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'Unseen Oceans' dives deep into mysterious creatures at Museum of Natural History

With the opening of the "Unseen Oceans" exhibit at the American Museum of Natural History, you'll find creepy, often glow-in-the-dark creatures of the depths right in the middle of Manhattan.

This interactive exhibit, which opens March 12, will put you hundreds of feet underwater without ever needing a wet suit. You'll discover new and little-known marine species and meet the scientists behind those discoveries.

As the "last great frontier left on our planet," so aptly put by the museum's president Ellen Futter, delving into the exhibit is like walking on another planet. There's so little we know about the sea that new discoveries seem alien to us.

In recent years, with the advent of new technology and news of global warming, there seems to be an uptick in interest, Futter said, adding that we are now in the "golden age of marine exploration."

Given the new technology, including a glovelike grabber and new remotely operated underwater vehicles, it's no question that in five years, we'll have discovered "a lot more creatures," according to John Sparks, the exhibit's curator.

In preparation for "Unseen Oceans," Sparks was in a submersible off the coast of Brazil and his crew bumped into some sea sponges, which immediately lit up. No one had ever seen those before, he said.

So before you venture into the depths, here's a look at what you'll do in "Unseen Oceans."

Walk onto a virtual beach

The first thing you'll see as you walk
Photo Credit: Charles Eckert

The first thing you'll see as you walk into the exhibit is the beach with lapping waves that are so convincing you will want to linger a little. The sound of waves crashing on the beach creates an immersive experience, so close your eyes and imagine you're at the doormat of the ocean.

Meet microorganisms and small sea creatures

Only 10 to 15 percent of the sea
Photo Credit: Charles Eckert

Only 10 to 15 percent of the sea floor has been mapped with accuracy, which means that we haven't even scratched the surface of what is living down there. From plankton to protozoans (like this drifting carnivore), you'll learn how the smallest beings affect the ocean and the ecosystem as we know it through larger-than-life models, microscopes targeted on an actual drop of seawater and a "Find My Baby Picture" game to learn about their life cycles.

Feel dwarfed by marine life

You'll go from awe of tiny organisms to
Photo Credit: Charles Eckert

You'll go from awe of tiny organisms to awe at the sheer size and number of other marine life, from sharks and other fish to giant squid and whales. You'll see how some species use bioluminescence for survival, like the chain catshark, which glows green to help them see one another deep in the ocean. The bigger creatures show their size on a 180-degree screen, where they swim around just to give you an idea of scale. Watch out for the giant squid.

Play in a giant sandbox — no, really

The earth's terrain, including that of the sea,
Photo Credit: American Museum of Natural History

The earth's terrain, including that of the sea, is something you'll get hands-on with. We know more about the surface of Mars than we do about the sea floor, but with sound waves, radar and lasers, scientists are starting to put together detailed images of it. Try your hand at forming islands and sea trenches in a large sand table with a projection of colors. It's addictive.

Go into the depths like a biologist

See actual BBC and OceanX Media footage of
Photo Credit: Charles Eckert

See actual BBC and OceanX Media footage of dives into the great blue "that will blow your mind," according to Ray Dalio of the Dalio Foundation, which provided some of the funding for the exhibit. The theater you watch it in has been created to look like a submersible craft. You'll also get your photo taken inside a replica of an actual craft and get a firsthand look at new technology that allows scientists to more accurately and carefully gather information, like the quiet grippers called "squishy fingers." The hydraulically controlled padded fingers conform gently around organisms at any depth. You'll also learn about how technology is helping to conserve the ocean and its inhabitants and play a video game, which puts you in a submersible and asks you to explore the seascape, collect samples and respond to an underwater emergency.

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