The Deep opens at the Natural History Museum on Friday. Image © Senckenberg / Frankfurt
Full marks, first of all, for concept. An exhibition about the mysteries of the deep is always going to be alluring, but the moody blue lighting and tinkling piano soundtrack immediately set the appropriate mood. And is that a whiff of sea salt coming from the ventilation?
The Deep, which opens at the NHM on Friday, gives a good overview of the history of deep marine research, a selection box of gurnsome fauna and a fascinating account of maritime mythology. Until the 19th Century, absolutely nothing was known about the deep oceans. Some even speculated that the seas were bottomless and either completely devoid of life or else the abode of giant sea monsters. The first scientific missions, such as the Challenger expedition of 1872-76, caught the first glimpses of the incredible forms of life dwelling beyond the realm of sunlight. Not until the advent of submersibles in the mid-20th Century did we begin to truly appreciate the biodiversity. We still have only a fractional idea of what might be down there.
The Deep exhibition offers a small but fascinating window onto this alien world. Drawing on the museum’s bank of specimens, some from the Challenger expedition, we’re exposed to an ever-more bizarre menagerie of spine-toothed nauticalia and scrunch-faced fish. But the difficult nature of deep ocean research is clearly a limiting factor. The specimens on display are perforce of the smaller variety and are seemingly outnumbered by deep blue information panels. The more rewarding aspects of this piscatorial freak show can be found in the video room, which shows footage of glowing angler fish and one highly adapted monster which is all-jaw.
As well as gawping at guppies, kids will have a whale of a time playing in the mock-up sub or peering into a prototype bathosphere. But such is the mystery of the deep that the display will appeal to all ages. Still, at £8 an adult ticket, the offering feels a little shallower than the deep insights we were expecting.
The Deep runs at the Natural History Museum from 28 May to 5 September. Entrance is £8 for adults, £4.50 for children/concessions.