What lurks in the depths of the oceans

8 06 2015

Yet another great exhibition, The Deep, has opened at the ArtScience Museum. Running from over the last weekend, the exhibition takes us on an exploration of a part of the world to which few have ventured, the darkest depths of inner space. Inhabited by creatures whose appearances might suggest they are the products of an overactive imagination, the deepest depths is where fewer men have found themselves in as compared to outer space.

A Giant Isopod.

A Giant Isopod specimen.

Coming face to face with a Murray's abyssal anglerfish specimen.

Coming face to face with a Murray’s abyssal anglerfish specimen.

Curated by Claire Nouvian of BLOOM Association, the exhibition offers a rare opportunity to have a glimpse into the abyssal world in which light, as we see it, cannot exist. There is an attempt to recreate the darkness through the pitch black setting visitors are placed into immediately after stepping into the exhibition.

A glowing sucker octopus.

A glowing sucker octopus.

Another anglerfish specimen.

Another anglerfish specimen.

Before taking the gradual plunge into the depths through the different exhibition zones, the visitor is first provided with an introduction to the world below us through Hidden/Depths. An interactive art installation, the artist Lynette Wallworth, incorporates specimens of some never before seen deep-sea creatures into 18 luminescent glass sculptures. An introduction is also provided to bio-luminescence, light produced by some 90% of the creatures of the deep as a means to communicate and to lure prey.

Claire Nouvian of BLOOM Association speaking at the media preview.

Claire Nouvian of BLOOM Association speaking at the media preview.

Lynette Wallworth.

Lynette Wallworth.

An interactive  introduction to bio-luminescence.

An interactive introduction to bio-luminescence.

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The exhibition proper starts has visitors descend to zone between 150 and 600 metres (in Zone A) in which less than 1% of the light of day filters through to. This is an area where life is in abundance and yet is also an area dangerous to life. Then comes a descent into total darkness, first into the red zone between 600 and 1000 metres (in Zone B), where one finds animals in many shades of red. The red colour, interestingly, gives these creatures the ability to cloak the blue-green bio-luminescent emissions of the prey being consumed.

A pair of radiolarians - skeletons formed by a colony of unicellular organisms in Zone A.

A pair of radiolarians – skeletons formed by a colony of unicellular organisms in Zone A.

Lobster Larvae.

Lobster Larvae.

An introduction to the red sea creatures of the zone between 600 and 1000 metres deep.

An introduction to the red sea creatures of the zone between 600 and 1000 metres deep.

One of which is the shrouded vampire octopus.

One of which is the shrouded vampire squid.

Next up is the very cold waters beneath in the zone beneath 1000 metres (Zone C). At a kilometre down, the water temperature does not go beyond 4 degrees Celsius. Sources of food here are scarce, and literally are the crumbs that fall off from the tables of the higher ups – leftovers of the frenzy of feeding on the way down to the sea floor. Only 10 submersibles in the world are able to reach such depths.

An anglerfish larvae in an oil filled bubble that allows it to ascend to a shallower food rich waters before descending into the deep as they mature.

An anglerfish larvae in an oil filled bubble that allows it to ascend to a shallower food rich waters before descending into the deep as they mature.

The bottom of the sea (in Zone D: Bottom of the ocean) is next up. Here a layer of mud – thought to be hundreds of metres thick, covers the sea floor above which a diversity of creatures exceeding that of the Amazon and the Great Barrier Reef put together, is suspected to roam.

Taxidermist, Allan Gottini.

Taxidermist, Allan Gottini.

The last two zones are where we are introduced to biodiversity and also the toxic oases built around parts of the seabed where hydrothermal vents form. This is where chemosynthesis (as opposed to photosynthesis) allows life to thrive in environments in a mineral rich environment in which gases such as methane and and toxic hydrogen sulfide can be transformed into organic matter by bacteria.

A look at life in the toxic oases.

A look at life in the toxic oases.

The scale of hydrothermal formations can be seen against a silhouette of  a submersible in one of the photographs.

The scale of hydrothermal formations can be seen against a silhouette of a submersible in one of the photographs.

One of the highlight of the exhibition is probably the Krøyer’s deep-sea anglerfish specimen. The specimen is evidence of a world in which the male loses its heart and senses, literally, to the female as it becomes a sex-slave of sorts once it has found a mate. On the specimen, visitors will do well to spot the male, a fraction of the size of the dominant female. While the female can reach more than a metre in length, the male (seen attached to the bottom of the specimen) can be 60 times smaller and once attached, becomes a parasite to to the female, losing its ability to feed, as well as it brain, heart and eyes and is effectively reduced to a pair  of gonads.

The female Krøyer's deep-sea anglerfish specimen with the male (the protrusion at the bottom of its belly) attached.

The female Krøyer’s deep-sea anglerfish specimen with the male (the protrusion at the bottom of its belly) attached.

Visitors to the exhibition can also look forward to several programmes including guided tours (in English at 3.30 pm on Fridays, 11.30 am on Saturdays and 5 pm on Sundays and in Mandarin on Saturdays and Sundays and on 17 July at 4pm). Activities also include  Making Space in which recycled materials are used to make an anglerfish (which can glow for $4 through the use of a battery operated UV LED) and a Cyanotype Creatures Workshop to create artwork using the cyanotype photographic technique at the cost of $5. The exhibition is scheduled to run until November 2015. More information on the exhibition and programmes associated with it can be found at the ArtScience Musuem’s The Deep.

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