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Cross-dressing cuttlefish and spiny lobsters: Under the Sea 3D

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The Science Museum’s new IMAX film ‘Under the Sea 3D’ covered impressive amounts of in-depth scientific content in just 45 minutes. It was suitable for adults and children, balancing facts with fun. The humour and light-hearted moments were interspersed with information on more serious issues, giving everyone some food for thought upon leaving the theatre.

Some of the creatures on the IMAX film, Under the Sea

 

The film features fascinating (and often bizarre) creatures from the world’s oceans. Narrated by Jim Carrey, this film brings you closer to the oft-ignored world of marine biology, with simple but intriguing insights into how the organisms in our oceans survive and thrive. The film itself is 45 minutes long, but passes quickly with amazing visuals, capturing in detail the different habitats in the ocean, from the opening scenes of Carbon Dioxide gas vents, to the coral reefs of Australia. The huge screen (one of the biggest in the world), along with the 3D effect, creates a feeling that you’re actually in the ocean, rather than watching it from the outside.

The film is easy to understand for everyone, but manages to touch on the most important and complicated areas of marine biology, for example the importance of the world’s mangroves forests and the issue of ocean acidification. Without going into much depth on the topic (no pun intended), Carrey speaks about some of the issues facing our oceans and the organisms living in them today, adding a more serious message to the otherwise light-hearted film. Ocean acidification and coral bleaching are mentioned, but only the very basics are covered – those interested in the topic will have to do further research outside the theatre.

Highlights of the film include the bizarre and fascinating mating habits of cuttlefish. For those who haven’t heard of the cuttlefish, its name is a bit of a misnomer. Cuttlefish are more closely related to snails than to fish, and are also a close relative of squids and nautiluses (two other sea-creatures mentioned in the film), and octopods. To avoid detection and attacks from larger males, smaller male giant cuttlefish disguise themselves as females, changing colour to match the females and hiding their extra appendage that the females lack. By doing this they can sneak past the larger males guarding the females. At this point they change the colour of the side of the body facing the female to the colouration of the males, all the while resembling a female on the other side of the body to fool the larger male. These ‘sneaks’ have remarkable mating success with the females, showing that size isn’t everything!

Audience enjoys the 3D effect on the giant IMAX screen

 

The aforementioned cuttlefish, as well as corals and thousands of other species will be affected by ocean acidification, as we pump more CO2 into the atmosphere. The sea is very good at absorbing CO2, so as we increase the concentration in the atmosphere, the sea absorbs more and more. Although the chemistry of this is complicated, the result is simple: the pH drops (i.e. the water becomes more acidic) and calcifying organisms such as corals and cuttlefish could start dissolving over time. Atmospheric CO2 is currently 30% higher than at any time in the last 650,000 years, but ocean acidification and its effects on organisms is still poorly understood. However, in recent years, ocean acidification has received increasing levels of attention as an intrinsic player in climate change, allowing more funding for research into how it will affect marine organisms in the future. By increasing awareness through educational films such as ‘Under the Sea’, the youngest members of our population can grow up aware of the problems facing our oceans today and in the future.

Flora Beverley is doing work experience at the Science Museum. She studies Biology at Bristol University and completed a course on marine biology in her second year.

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