TAMPA — Sea Monsters Revealed, the Museum of Science and Industry's first collaborative effort in creating a traveling exhibit, broke even financially during its world premiere but fell short of attendance goals.
The exhibit of preserved ocean animals drew more than 60,000 visitors since its March debut in Tampa and expects to hit 70,000 before concluding at MOSI on Sept. 2. That's significantly fewer than MOSI's original projection of 100,000. But overall it has been a plus for the museum.
"Without it we would have had a lousy year, but with it we've surpassed revenue,'' said MOSI president and chief executive officer Wit Ostrenko.
The museum has generated $8.4 million in revenue so far this year, compared with $8.3 million last year and $7.5 million on average for the four years prior, he said.
Despite the exhibit's soft attendance, Sea Monsters ranked fifth among MOSI's top exhibits ever and boosted revenue in all areas of the museum, at 4801 E Fowler Ave. The average visitor spent an additional $9 at MOSI's cafe, retail store, ropes course or other add-on attractions.
Sea Monsters was created by John Zaller and produced by Base Entertainment, the exhibit's owner, which also did Rock of Ages, Jersey Boys and other notable shows and exhibits. Zaller served as creative director of the blockbuster Bodies show that drew a record-breaking 660,000 visitors to MOSI during its 13-month run in 2005 and 2006.
The exhibit uses a polymer preservation technique known as plastination to display the insides and outsides of aquatic animals, from a 15-foot mako shark to a giant squid. The same process was used for the Bodies exhibit of human anatomy, which used Chinese cadavers.
While MOSI has produced its own exhibits and hosted many traveling shows, Sea Monsters was the first traveling exhibit it helped design. It didn't fund the actual show but provided staff expertise and paid more than $400,000 to market it. MOSI broke even on the project when attendance reached 60,000, Ostrenko said.
Officials weren't sure why attendance was lower than expected, except that competition from other area attractions could have played a role. Attendance at nearby Busch Gardens and other parks has also been down this summer.
Zaller said turnstile numbers were just one measure of success.
More important, were the customer reviews and the show's focus on ocean conservation. Filmmaker and ocean explorer Fabien Cousteau visited MOSI in June to speak about his upcoming Mission 31 to study the effects of climate change on sea life.
"I am very pleased with the turnout in Tampa, particularly in terms of visitor satisfaction ratings that were well above 90,'' Zaller said.
Sea Monsters was created with the intention that it would go on tour to cities nationwide and, possibly, around the globe. Zaller said it will head to the Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta for an extended run starting next month but later told the Times the exhibit's opening had not been formally announced. Calls and emails to the Georgia Aquarium were not returned.
MOSI will not earn money from the exhibit if it goes to other venues but will not incur expenses either, and expects the exposure will benefit the museum long term.
No other stops have been named, but Natalie Dolan, vice president of exhibitions for Base Entertainment, said Sea Monsters will be visiting several cities "for years to come.''
Susan Thurston can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 225-3110. Follow her on Twitter at @susan_thurston.