Dan Spaulding said the Anniston Museum of Natural History didn’t plan for the latest exhibit on sea life, opening Friday, to coincide with a the latest popular Disney movie about a lost fish, or the start of Shark Week on the Discovery Channel.
“But we’ll take it,” said Spaulding, curator of the museum.
That exhibit — “Live Salty: From Shore to Ocean Floor” — will take visitors on a trip across the globe’s oceans through seashells, preserved animals and other specimens.
The exhibit also shows what troubles the world’s oceans face and how we can better care for them, said Sarah Burke, education director for the museum. The exhibit keeps true to the museum’s mission of educating the public, she said.
Alan Robison, director of the Anniston museum complex, said it’s always a challenge for museums to keep patrons excited and coming back, but visitors should know there are so many things they haven’t seen.
Most of the museum’s holdings are stored out of public view, Robison said, so exhibits like the one opening Friday make use of those unused specimens, such as the hundreds of sea shells and aquatic life donated by a Montgomery family in 2010.
“We weren't sure what to expect,” Spaulding said, after the museum got a call in 2010 from Connie Mitchell, who said she’d like to donate her late husband’s shell and coral collection. Charles Mitchell died in 2009 and was an avid collector and member of the Conchology Society of America.
What Spaulding discovered upon seeing the collection was that Mitchell had amassed a large collection and documented where he discovered each specimen and how deep underwater each was found. That sort of detail made the collection valuable to a museum, Spaulding said, so it was loaded up and trucked back to Anniston, where museum staff recorded each piece and stored it for safekeeping.
Portions of that collection will be seen by the public for the first time on Friday. The exhibit also includes a saltwater tank with live coral and representative and preserved real fish, including a 10-foot great hammerhead shark and a bull shark. The new offering also makes use of other museum holdings, such as prints of seabirds by the naturalist John James Audubon and taxidermied examples of the animals.
Southern Custom Exhibits in Anniston was tasked with making cases for the exhibit, which will likely remain on display for two years, Robison said, before being replaced by another new exhibit.
Visitors to the museum won’t have to wait that long to see something new, however, Robison said.
While some exhibits are permanent — two Ptolemaic-era Egyptian mummies, William Werner’s massive taxidermied bird collection — smaller exhibits are constantly refreshed with items kept in storage.
There’s much left to be seen, Spaulding said, so visitors should expect to find something new around every corner.