Oceans

Vast moving waters give life to our blue planet. Oceans cover two-thirds of our planet and include the largest unexplored areas on Earth. They also affect life here on land. Like the rainforests, oceans produce oxygen for the world and regulate our climates. Protecting them is vital for our survival.

Beneath the water’s surface, mountains, valleys, and plains shape a variety of ecosystems: sunny and shallow coastal waters, vast expanses of dimly lit mid-water, and the inky darkness of the deepest sea, all providing habitats for diverse marine life. World Ocean Day is designated to bring awareness to the importance of our oceans and the need to protect them. At the Delaware Museum of Nature and Science, guests may explore three different marine ecosystems — shallow, mid-water, and deep sea — today and every day.

Mid-Water

Sunlight fades away in the ocean’s twilight realm

The mid-water exhibit is generously sponsored in honor of Leila Saavalinen Steele

Most of the world’s oceans are mid-water, located between the surface shallows and the seafloor far below. Here, in the largest expanse of unexplored space left on Earth, immense whales and giant squid swim alongside fishes and invertebrates of all sizes.

The Mid-Water Ocean exhibit includes the juvenile humpback whale skull collected by DelMNS staff in 2018.
The whale exhibit is sponsored by M&T Bank | Wilmington Trust

Deep in the mid-water, light is scarce, temperatures are low, and pressure is high. Sea life has found survival strategies for this harsh environment.

The Nightly Commute: Every night as the sun sets, many ocean residents commute up towards surface waters in search of food. As the sun rises, they return to deeper waters, where darkness helps them hide from predators. This behavior, called diel vertical migration, varies depending on the species and its life stage. Some organisms travel long distances while others stay mostly at one depth.

Deep-Sea Dive

Take the plunge into an ocean canyon expedition

The ocean’s canyons are deep and dramatic, just like those on land. Marine scientists explore these mysterious realms with remotely operated vehicles or ROVs – small submersible vessels launched from research ships.

Scientists and engineers remain on the ship, guiding the ROV’s descent to roam the canyon floor. As the vessel’s cameras record the trip, engineers use its robotic arms to collect specimens of sea life.

These dives provide valuable glimpses into our vast and unexplored oceans.

Ocean canyons are narrow valleys with steep sides cut into the edges of continents under oceans. They can be several thousand meters deep. This video shows a dive into Kinlan Canyon, located in the Atlantic Ocean about 600 kilometers (375 miles) east of New York City.

Museum scientists collected these specimens from canyons in the North Atlantic using a remotely operated vehicle (ROV). The jars were hand-blown by At-Mar Glass in Kennett Square, PA. Each jar has a glass armature created specifically to hold each specimen.

Shallow Water

The ocean’s shallow, clear waters are full of life.

Around the edges of continents, the oceans are shallow and sunlight can reach down to the seafloor. Fishes, crustaceans, and many other organisms browse on submerged grasses and swim among kelp forests.

In warm, shallow seas, tiny coral polyps make stony skeletons that gradually build up into immense structures. These coral reefs overflow with diverse plant and animal life.

Coral Reef

One of the most frequent questions asked about our exhibits: “Is the coral reef staying?”

It is! The museum’s popular coral reef exhibit is getting a new look, with updated and refurbished elements. The scene is designed to look like Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. The exhibit features a wide variety of corals — the animals that make the coral reefs — in many shapes, sizes, and colors. In addition, fish, mollusks and other specimens are represented.

A flock of new specimens

Look up into the trees in the Regional Journey Gallery, and you’ll see birds and small mammals perched on branches and tucked into crevices. Among the new additions added to the galleries recently include a variety of bird taxidermy, including a dramatic Bald Eagle, owls, woodpeckers, a Kingfisher and a family of Wood Ducks, with more scheduled for installation soon. Take a look at some of the newest arrivals.

Metamorphosis in Progress

Take a look at some of the new exhibit components and other changes happening at the museum!

Fishy Behavior: Modeling a snack for a Giant Squid

The giant squid (Architeuthis dux) in the museum’s atrium has become one of our iconic exhibits, with thousands gazing up to it in wonder every year. Look up, and you’ll see an orange roughy fish (Hoplostethus atlanticus), trying desperately to avoid the grasp of the squid. But the orange roughy wasn’t the original fish in the atrium.
In 2007, new information about the feeding grounds of giant squid suggested they hunt in deep water – a place where tuna (the previous display fish) rarely go. So, the museum’s Curator of Mollusks, Liz Shea, Ph.D., and former Exhibits Manager Jennifer Sontchi decided to update the exhibit, concluding the orange roughy was the best choice from a scientific, exhibit design, and educational perspective.

While many of the animals in museum displays are real specimens preserved with taxidermy, others have been sculpted by museum artists. Since orange roughy populations are vulnerable to extinction from over-fishing, we chose to sculpt a model for the exhibit instead of displaying an actual preserved fish. Follow along below to see the fascinating process behind creating a scientifically accurate museum model.

Reference

The first step towards producing any realistic display is excellent reference material. Dr. Liz Shea, Curator of Mollusks, oversaw the entire project to make certain every detail is correct. The fish at the top of the photo is the paper template created to provide the measurements and proportions of a real orange roughy. The fish in the lower part of the photo is the clay model itself.

Supplemental fins

This photo shows a red snapper fish having its fins molded. We made molds of the snapper’s fins, modified the casts, and inserted them into the clay model of our orange roughy. These fin casts are more realistic than if they were sculpted from scratch.

The model

The clay model of the orange roughy is complete in this photo. You can see the plastic, white, snapper fin casts inserted into the model. The clay surrounding the model is the beginning of the next step, which is making a two-piece mold.

The mold

Here you see the clay model encased on one side in a pale-colored, flexible plastic, which is cradled by a hard, grey shell. Once both sides of the clay model are molded this way, the clay fish model is removed and discarded. The mold now provides an empty space exactly the shape and size of the clay model. A cast is made by filling that fish-shaped space with a liquid plastic that then hardens into an exact replica of an orange roughy.

The cast

This is the finished plastic cast of the model. All that is needed now is paint!

The display

Voila! The orange roughy is sculpted, molded, cast, painted, and attached to the giant squid with hidden pins. That orange roughy better swim faster (just keep swimming, just keep swimming) if he wants to get away.