Science on the high seas

The deep brought to the surface at Otago Museum. Photos: Otago Museum
The deep brought to the surface at Otago Museum. Photos: Otago Museum
Oceans are important. Two exhibitions at Otago Museum explain why. 

New Zealand is a small island nation surrounded by an expanse of vast ocean waters. The health of these waters is vital to our nation's wellbeing and survival, and this is linked inextricably to our ability to understand them.

Otago Museum is full of ocean science at the moment, with two exhibitions dedicated to their exploration.

James Cameron - Challenging the Deep takes you to an underworld, an eerie, mysterious space where watery light is finely patterned and shifting, immersing you in the dark and the deep. There are glass jars of deep-sea specimens, submarines and exquisitely-shot short films on underwater exploration, including the first voyage to the world's deepest ocean, 2000m deeper than Mt Everest is high, on the knife-edge of risk.

Niwa, New Zealand's climate, ocean, and freshwater science crown research institute, also has an exhibition in our galleries. Featuring deep-sea creatures, beautiful still and moving images, and layers of information about Aotearoa's marine realm, the free exhibition is a fascinating insight into the alien and surreal world off our shores.

A wonky-eyed squid in a glass jar.
A wonky-eyed squid in a glass jar.
One exhibit label reads like a Stephen King-esque nightmare; parasitic isopods feed by attaching to the gills and tongue of the host fish, eating the tongue until it is replaced. It leaves you with a disturbing mental image of an unfortunate fish living its remaining days with an intensely creepy, living prosthetic appendage, peering out through its open mouth.

Your horror will be replaced by wonder as you read the image caption of a flying fish, gliding in pastel iridescence off the Northland Coast. The species, incredibly, can launch itself into the air, flying for more than 100m at speeds of 70kmh.

On huge screens, the power and the seemingly boundless stretches of water make you aware of humanity's fragility. Colossal whales glide effortlessly through beams of light filtering down from the surface far above. Niwa ships crash through waves and cut through ice, bringing precious data back to help our country manage and care for this resource.

Oceans absorb the bulk of our world's carbon, like sentinels against climate change.

Niwa is measuring and providing insight into the changing uptake of carbon, and helping inform our climate models.

In partnership with GNS, it also observes the Hikurangi subduction zone, work which will give our country understanding into the ongoing threat of earthquakes and tsunamis.

Along with the health of the entire marine ecosystem, Niwa is also overseeing fisheries, ensuring the sustainability of one of New Zealand's most valuable assets.

These exhibitions give you an insight into just how much we don't know about the seas that enclose our nation, and how powerful, mysterious, and irreplaceable they are.

With Otago Museum hosting James Cameron this weekend, come visit and take an opportunity to contemplate this underwater world and how we can protect it.


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