Smithsonian Stunt Turns Ocean Hall into Living Aquarium

A bull shark's ability to prey on many different species is helped by its capacity to survive in both freshwater and saltwater.
A bull shark eating one of its many species of natural prey. (DougWood2013, Flickr)

Natural History Museum transforms Ocean Hall into live aquarium for World Oceans Day

The National Museum of Natural History is celebrating World Oceans Day this year with a splash. On June 8th, the museum will be transforming its flagship 23,000 square foot Ocean Hall into a fully functioning saltwater aquarium. The 150,000 gallon aquarium will feature more than 2,000 live species, many of which have model counterparts already on display in the hall. This is an exclusive opportunity that will only be available to view on World Oceans Day, June 8th, after which the hall will be converted back to its original exhibit state. 

“We’ve witnessed, first hand, the power of putting people face-to-face with our natural world neighbors in our live butterfly pavilion.” said Kelly Carnes, senior press officer at the National Museum of Natural History. “If we can light up visitors faces with the flutter of butterfly wings, imagine how inspired they will be staring into the jaws of a swimming bull shark!”

The logistics of transforming a museum exhibition to a wet aquarium is no small feat. A team of hundreds of scientists and engineers carefully designed the space so that it could serve as a temporary aquarium, without damaging any of the existing objects on exhibit. All of the display cases have been sealed off, air-tight, and treated with the most sophisticated waterproofing techniques known to science. Equal care was given to the living creatures, making sure everything included in the environment is safe for the visiting animals provided by major aquariums across the U.S.

The current nine points of entry to the hall will be sealed and converted into viewing galleries for visitors to enjoy the spectacle of live ocean creatures inhabiting their exhibit environment. The second-story overlooks will serve as dive stations so visitors who are certified PADI or NAUI divers can accompany staff divers into the underwater world for a closer look at its creatures.

"Just kidding!" Carnes added. "Happy April Fool’s Day! But DO pay attention to NMNH’s Facebook and Twitter pages in the coming days for a very real announcement of epic proportions (literally!)"

Select artistic renderings of what the space will look like under water are available here


April 2014