Whales, Fishes, and Bugs, Oh My!
A couple weeks ago, my fellow OFI interns and I decided to attend an intern event at the Museum Support Center (MSC). It was a rare opportunity to have a guided tour throughout the largest collection of fishes in the world- over 6 million specimens. It was pretty weird to see hundreds of jars of dead fish soaking in ethanol. Some were pretty scary the way they were preserved. You could see teeth and fins and scales and everything. They took us into another room to show us the famous “Coelacanth,” a type of fish that was considered extinct until one was found in 1938 off the coast of South Africa. Because of this, it is often referred to as a “living fossil.” There are many characteristics that make the coelacanth unique, such as the fact that their fins extend farther from their bodies to help them move, kind of like legs. It was awesome to be able to see this critically endangered, living fossil up close.
In the next part of the tour, another tour guide explained to us the kind of work that he does. His job is to preserve the bones of mammals. For those with weak stomachs, read no further. Basically, the dead animals are sent to the museum in their current state, and they send them to this lab where they employ flesh-eating beetles to eat off all the flesh. They then preserve and catalog the skeletons. It was at this point in the tour that several interns, including myself, had to go outside and get some fresh air (the stench was overpowering!) But for those who stayed, I heard they got to see the flesh-eating bugs in action….
The last part of the tour took us through a warehouse filled with giant whale skeletons. I was blown away by how extensive of a collection the Smithsonian has of all these creatures. It was an exciting experience to learn and see how science and history go hand in hand.