Want To Get Up Close To A Great White Shark? There's One On Display In Westminster

Sea Creatures ★★★★☆

Tabish Khan
By Tabish Khan Last edited 12 months ago

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Want To Get Up Close To A Great White Shark? There's One On Display In Westminster Sea Creatures 4
The Minke whale is one of the most spectacular exhibits, and is also a world record holder as the largest sea creature to have been plastinated.

We're looking at the back of an enormous manta ray, its skin peeled away so we can see the powerful muscles and blood vessels in its wing. This isn't as gruesome as it sounds  though — it's been preserved using plastination, the technique made famous by Gunther von Hagens in his Bodyworlds exhibitions.

While von Hagen may have turned his hand to some animals, this new exhibition is a separate enterprise, all about what lies beneath the surface of the oceans. If you've ever wondered what the liver of a whale looks like then this show is for you (heads up: it's massive, almost as big as us).

A massive sunfish. Can you spot its swim bladder?

It's the biggest creatures on display which are the most fascinating. Examining the internal organs of a minke whale to figure out how it all works has us enraptured. Our university human anatomy studies come flooding back, though we resist the temptation to put on some latex gloves and poke around — there's a strict 'don't touch' rule here.

See the muscles and blood vessels on the underside of a whale shark.

There are 50 specimens in total including tiny crabs, an intimidating American lobster — good luck to anyone trying to eat that beast — and a lengthy sailfish that we could swear is watching us with its massive eyes. Speaking of eyes, there's a collection of different sized eyeballs among the 150 body parts in this show, and it's arguably the grisliest display.

The sliced open penguin we warned you about.

While fish may not be the cutest animals, sensitive visitors should be aware there's a very cute penguin that's been opened up so we can see its heart and blood vessels. It may be shocking to some, but the plastination process makes these creatures look like anatomical models, so much so that we havr to remind ourselves these were once living creatures. It's a strange disconnect that we can't quite get over, and it alleviates some of the distress some visitors may feel.

Granted this is not an exhibition for the squeamish, but for anyone who is fascinated by how an animal's body works, this is a marvellous insight. We imagine children will love it as it's ideal for those with bags of curiosity.

What a great white shark looks without its skin.

If there are any concerns about this being a bit of an ocean 'freak show', it's worth noting all these animals died of natural causes. There's a strong environmental message running throughout, with sections on plastic pollution and the horrific process of shark finning — where the fins are sliced off to be cooked as a delicacy, and the rest of the shark is tossed back into the ocean.

If there's anything to be upset about from this show it's the way in which overfishing and pollution are destroying ocean and sea habitats. Next to a beautifully streamlined great white shark, there's a description of it as an apex predator, but it's made clear that if there is such a thing as a mass murderer of the ocean, it's humans.

The finless porpoise broken into three.

Other highlights include a shark that's been sliced into thin sections and expanded so we can see every part of it, and a finless porpoise split into three so the top and bottom appear to be opening up to reveal the internal organs.

We visited before the show was fully up and running. We've seen all the specimens but when the lighting is all set up we imagine these preserved creatures will look even more spectacular.

Sea Creatures is on at RHS Lawrence Hall, Greycoat Street, SW1P 2QD from 4-30 August. Tickets are £18 for adults, £12 for children.

Last Updated 02 August 2018