No one can say much about the beliefs fish have of the afterlife. But it’s safe to say most species probably don’t imagine they will spend 50 years in a jar of formaldehyde in a landlocked city before their bones are displayed in graphic x-ray images.
Pulled out of the North Atlantic in 1961, the longhorn sculpin and blue antimora are just two species displayed in a fascinating but macabre exhibition of their bodies from the inside out in the Museum of Nature’s new exhibition “Beneath the Surface: X-rays of Arctic Fish.”
Mark S. Graham, the museum’s vice president of research and collections, says the museum staff seeks to “present the natural world using art as a medium” by displaying x-ray images “using a technique more familiar with hospitals.”
Arctic cod, Greenland halibut, glacial lanternfish and Atlantic herring are just a few of the species whose complex structures are eerily lit up by backlight in a stone wall gallery that suits the skull-and-bones display.
Fish have more bones than other vertebrates and species like the Acadian redfish are particularly complex. The display mentions that some fish can have 150 bones in their skull. Human skulls only have 28.
By exposing the fish’s inner structures, senior research assistant Noel Alfonso say they also picked up tidbits of ecology, with molluscs and clam shells inside the fish. In one case, the eel-like boa dragonfish reveals the fish’s last meal was an extravagant one — the skeleton of the smaller fish fills up more than a third of the dragonfish’s body. Alfonso collected the latter himself in the Davis Strait between Baffin Island and Greenland — a hot spot for diversity due to different interacting currents and a variety of depths — but he says discovering the fish’s last meal upon x-raying the specimen was “sheer serendipity.”
The Canadian Museum of Nature’s exhibition “Beneath the Surface: X-rays of Arctic Fish” is on now and scheduled to run until Jan. 4, 2015.