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Exhibition to offer Kunming a glimpse of the deep sea

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This one-meter jellyfish lives at a depth of 1500 meters
This one-meter jellyfish lives at a depth of 1500 meters

Despite being more than 600 kilometers (375 miles) from the sea and 1900 meters above sea level, Kunming residents will soon have the opportunity to view the inhabitants of the deepest realms of the world's oceans.

Beginning Tuesday, July 12 the Yunnan Provincial Museum will host "The Deep" (深海奇珍), one of its most high-profile international exhibitions to date. The exhibition will provide visitors with a look at 43 specimens from the little-understood world of the deep sea.

The exhibition itself begins with a transition from the world's surface into the abyss, followed by the mid-water, aka the pelagic zone, and the ocean floor, or benthic zone, which can be as far as four kilometers below the surface of the ocean. At present, fewer than 10 submersibles in the world are able to reach depths of greater than 1,000 meters.

This lionfish is capable of reaching depths of nearly three kilometers
This lionfish is capable of reaching depths of nearly three kilometers

The specimens presented in the exhibition are extremely rare animals of which very few, if any, exist in good condition elsewhere. If they make it to the surface, these fragile creatures are usually damaged by trawling nets. Many specimens in "The Deep" have been captured in situ by scientific samplers on submersibles or tethered robots, others have been trawled during oceanographic missions.

The end result is the rare opportunity for land dwellers to view a well-preserved anglerfish, an extremely rare gulper eel or the only whole colonies of deep-sea radiolarians displayed anywhere in the world today.

Due to the differences in pressure, temperature, salinity, light and oxygen levels between deep and shallow waters, it is impossible for the deep fauna to survive at the surface. Deep-sea animals can therefore only be exhibited in preserved form.

Generally this means conserving them in ethanol, which leads to the gradual loss of pigment, the dehydration of tissues and changes in their body structure. As most of the animals have been specifically collected for this exhibition, they are "fresh": this means they have been "fixed" and preserved with formalin and are now kept in simple water. The bulk of them have never been dipped in ethanol, so most of them have retained their natural color.

A deep-sea species of octopus
A deep-sea species of octopus

"The Deep" is curated by Claire Nouvian, founder of environmental non-governmental organization Bloom, which focuses on raising awareness and appreciation of the world's deep sea environments in order to create support for measures to protect these habitats, which are the least accessible to humans.

"Now that we have developed the technology that enables us to reach great depths, these distant environments suffer more than other ecosystems from their exploitation because there is, by nature, no possible witness" Nouvian said.

"Their remoteness and isolation that was beneficial for so long, has now become their Achilles' heel making the deep sea a silent victim of industrial trawlers all over the world."

The exhibition's Kunming stop is part of a three-year tour of mainland China that also includes stopovers in 14 other cities.

"The Deep" will run at Yunnan Provincial Museum from July 12 through October 30 from 9am to 4pm Tuesday through Sunday. The entry fee is 20 yuan for adults and 10 yuan for students.

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