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PHILADELPHIA (Reuters Life!) - A new exhibit at Philadelphia's Academy of Natural Sciences delves into the mysteries of the deep ocean that is believed to hold 95 percent of the earth's living organisms.
"Creatures of the Deep Abyss," which opened last week and runs until early September, offers a glimpse of the organisms that live in perpetual darkness, cold and pressure at depths of as much as 11,000 feet, and where scientists estimate a million or more species remain undiscovered.
"The deep sea is one of these little-known regions where really spectacular new discoveries are being made," said John Lundberg, curator of the academy's ichthyology department. "Biologists expect there are life forms there that we've never seen before."
The show includes a 26-foot-long model of the largest known squid and many interactive exhibits inviting visitors to activate the displays by pressing buttons.
Visitors can view a picture of the fearsome-looking anglerfish which uses rows of inward-pointing teeth to hunt for prey at great depths, or watch a video of deep-ocean fish that use luminescence to survive in pitch-black waters.
Young visitors can also place an arm in a cuff that inflates to simulate some degree of the pressure felt by any creature descending more than a few yards into the ocean.
Paul Callomon, the academy's collection manager for mollusks, said the show aims to give visitors an idea of the vastness of the ocean.
"We want to show the scale of the undersea world," he explained.
At the relatively shallow depth of 2,700 feet, Callomon said he had ventured in a submersible to collect specimens of a marine snail that has not evolved since the Jurassic period.
The canyons and mountain ranges that lie thousands of feet below the surface and the different ways the deep ocean's inhabitants survive are described in the exhibition.
A prime opportunity for deep-sea creatures is when a whale dies and sinks to the ocean floor. A film in the exhibition shows different species feeding on a whale carcass, which can provide an important source of nutrition for years or even decades.
The show also urges visitors to practice stewardship of the ocean, in light of pollution and over-fishing. Next to a photo of a plastic fork resting on top of a sea urchin, the exhibition appeals to readers to eat less seafood, join organizations that protect the ocean and seek out sea food from sustainably managed fisheries.