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Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History
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The Sant Ocean Hall at the National Museum of Natural History is awe-inspiring, exciting and groundbreaking. But even a Hall as large as this one – 25,000 square feet – couldn't hold everything its planners wanted. In order to communicate clear messages about the ocean, create the best visitor experience possible and avoid overloading the content, difficult decisions had to be made at every step of the way. To create the best exhibit, the planning team had to leave a cluttered cutting room floor.

Here are some of the exhibit elements you won't see in the ocean hall.

A bridge with stairways to bring you up through layers of the ocean

The vision was to provide a bridge to allow museum guests to more directly experience the vertical nature of the ocean and use the enormous three-dimensional space of the ocean hall; the ceilings are 50 feet high. If built, it would have provided visitors with the opportunity to move up and down through the ocean's vertical habitats: the surface, twilight zone, and deep ocean. However, there were structural and budget considerationsthat prevented it from happening.

The famous deep water manned submersible, Alvin

Alvin
Alvin underwater. Image courtesy:Rod Catanach, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

The Alvin sub has been used for many decades to explore the deep ocean. It will soon be retired and the team thought the ocean hall would make the perfect retirement spot for this venerable sub. It could serve as a symbol of ocean exploration, technology, and scientific discovery. Alas, it proved to be too big and heavy to be displayed in the Hall.




What happens when a whale falls to the seafloor?

Worms on  whale bone
Worms living on a whale bone. Image courtesy:©2003 MBARI

When whales die, they eventually drift to the bottom of the ocean, where their carcasses provide a bountiful feast for the deepest ocean inhabitants. Scientists have studied these “whale fall” sites over time to learn about the parade of different animals that feed on them at different stages of decay. The team wanted to include a model of a whale fall to focus on these communities, but the deep ocean section of the exhibit was already packed with key content ideas. Instead, you can visit and learn about whale falls in the Deep Ocean Theater.

A glass-bottom floor

Bottom-dwelling fish
Bottom-dwelling fish. Image courtesy:Oceanexplorer.noaa.gov, Islands in the Stream, 2002

Humans often experience the ocean by looking down, whether from a boat or snorkel or by foot, looking into tide pools and shallow estuaries. The team originally planned to have video screens in the floor area of the Hall entry, showing footage of bottom-dwelling animals swimming underfoot. It turned out that these screens made the entry difficult to navigate, especially for visitors with strollers and wheelchairs, and also posed potential tripping hazards to a museum that gets up to 6 million visitors a year!

Crawl-through sand grains

Trilobite detail of eyes
Sketch of meiofauna among sand grains. Image courtesy: Molly Ryan, Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of Natural History

In the beach exhibit, you can learn about the many tiny and fascinating animals that live between sand grains. The team originally envisioned these as magnified and modeled so large that children would be able to crawl between them to see models and video targeted just for this special audience. However, budget and space considerations forced designers to instead recreate this experience with a large photomural and small video screens embedded inside.

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