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Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History
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Micronesian canoe on the beach with the U.S. research vessel Albatross in the background


Only a few dozen people have sailed solo around the world. In 1998, Karen Thorndike became the first American woman to sail around the five great capes. She outfitted her sailboat Amelia with modern navigation equipment such as GPS as well as traditional instruments like sextants.

Photo (c) Karen Thorndike

Images from Going to Sea courtesy of Smithsonian Institution, Bodil Blum,
Census of Marine Life, and NOAA

What compels us to go sea? People have many reasons for risking their lives to venture into the open ocean. Some are driven by passion and a sense of exploration, discovery, and curiosity. Others find solace and recreation by setting sail. For many, though, the sea is a necessity and they depend on its many resources for sustenance.

Museum's Invertebrate Zoology collections
Ocean creatures discovered during the Census of Marine Life ocean exploration.
Image courtesy: Bodil Bluhm

Going to Sea, the debut exhibit in the Sant Ocean Hall changing exhibit gallery, will examine some of the ways people have learned to navigate and explore this featureless and unpredictable world. Early sea voyagers relied on the stars to find their way - today, satellites are among our many modern tools. Early scientific expeditions, like those aboard the steamer Albatross, used basic collecting gear to give us our first glimpse into the unknown. Today, through such projects as the Census of Marine Life, we are sending unmanned vehicles to depths never before imagined to discover vast new worlds of flora and fauna.  

The sea is part of the human cultural experience, too. Going to Sea will show how the sea has been an inspiration for art and literature through folk art pieces and works of art on loan from the Smithsonian American Art Museum. Visitors will also view Jules Verne’s magnificent sea monsters in his 19th century book, Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea.

Museum's Invertebrate Zoology collections
Micronesian outrigger on the beach with the U.S. research vessel Albatross in the background.
Image courtesy: National Anthropological Archives, Smithsonian Institution

Many cultures have strong ties to the sea. The island people of Micronesia are surrounded and defined by it. Going to Sea will explore how Micronesian peoples travel from island to island and the many ways in which the sea is an integral part of their way of life.

People throughout the ages have traveled the seas in search of the unknown. The explorations continue – the oceans still hold many secrets we’re only beginning to discover.

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