Museums by the Sea

DSC_0007Unknown to me we have several old and respected museums up in our little northern capital, quite a few of which have come together to form a group known as ‘museums at the sea’. The maritime flair was pretty obvious on our visits this week to the Aquarium (no surprise there) and the Zoological Museum. The Zoological Museum was the one that really surprised me. In a stylish old brick building the museum housed specimens that were collected when it was first founded in the 18 hundreds. Some of them were even older, donated to or bought by the museum many years ago, still in immaculate condition.

Apart from the anteaters, monkey skeletons and some of the birds, there was a big focus on local wildlife and research. For the first time we learned that the Mola Mola (also known as Sun fish or Moon fish), which we had almost hoped to see in Bali, can even make it into our local harbours. We also learned a tremendous amount about the ways in which different animals swim, and how these different styles of swimming evolved. Plus we learned a lot of fun facts:

  • In order to dive more efficiently, or in the case of hippos, walk on riverbeds more easily, some water animals have developed far thicker bones than land animals. This additional thickness increases the weight tremendously, functioning like the weight-belt strapped to a diver. When animals have these thicker bones it is called pachyostesclerosis. Want to know more? Read this academic article which explains why the phenomenon is only present in shallow water animals and dives deeper into animal anatomy.
  • On a similar note, crocodiles have developed a unique way to help control their buoyancy- they are able to move their lungs within their bodies. The animals usually submerge by breathing out and then sinking beneath the surface. Once underwater they can reduce their heartbeat in order to be able to dive for a longer period of time. According to this website all about crocodiles their heart rate will go down to two or three beats per minute.
  • But if you think slowing down the heart rate to two beats per minute is impressive, you should spend some time with the sea turtle. The sea turtle also uses similar strategies to allow it to dive and stay underwater for extended periods of time. According to the museum, turtles will slow down their heart rate to one beat every nine minutes. Nine minutes!!
  • Our other fun facts relate to fish. Apart from comparing size, how can you tell how old a fish is? We didn’t think it was possible, but at the museum we learned that if you remove the bones of its inner ear, you can count the rings on the bone like you would a tree. The internet has now informed me that it can be any bony part of the fish- scales, and fin rays included. However the ear-stones, also called otoliths, tend to give the most accurate reading.
  • And the final fun fact I collected at the museum is that female anglerfish (you know, the scary deep sea creature in Finding Nemo) only have a glowing lamp because they live in symbiotic relationship with bacteria, which does the glowing. Male anglerfish don’t have the light at all, but has evolved into a parasite. That means when a male anglerfish finds a female he bites her and clings on until he merges with her, connecting to her bloodstream. Creepy.

DSC_0010The museum also has a collection of whale skeletons to rival the London Natural History museum and a whole floor full of stuffed birds and mammals. With the temperatures below freezing the small museum was a wonderful refuge. Plus with their discount cards that entitle you to visit any second partner museum for a reduced price (as long as you do so within a week), we can try out quite a few more!

Links not working? Here are the URLs in order:
Bone density article: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/ar.20533/pdf
Become a crocodile expert: http://crocodilian.com/cnhc/cbd-faq-q5.htm
Determining fish age: http://www.bio.gc.ca/otoliths/students-etudiants/age-en.php
Anglerfish info and a scary picture: http://animals.nationalgeographic.com/animals/fish/anglerfish/

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