scientists.

Other simulations include the deck of a sea vessel and the inside of a submarine.

"We'll actually have machines that will blow what smells like salty air at you," said Natalie Dolan, whose company, Base Entertainment, is co-producing the exhibit.

"And we made the interior of the sub to look like the interior of a sub," she said. "We have oxygen tanks on the walls, carbon dioxide scrubbers, even a robotic arm that kids can control."

The last stop is a simulation of the ocean floor itself, with the plastinated sea creatures inhabiting every nook and special lights mimicking the look of sunrays shining underwater.

"It's this dreamscape that's the ocean," Zaller said, "but it's all real."

Here are some exhibit highlights:

Why: OMG, it's a giant squid. It's what old-timey sailors called a "kraken" back when people thought the Earth was flat and beasts like this would eat them if they sailed over the edge.

Why: This is probably the closest you'll ever get to the animals at the top of the ocean's food chain without fearing for your life. The marquee attractions are the gigantic whale shark and a thresher shark, which still looks sleek and deadly even if it's frozen in polymer.

The simulation of the 18th century oceanographer's study and the mock-up of the submarine

Why: The touch screen, interactive tabletop map is awesome. As for the sub, you actually feel like you're heading into the depths. The scenery in the windows changes and the floor rumbles as you make your way down to the bottom of the sea.

Why: Because the starfish, anemones, crustaceans and other critters in this specially designed touch pool are not poisonous and don't think about people as dinner. Plus, how often can you go into a museum and pet a starfish?

SEA MONSTERS REVEALED

When: The exhibit opens Saturday and runs until Sept. 2. Museum hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday and 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday and Sunday

Where: The Museum of Science and Industry, 4801 E. Fowler Ave., Tampa

Tickets: $18.95 for adults, $16.95 for seniors 60 and older and $12.95 for children 2-12 for Sea Monsters Revealed, add $5 to also see MOSI's permanent exhibits; (813) 987-6000 or visit www.mosi.org.


rreyes@tampatrib.com (813) 259-7920 Twitter: @TBORay

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