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Odyssey's Shipwreck! Pirates and Treasure

The author's children Julia, left, and Caroline Rogers try the exhibit's hurricane tube.
The author's children Julia, left, and Caroline Rogers try the exhibit's hurricane tube. (Christina Barron)

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Friday, November 19, 2010

Treasure-hunting calls to mind bands of pirates who roamed the seas three centuries ago, looking for ships to commandeer and squirreling loot away on remote islands. But it's a modern-day pursuit as well, with today's explorers searching for ships that sunk to the ocean floor loaded with treasure.

The past and present converge in "Odyssey's Shipwreck! Pirates and Treasure," a traveling exhibit at the Maryland Science Center that explores several ships located by Odyssey Marine Exploration, a company that searches for deep-ocean wrecks.

The most attention goes to the SS Republic, a steam ship that sank in 1865 after it encountered a hurricane while headed from New York to New Orleans. Odyssey used robotic equipment to recover 51,000 gold and silver coins and thousands of artifacts from the ship, which was found off the Georgia coast 1,700 feet deep in 2003. Many of the items - coins, bottles, porcelain dishes and even toothbrushes - are on display.

The exhibit also shows off the technology behind the salvage effort, including a life-size model of Zeus, an eight-ton remotely operated vehicle that can be used up to 8,200 feet deep. Visitors can look for artifacts at the Republic site by using video Zeus shot and try their hand at picking up coins using a robotic arm with a suction device. The task, however, is not child's play.

"It's really hard because on the edge it doesn't get a lot of suction," said Shawn Cronin, 9, who was visiting with his family from Minnesota.

The fourth-grader said he had studied pirates in school and especially like seeing the pirate flags, including one from Blackbeard that had a skeleton pointing a spear at a heart.

Visitors can also outfit a virtual pirate and practice steering a virtual ship to avoid perils at sea.

For Shawn's brother, Darin, 11, the highlight was the exhibit's most interactive element. "I kind of liked the hurricane tube," Darin said. Two tubes allow visitors to step inside and feel what passengers on the Republic might have felt: winds up to 75 mph, a whooshing sound and flashes of light. Luckily the experience lasts only about a minute.

The tubes were too scary for a few preschoolers on a recent visit, and the exhibit's focus on history and technology is geared more to elementary school students and older kids. "Shipwreck" doesn't have as much drama as National Geographic's recent "Real Pirates," but it's an interesting look into how today's treasure hunters operate and the pieces of history they have brought to the surface.

Where is it? Maryland Science Center, 601 Light St., Baltimore.

When is it? Until Jan. 31. Tuesday-Thursday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Friday 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., Saturday 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Sunday 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Where can I find more information? 410-685-2370. www.mdsci.org. www.shipwreck.net .

How much does it cost? $20.95 adult, $19.95 seniors, $15.95 children 12 and younger.

- Christina Barron


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