The South Florida Science Museum is opening its newly renovated and expanded space in Dreher Park with an exhibit that takes ocean lovers back in time to the era of huge sharks, giant sea turtles and the Elasmosaurus — an odd-looking sea creature whose 42-foot frame fills much of space behind the museum’s new entrance.
“Welcome to my world,” Lew Crampton, president and CEO of the museum said while standing inside the open jaws of Carcharodon megalodon, an extinct shark whose teeth are often found by fossil hunters along the beaches of Florida’s west coast. “These babies got to be about 50 to 55 feet long. They were as long as a school bus.”
Sea turtle lovers will want to see the massive Archelon ischyros, the largest of the world’s sea turtles that lived in the late Cretaceous period (about 74 million years ago). Archelon ischyros was 17 feet wide and weighed about 4,500 pounds. The giant sea turtle’s fossilized remains were found in the Pierre Shale of South Dakota in the 1970s.
The remains of several of the extinct sea creatures in the Savage Ancient Seas exhibit were found in places that are now far from the ocean because shallow inland seas were common during the warm Cretaceous period.
The massive skeleton of Elasmosaurus platyurus was discovered in 1867 in western Kansas.
“Unrivalled for their amazing varieties, voracious appetites and incredible teeth, the creatures of the Savage Ancient Seas are unlike anything known in today’s world,” Crampton said.
Xiphactinus audax looked something like a tarpon with fangs. It measured 12 to 17 feet in length and was the largest of the period’s fish. But the audax was small compared with its 30- and 40-foot predators.
The shell of the extinct marine inverterbrae Ammonite looks like a chambered nautilus. The exhibit shows the Ammonite in drawings with an octopus-like head jutting out of its shell.
The extinct sea creatures in Savage Ancient Seas fit well with the contemporary fish, spiny lobsters, urchins and other sea critters living in museum’s expanded saltwater aquariums.
Through its $5 million expansion, the museum tripled the size of its aquariums to create the John Niblack Aquariums of the Atlantic. The new aquariums include a tube-shaped tank that allows visitors to crawl inside and view fish from a diver’s perspective.
Freshwater aquariums and related exhibits show the fish and wildlife of the Everglades. One allows visitors to press buttons to hear the sounds of various Everglades animals, including limpkins, alligators, panthers, roseate spoonbills and Eastern diamondback rattlesnakes.
“You get a real cacophony when you push them all and hear what the Everglades sounds like at night,” Crampton said.
The expanded museum includes a hurricane chamber where visitors can dial up the wind speed to Category 5 levels (157 mph or greater).
The expanded museum with a new name — South Florida Science Center and Aquarium — is scheduled to hold its grand opening on Friday.
The museum is behind the Palm Beach Zoo at 4801 Dreher Park North in West Palm Beach. It’s open from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m. Monday through Friday; from 10 a.m. until 6 p.m. on Saturdays; and from noon until 6 p.m. on Sundays.
Admission is $11.95 for adults; $10.50 for ages 62 and older; and $8.95 for children ages 3 to 12. Children younger than 3 and museum members are admitted free. For more information, call 561-832-1988 or go to www.sfsm.org.