GALAPAGOS: BORN OF THE SEA -- At the National Museum of Natural History, opens Saturday, continuing through August 2.
And DEEP-SEA DIVES TO BIOLOGICAL FRONTIERS, new permanent exhibit.
Some of the ocean's floor has been carried up to the third-floor balcony of the Smithsonian's Natural History Museum, where 80 color photographs and dye transfers depict marine life of the Galapagos Islands. From the depths, pufferfish, eagle rays and sea turtles paddle around the rotunda. Flightless cormorants, brown pelicans and fur seals parade and pose.
"Galapagos: Born of the Sea," opening Saturday, is the work of environmentalist-entrepreneur Feodor U. Pitcairn, who photographed the exotic inhabitants of the archipelago, on the equator 600 miles west of Ecuador. Pitcairn's compositions of wild flora and woolly fauna are blown up, some to four by five feet. Time is suspended in underwater stillness and in the cratered landscapes of Fernandina volcano. Viewers come face to face with hammerhead sharks, sea lions and a pack (herd? slither?) of iguana.
Another new exhibit in the same museum. "Deep-Sea Dives to Biological Frontiers," is dwarfed by the bloated whale in the Life of the Sea Hall. (The fiberglass whale hanging from the ceiling is bloated, according to museum spokesman Thomas Harney, because scientists mistakenly modeled it after beached whales, which aren't sleek as they were in life.)
In the new exhibit, previously unknown creatures found on dives some two miles below the ocean surface are afloat in jars of formaldehyde in a glass case that's easy to miss. Above it, suspended next to the whale hulk, is a 3/4-scale model of the Alvin, the Navy's deep-diving research submarine. The strange animal life picked up by scientists on the Alvin in the Galapagos Rift and East Pacific Rise include giant clams, crabs and some especially nasty tube worms -- found only in geothermal springs and certain late-night science-fiction films.
Scientists say that these organisms use energy from a source other than the sun, and a detailed explanation of just how they derive energy from sulfur compounds in the spring water is posted for the chemically curious.
No scuba experience is required to visit either show: Flippers would only get in the way of the mobs of field-trippers, flocking to the Hope diamond and stuffed owls.