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From the Arctic to ancient seas

Upcoming exhibits showcase endangered wilderness, extinct species

by Jonathan Pishney


The North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences is set to host two exciting new traveling exhibits. One highlights a wilderness teeming with life but facing increasing threats to its long-term survival, while the other tells the story of a long-dead ancestor of the great white shark that continues to inspire lessons in conservation.


Journey through the Arctic Refuge

This season, follow along on a photographic expedition through Alaska’s 19.2-million-acre Arctic National Wildlife Refuge courtesy of the museum’s newest special exhibit, “Journey through the Arctic Refuge,” on display through Jan. 10. The exhibit tells the story from the perspective of a National Geographic-sponsored traverse in 2006 celebrating the 50th anniversary of a biological survey led by naturalists Olaus and Mardy Murie, which resulted in the protection of this stunning wilderness.


Exhibit images — shot by John Burcham, Forrest McCarthy, George Schaller and Jon Waterman — feature wildlife, wilderness vistas, evidence of Arctic climate change, and kayaking and trekking scenes within the refuge. Additionally, the exhibit includes archival items from the 1956 survey; ptarmigan, wolf, grizzly, caribou and sheep scat; casts of wolf and grizzly tracks; whale bones; caribou antlers; cotton grass, a favorite food of caribou; an arctic ground squirrel preserved by Olaus Murie in 1956; and a continuous video loop about the refuge.


The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge shelters nine marine mammal species, 45 mammal species and 180 bird species, each endangered by the prospect of oil development on the northern coastal plain. For several years, Congress has narrowly resisted bills to open the refuge to oil leasing because of a flood of letters, phone calls and e-mails from millions of Americans. Inspired viewers of this exhibit also will have an opportunity to speak out on the issue; the last station provides postcards on which to write a plea for wilderness bill protection.


Megalodon: Largest Shark that Ever Lived

At 60 feet long, the Carcharodon megalodon was a dominant marine predator. Sharks are at risk today, with recent population declines attributed to humans. While the megalodon vanished 2 million years ago, its fascinating story inspires lessons for contemporary science and shark conservation. “Megalodon: Largest Shark that Ever Lived” opens Feb. 13 and runs through May 9, 2010.


This unique exhibit showcases both fossil and modern shark specimens, as well as full-scale models from several collections. Visitors enter a full-sized sculpture of megalodon through massive jaws and discover the shark’s history and the world it inhabited, including its size, structure, diet, lifespan, relatives, neighbors, evolution, and extinction.


The exhibit also provides details on improving the health of our oceans and survival of threatened species. Recent worldwide declines are attributed to commercial and sport overfishing. Scientists estimate that humans kill 100 million sharks, skates and rays each year, and the life history of most shark species makes it difficult for populations to rebound.


For those wondering why sharks should be saved, the exhibit asks visitors to consider the marine food web domino effect caused by overfishing. Another section describes how this animal continues to fascinate many, elevating the megalodon to near-cult status. From biker jackets to postage stamps, the exhibit explains the many ways in which the megalodon remains a part of human culture through art, literature, music, and film. 


Jonathan Pishney is communications director for the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences in downtown Raleigh. To learn more about the museum and its upcoming exhibits, call (919) 733-7450 or visit