Designing a gallery around a topic as important and all-encompassing as water has a special set of challenges. A big one is deciding what gets included and what gets left out. Our exhibitions content developer Nicole Dupuis explains some of the tough choices she has had to make:

When it comes to deciding which specimens to put on display in a gallery, having lots of items to select from would seem like a good thing. But if you’ve ever tried to decide which brand of laundry detergent to buy when faced with a wall of soap at your local superstore, you know that too much choice can be overwhelming.

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The new Water Gallery features a long ribbon of display cases that wraps around a gigantic Blue Whale skeleton. This section illustrates how the ocean is full of life: from microscopic plankton, to lacy algae, ethereal jellyfish, brilliant sea stars, monstrous deep-sea fish, spiny crustaceans, streamlined mammals and so on. Imagine a snapshot of marine biodiversity.

Currently, 200,000-300, 000 marine species have been identified worldwide. Our CMN collection includes hundreds of thousands of individual specimens. They range from dried whole specimens, skeletons, wet specimens in jars, as well as models. It’s been tough narrowing it down to an amount that will fit in 6 (albeit large) display cases.

OK, that’s a tough choice. So how do you pick a couple of cases of specimens from a possible 300,000??? I’m not sure I’d know where to start! Luckily, Nicole has a system.

To help us in our choice, we’ve established a few guidelines:
– Focus on Canadian species, since we know them best.
– Show a sampling from all of the big groups of species, instead of trying to be exhaustive about it. The goal is to highlight diversity, not give a precise taxonomic list.
– Be opportunistic: choose specimens that tell great stories, are easy to display, look really good, and can take the harsh exhibition conditions (bright lights, etc).

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It’s not easy deciding on the final cut. As the content developer, I rely heavily on the researchers, the exhibit designer, and the collections staff to help me make the right choices.

Slowly but surely, we’re finding the specimens that will bring our Water Gallery’s stories to life.

I’m sure the end product will be a stunning snapshot of those 300,000 species! I look forward to seeing what is chosen. I also have a new appreciation for those amazing display I see in the galleries at the museum.