By Paul Gessell
There is a new year-long exhibition at the Canadian Museum of Nature that is a perfect marriage of science and art.
The show is called Beneath the Surface: X-rays of Arctic Fish. First of all, museum personnel arranged fish specimens in such a manner that they looked alive and ready to swim away. Then x-rays were taken and the resulting images on a black background were enlarged and placed into back-lit light boxes. Sixteen of these images can be found in the museum’s basement Stone Wall Gallery.
The results are spectacular from both an aesthetic and scientific point of view. The images are ghostly and totally mesmerizing works of art. They are also, to scientists, very revealing in that they clearly show the bone structure of the x-rayed fish and such other important details as the fishes’ stomach contents. Knowing who eats what in the Arctic Ocean is a valuable tool to understand the entire eco-system.
One image is of a fierce boa dragonfish, its huge mouth wide open. The dragonfish has just swallowed whole and headfirst some other smaller fish, whose skeleton is clearly visible inside the larger fish.
And there is a shot of a Greenland halibut chasing some much smaller glacier lanternfish. Us humans, of course, chase the halibut, the Greenland variety being a particular delicacy.
This is an exhibition that should wow the kids and interest the science-minded members of the family.
The Canadian Museum of Nature is renowned for its research into Arctic fish. Some museum scientists are preparing what will be the first authoritative guide to Canada’s 217 species of Arctic fish. Greenland already has a guide of its own.
Canada’s guide will not appear for a few more years. The research has been done to create content. It’s now a question of finding the time to organize the research neatly into a book.
The museum is politically smart to showcase its Arctic research. The current federal government is getting the reputation of being anti-science, which does not bode well for scientists at the museum. But the government wants to be perceived as pro-North and welcomes scientific research in the Arctic. Thus, this art-science exhibition is surely a project that will delight the museum’s political masters. And that can only help when it comes time to parcelling out money to the museum and its scientists.