May 28, 2006
Claws is colorful and interactive
The Oregon Coast Aquarium's newest exhibit, Claws explores the adaptations and remarkable diversity of crabs, lobsters, shrimp, isopods and copepods. The extraordinary color and active habits of crustaceans make the animals themselves fun to watch, but the real fun begins with the hands on activities. A variety of interactive displays explain crustacean adaptations from crab movement and claw strength to shrimp vision. A dance floor offers kids a chance to learn how to “dance like a crustacean” to music by the same creators of the Claws radio commercial. Another display demonstrates how a crab “molts” or cracks out of its exoskeleton. A shoe with every size from infancy to adulthood illustrates a crustacean’s different stages of growth. Colorful interpretive graphics and audio-visual media convey the importance of these invertebrates to humans and as a link in the marine food web.
Crabbing has been important to the local community and Claws will include a fascinating look at Newport’s history of the crabbing industry. The Aquarium is grateful to the Oregon Dungeness Crab Commission and the local Fishing Industry for providing materials for this part of the exhibit. For more information, visit Heads Up,the website for the west coast fishing community.
The Claws exhibit focuses mainly on crustaceans, but a few species outside the class are also featured, like the horseshoe crab, which is not a true crab. Crustaceans vary so much in shape, form and behavior that it is difficult to find a definition that lists traits common to all of them. For example, a barnacle looks like no other crustacean. Naturalists have described the barnacle as a “shrimp-like animal standing on its head in a limestone house, kicking food into its mouth.”
Interesting anomolies are highlighted from the Claws kingdom. Some species have acquired some very inventive ways to survive, like the crab that picks up two anemones and waves them around with its claws to distract its prey. Everyone is familiar with the larger crustaceans (shrimps, lobsters, and crabs), but the small planktonic crustaceans are just as important. Copepods, water fleas, and krill are a major link in the marine food chain between the photosynthetic phytoplankton and larger carnivores such as fish and whales. Still others are crucial in recycling nutrients of dead organisms.
The creation of Claws is another team endeavor created entirely by the Oregon Coast Aquarium’s exhibits staff which has become adept at conceptualizing and building exhibits through practice, having completed the past few changing exhibits all in-house. Artist Michael Cole, whose mural work has been employed extensively on Aquarium walls and in past exhibits, again lends his artistry to Claws. Cole is proficient in making his depictions of plants and animals surrounding the exhibits come alive. His attention to detail and mastery of texture and hue give color and depth to the exhibit.
The Aquarium’s intent with the Claws exhibit is to enlighten, entertain and amaze. If we can get a better understanding of the ocean and habitat conditions that crustaceans need to survive, we might become better at predicting changes in their populations. This will help us better manage fisheries and control over harvesting to ensure the survival of these incredible crustaceans.