Meet the Museum: Waloseum in Norden, Germany

Linda here, 

I recently visited the Waloseum, a museum organised by the seal sanctuary Nationalpark-Haus Norddeich in Norden, on the German North Sea coast. While the seal sanctuary has its own exhibition, focussing on everything related to seals, the Waloseum showcases the local fauna with a strong specialisation on cetaceans and shore birds. Even though their name sounds a bit like it, they have no live whales, they show models, skeletons, videos, and audio recordings of whales. But since the Waloseum is part of the local seal sanctuary, the ground floor of the building also hosts the quarantine station for baby seals which were found sick, injured or abandoned on the beach. The visitors can spend some time observing baby seals; though to be honest, while very cute, a sick baby seal is not really doing a lot of interesting activities, so let’s move on, so they can rest and recover. Other live animals exhibited here include an aquarium with local fish that live close to the sea floor such as catsharks or flatfish, and benthic invertebrates like echinoderms, allowing visitors for example to closely observe the complicated anatomy of sea star locomotion in action (fig 1). Also included in this area is a wonderful collection of mollusc shells such as cone snails, fearsome predators. 

Figure 1

The lower floor of the Museum hosts the whale exhibition, beginning with whale evolution (fig 2) and anatomy, for example showing a life size model of a blue whale’s heart (fig 3), which is illuminated in red light pulsating with the same frequency as a blue whale’s heartbeat. Across the museum and between the exhibits, hand painted wall decorations illustrate whale behaviour or anatomy, such as for example the feeding mechanism of baleen whales (fig.4). I especially enjoyed the displays showing the different extant whale species grouped by geographic area in which they live, such as this display of species of the Southern Ocean surrounding Antarctica (fig. 5). 

Exhibit display of whale evolution. There is a sign explaining the small reconstruction of an ancient whale. There is a drawn tree of relationships on the lower right arcing to the upper left showing how whales have changed to what we see today.
Figure 2
A museum exhibit of a life size model of a blue whale's heart. There is a sign with information in the foreground and a heart with different parts lit up.
Figure 3
Exhibit display that details the feeding mechanism of baleen whales. Behind a pane of glass there are four small models of whales showing how they feed and what the brush like teeth looks like up close.
Figure 4
exhibit dispay showing the species of the Southern Ocean surrounding Antarctica. There are scaled models of the different species mounted to the wall with a small screen in the foreground with more details.
Figure 5

 

But everyone agrees that the absolute highlight of the museum is the 15m (~50 feet) long skeleton of a male sperm whale that is exhibited in its own room (fig. 6). The skeleton is shown together with a replica of a human skull for size comparison, as well as a giant squid model, an important prey species for sperm whales. What is extra special about this specimen is the fact that the skeleton comes from a sperm whale that was washed up dead at the German coast in 2003 just a few kilometres from the museum. The whale weighed about 40 metric tons! Pictures of the washed up specimen are included on one of the walls, together with information on migration routes and many other interesting details. The entire room is very dark, only the whale is illuminated, the entire atmosphere feels like the deep sea. Sperm whale songs are played in the background. Everything about this is very impressive, the first step into the room takes your breath away. 

Display of a male sperm whale, with a human skull and other objects below it to aid with understanding scale. a giant squid is in the background.
Figure 6

A small side room branching off here shows very special deep sea ecosystems: hydrothermal vents! Lots of information about the geological processes leading to hydrothermal vents are shown in figures and illustrations, but the nicest part of this section is the hydrothermal vent model, which even includes tiny vent crabs and tube worms (fig. 7).

An exhibit display that is a hydrothermal vent model, which even includes tiny vent crabs and tube worms
Figure 7

Following the natural environmental sequence, one floor above the sea floor and open ocean exhibit, sea and shore birds of the local area are showcased (fig. 8). Just like in the sperm whale room, the background is full of animal sounds, in this case seagulls’ and other birds’ calls. The upper floor also includes important information about human-environment interactions, a big topic is environmental destruction through pollution but also the importance of the local Lower Saxon Wadden Sea National Park, which has a size of almost 346,000 hectares (~1,300 square miles) and is the largest national park in Germany.

Sea floor and open ocean exhibit, sea and shore birds of the local area are showcased in a room. The scene is set up like a portion of a beach with signage to explain the different animals.
Figure 8

Even though this museum is very small, through modern exhibits, the very smart use of light and background sound, detailed models and illustrations, the museum creates the perfect atmosphere for learning about marine and coastal life. I highly recommend a visit, especially if you’re looking for something fun to do on one of the many, many rainy days this area gets.

Meet the Museum: Munkácsy Mihály Múzeum

Narrow hallway with lights indicating different years, open doorway at the end of the hallway. Lights are bars that start as blue near the front and become pink.
Figure 1. The exhibition begins with a little time travel…

Linda here – 

During a recent trip to Hungary I visited the paleontological and archeological exhibition of the Munkácsy Mihály Múzeum in Békéscsaba, in the south east of Hungary. The museum is named after Mihály Munkácsy, a Hungarian painter of the 19th century. The majority of the museum focuses on art, but there are many other exhibitions, especially covering Hungarian history — and that of course begins with paleontology. They first show some of the extinct fauna of Hungary before moving on to showcase the extant wildlife and local prehistoric archeology, namely Neolithic, Copper Age, Bronze Age, Iron Age and so on.

Black display background and a white line indicating change through time with different markers signifying events.
Figure 2. .. and then introduces guests to the concept of deep time by showcasing the geologic time scale together with the evolution of major taxonomic groups and important events.

After traveling back in time through a neon coloured tunnel (Fig. 1), the museum shows the geologic time scale (Fig. 2) so that guests can get a feeling for it and understand how long ago different events took place. The entire exhibition, including this time scale, is in Hungarian and there are no English explanations, but I used a translator app and that worked very well. 

Next, we see small fossils from different periods and epochs, such as leaves and a fish from the Oligocene (Fig. 3), before a larger section showcases the Pleistocene megafauna of Hungary, including the woolly mammoth (Mammuthus primigenius; Fig. 4), aurochs (Bos primigenius), and giant elk (Megaloceros giganteus). 

Museum exhibit with a small plaque at the bottom of the image with information related to the specimens. Leaf fossil is on the left and the fish fossils are on the right.
Figure 3. Unidentified Oligocene leaves and fish.
Image of museum exhibit with the lower left having a plaque with details about the three specimens displayed in the case. top left specimen is part of a pelvis, to the right is a molar, and then the bottom right is a complete mandible with teeth intact.
Figure 4. A tooth, lower jaw and hip fragment of the woolly mammoth found in Hungary.

An interactive map is projected on a large Hungary-shaped table and shows a variety of environmental parameters and how they have changed throughout time, such as where the major Hungarian rivers Danube and Tisza were during the Pleistocene  (Fig. 5). 

Museum exhibit that is a projected map onto a table. The map is upside down in this image with some one pointing at feature on the map
Figure 5. Visitors explore the interactive map that shows the course of the large Hungarian rivers during the Pleistocene in red, and the modern course in blue. This allows local guests to understand the prehistoric landscape of their country much better.

After establishing what the environment looked like in the past, the museum also includes a small zoological section showing extant wildlife which was already present in the area at the time. They exhibit species that live together in the same habitat together in the same display (Fig. 6), which really makes it possible to imagine the ecology of the area. 

Museum exhibit with a black base. There are several taxidermy animals of the local fauna in a glass case.
Figure 6. Species currently living in the Hungarian forests, such as the eurasian badger (front; Meles meles) which evolved during the middle Pleistocene.

Once the Pleistocene environment and fauna have been established, the exhibition continues with its archeological section and showcases tools and ceramics (Fig. 7) of the prehistoric population that settled here during the early Holocene. Later on, the exhibition also includes weapons, tools and other objects created by people during the Iron Age, as well as by the Celtics and Scythians, by Romans, by medieval people and during more modern history. 

Exhibit with a black background and different ceramic vessels including pots, goblets, bowls, all in a tan color. Some are mounted on small shelves on the wall.
Figure 7. Examples of the ceramic vessels made by the prehistoric people of the area.

Overall the paleontological exhibition is very small since this is just a fraction of the entire museum, but nonetheless it is very modern and uses up to date methods to introduce their visitors to new concepts and ideas. I really liked how they have merged the geologic time scale and the local paleoenvironments into their country’s history and decided to showcase it all together in the correct order of events. I highly recommend a visit! 

Meet the Museum: The Paleontological Research Institution and Museum of the Earth

Whitney here – 

Here I am posing with Cecil, the Coelophysis, and the Museum of the Earth’s Mascot! The silhouette of a Coelophysis can be seen in the PRI and Museum of the Earth’s logo.

During the summer of 2017, I was an intern at the Paleontological Research Institution (PRI) in Ithaca, NY. The PRI works in conjunction with the Museum of the Earth and neighboring Cayuga Nature Center. You can follow them on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram where they share updates on exhibits and virtual events like Science in the Virtual Pub. The Museum of the Earth’s social media also features takeovers from guest scientists and live updates from the prep lab. The museum is currently on a modified schedule during the Covid-19 Pandemic, but you can check their updated hours here. Additionally, the Museum of the Earth has recently started a new initiative in an effort to increase the accessibility of their museum to the community. During Pay-What-You-Wish Weekends, which take place during the first weekend of each month, guests may choose from a range for their admissions cost in place of traditional ticket costs. 

The PRI and Museum of the Earth typically host one or two Saturday day trips each summer to local outcrops where the public can participate in the fossil hunting experience.

As an intern at the PRI, my time in the museum was limited, however, I was sure to take a self guided tour through their exhibits before I was to start next door in the research labs at the PRI. Since that summer, the Museum of the Earth has expanded its collection of in person and online exhibits which you can see the availability of here. These online exhibits and videos are great educational tools while remaining remote. There are many exhibits currently on display at the Museum of the Earth, so I will do my best to highlight a few of my favorites!

During the field trips, you are almost guaranteed to see some great fossils and maybe even find a few of your own!

The museum as a whole is set up so that the guest experiences a Journey Through Time – an exhibit which comprises the majority of the museum displays. The Museum of the Earth displays fossils ranging from microfossils to the Hyde Park mastodon and those from early life on Earth to present day organisms. These exhibits include the 1.5 meter heteromorph ammonite, Diplomoceras maximum, which was discovered on Seymour Island, Antarctica, and the North Atlantic Right Whale skeleton. Upon entering the museum, guests are greeted by a 44 ft long whale skeleton suspended from the ceiling between the two floors of the museum. North Atlantic Right Whale #2030 passed away in Cape May, New Jersey in 1999 and PRI employees assisted in recovering and cleaning the skeleton, where it was added to the museum in 2002. The skeleton was so big that during construction of the museum, part of the building was left open so that the whale could be brought in via a crane. Guests wrap up their journey through time with the coral reef exhibit, where they can learn about reef ecosystems and discover the importance of the diversity of fish and invertebrates that live within them, and the glaciers exhibit, where they can explore the history of glaciers in the Finger Lakes region.

Daring to Dig: Women in American Paleontology is the most recent exhibit at the Museum of the Earth and is permanently available online!

The Museum of the Earth has a new exhibit that opened in late March – Daring to Dig: Women in American Paleontology. Not only is this an in-person exhibit on display at the museum until Fall 2021, but it has become permanently available online for those unable to visit Ithaca. This exhibit works to both highlight the achievements and discoveries made by women in paleontology as well as introduce the public to trailblazers and modern voices. This exhibit works in tandem with the recently published children’s book, Daring to Dig: Adventures of Women in American Paleontology, to demonstrate to children and students that science is for everyone. You can learn more about the Daring to Dig Project here

During non-pandemic times, the museum and PRI host the occasional field trip to local outcrops in upstate New York. As an intern at the PRI, I was able to tag along on these great opportunities. These field trips are open to the public for a fee which provides access to basic supplies that you may need while out at the site as well as the educational experience provided by local experts at the PRI. Be sure to keep an eye on their events page where you can be kept up to date on both virtual and in-person events and activities going on!

 

Meet the Museum: McClung Museum of Natural History and Culture

Jen here –

Outside the McClung Museum with Monty, the Edmontosaurus!

The McClung Museum of Natural History and Culture is located in Knoxville, Tennessee on the University of Tennessee campus. The museum is open from 9:00 am – 5:00 pm Monday through Saturday and 1:00 pm – 5:00 pm on Sunday. The museum is free to the public with special paid events. There are a variety of education opportunities from pre-K to lifelong learners, click here to find out more. Inviting you into the museum facilities is large metal Edmontosaurus, a delightful hadrosaur (duck billed dinosaur) named Monty. The museum has regular ‘Family Fun Days’ and an annual ‘Can you dig it?’ event to celebrate geology and archaeology. Read about the most recent Can you dig it? event by clicking here and check out the McClung’s event page by clicking here.

The McClung Museum has several permanent exhibits and one rotating exhibit. Please look through their exhibit archive by clicking here to see the upcoming, special, permanent, and past exhibitions!

Jen in the Geology Gallery with the fossil summer camp group!

On the main level you can explore the Geology & Fossil History of Tennessee from 500 million years ago until the most recent Ice Age all while a mosasaur hangs from the ceiling above you. Around the corner you can explore Archaeology & the Native Peoples of Tennessee through a variety of artifacts and interactive displays based on more than 65 years of research done at UT. By entering through a pyramid doorway you are transported to Ancient Egypt: The Eternal Voice where you can explore the interested culture of the ancient people of the Nile valley. The last exhibit on the main level is the Decorative Experience that explores art as one of the unifying elements of human culture.

Heading to the lower level there are several more excellent exhibits. Tennessee Freshwater Mussels showcases the biology and diversity of these creatures and this provides and excellent look into the impressive malacology exhibits the McClung houses. This exhibit is almost hidden around a corner but is a must see! The Civil War in Knoxville: The Battle of Fort Sanders follows along a main hall way and details the aspects of the war that took place in Eastern Tennessee. Many of these sites are historical markers and are easily accessible around town. The last permanent exhibit is Human Origins: Searching for our Fossil Ancestors. This exhibit is compact and filled with valuable information and specimens. Difficult concepts are easily explained through engaging diagrams and exhibits.

Follow them on social media for updates and upcoming event details: Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Read our other posts that mention the McClung Museum: