Times Staff Writer
TAMPA — This could be your only chance to see an 18-foot, 3,000-pound whale shark up close — inside and out.
It's part of Sea Monsters Revealed, the world's largest collection of "plastinated sea creatures" given a Hollywood treatment that opens for its world premiere Saturday at Tampa's Museum of Science and Industry.
The exhibit is a collaboration between the creative team behind the blockbuster Bodies show and the museum, and it will travel the country and possibly the globe for years.
It is a first for MOSI and also a new model for the exhibition industry, said John Zaller, the Atlanta-based creator of the exhibition who also led the creative team behind the popular and controversial Bodies exhibit of real human bodies.
More than 18 full-body sea creatures will be on display, along with more than 150 individual organs and smaller specimens. There's a 6-foot manta ray, a 15-foot mako shark and a giant squid.
All specimens are authentic. The creatures are opened up by layers to reveal the inner workings, including nerves and muscles.
Taking a tip from theme park trickery, the exhibition aims for an immersive experience with huge video screens from IMAX producer MacGillivray Freeman Films, while wind machines and whirring engines will make visitors feel like they are on the deck of a scientific expedition or zipping through the ocean in a sub.
The exhibition's theatrical and scenic elements take visitors back in time to an 18th century oceanographer's study to learn about the ocean via an interactive map table. Visitors will enter a specially built "submersible," which is actually a set piece with video screens making it seem like you are zooming across the ocean with famed explorers Fabian Cousteau and Sylvia Earle. Visitors will then walk through galleries that mimic a walk on the ocean floor among the giants of the deep. At the end of the exhibition will be a touch pool with live sea creatures — a first for a traveling exhibition.
Though MOSI has produced some of its own exhibits and has played host, such as when Bodies first premiered in Tampa in 2005, a collaboration on this scale is a first for the museum.
Bodies was produced entirely by Premier Exhibitions, where Zaller was creative director at the time. His current company, KRE8 360, is the producer of this Sea Monsters show but MOSI played a much greater part in designing the teaching elements of the display and bringing in Sarasota's Mote Marine Laboratory for technical assistance, Zaller said.
"Their knowledge of effective education techniques in a museum environment helped us craft the content and the flow of the experience," Zaller said. "This is a new model for the exhibition industry and truly a collaborative effort."
An exhibition of this quality averages about $400 a square foot, said MOSI president Wit Ostrenko, which puts this one at roughly $4 million to $6 million. MOSI's contribution was time and talent, Ostrenko said, while Zaller's team brought in a Broadway-style effects crew from Base Entertainment (the producers Rock of Ages and Jersey Boys) to create the experience.
The bodies on display are prevented from decay by a means of a rubberization process that replaces water and fatty material in the cells of the body first by acetone and then by plastics, such as silicone rubber, polyester or epoxy resin.
The process was also used for the Bodies exhibition of human anatomy, which used Chinese cadavers. In this display, visitors will get to explore the literal ins and outs of some of the ocean's most massive creatures.
The exhibition will run through Labor Day and likely will get some additions before it ends, Zaller said. The rules for using marine mammals are stricter than other ocean dwellers, so the creators are still in the process of getting approval to bring on manatees, whales or dolphins.
Cascade Game Foundry, a Seattle gaming company founded by Microsoft veterans, will display Infinite Scuba, a next-generation simulation game that allows players to "dive in" and virtually explore recreated dive sites around the world.
"Our goal was to make the most exciting exhibition on the oceans ever created," Zaller said. "I think that we met the challenge."