University of Oslo Zoological Museum

Photo of a museum diorama with fish
An underwater diorama at the University of Oslo’s Zoological Museum, Oslo, Norway. January 6, 2014.

I spent most of my winter break visiting friends in Sweden and Norway, although due to weather and other factors, I didn’t get to do either as much nature experiencing or photography as I hoped. After visiting a friend in Bergen, I spent a day and a half in Oslo before heading home. Since the weather was gray and drizzly and I was recovering from a cold, I opted for the indoor experience of the University of Oslo’s Natural History Museum (Naturhistorisk Museum) and the greenhouses in the botanical garden. I didn’t feel like dealing with the DSLR, so these are all cell phone photos, as with my review of the Hungarian Natural History Museum last year.

The museum itself is divided into the Zoological Museum (Robert Colletts hus) and Geological Museum (W.C. Brøggers hus), and like many museums, both are a mixture of modern exhibits and more old-fashioned fare like dioramas and cases full of minerals.

The entrance of the Zoological Museum currently has a display of gorgeous white-background studio photographs of insects of Norway by Karsten Sund, some of which you can see in this article (in Norwegian). Unfortunately, while there were English summaries for the photograph captions, the introduction was not translated, so the overall theme of the exhibit was a little mysterious to me. This became a theme throughout—while I very much appreciate that there were English summaries for some exhibits and labels, the decision to translate or not translate seemed haphazard.

The best-translated exhibit was a temporary exhibit on sexual selection and differences in nature. While it contained many interesting objects, it was quite text-heavy, and I’m sorry to say, but after earning a degree in museum studies my patience for reading exhibit labels has gone way down, so I didn’t spend much time there.

I continued on to what their website tells me was the Norwegian Hall, a series of taxidermy dioramas proceeding through various Norwegian habitats from sea level to the mountains. This was definitely my favorite part of the museum—I really love the art of dioramas, and particularly naturalistic dioramas that try to present a scene that could actually occur. These reminded me a great deal of the outstanding dioramas at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science, although the backdrop painting was not quite as realistic and as far as I can tell they did not necessarily represent exact physical locations. However, they had some of the best taxidermy I’ve seen in museums and were really beautifully done—definitely a teaser for all the Norwegian nature I’d love to see in better weather!

Photograph of a bird cliff diorama

Photograph of puffins in a bird cliff diorama

Photograph of a fox in a rural diorama

Eurasian Eagle-owls (Bubo bubo):

Photograph of Eurasian Eagle-owls in a diorama

I particularly liked the split-level underwater/shoreline dioramas, something I haven’t often seen before.

Photograph of a seashore diorama

Many of the dioramas also included insect life, which of course made me very happy, as well as amphibians. The amphibians were probably the weakest part of the dioramas, as they appeared to be taxidermy and amphibians simply don’t taxidermy very well—in this case I think realistic models would have been more engaging.

The second floor opens with one of those glorious and unphotographable cases full of 19th century natural history memorabilia. There wasn’t much interpretation (and it was all in Norwegian), but I always enjoy just looking at these, and I think it’s nice to have a nod to the history of science.

Image of a museum case full of old natural history memorabilia

The second floor held the geographic and systematic halls, although I think I managed to miss the systematic hall somehow. The geographic hall’s dioramas seemed to be older, the taxidermy less convincing, and were done in the style of “pick a region and cram all the animals you could possibly see there into one case,” an approach I personally like a lot less. For example, here’s the Galápagos Islands case (although to be fair, the animal density is less unrealistic than for most regions…):

Museum diorama showing Galapagos flora and fauna

Labeling in the diorama exhibits was haphazard: some dioramas were not labeled at all, others were labeled in Norwegian and English, and others only in Norwegian. Sometimes Latin names were included, but more often they were not. There was little interpretation besides the names of animals, so this wasn’t a huge problem—I think the appeal of this kind of exhibit is more in the immersive feel of it than the text—but I would have appreciated consistent use of scientific names.

And since this post is a bit long, I shall save the Geological Museum and the greenhouses for another post or two.

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The Vancouver Water Resources Education Center

Coho Salmon alevin
A recently hatched Coho Salmon (Oncorhynchus kisutch) alevin, still carrying the egg yolk, at the Vancouver Water Resources Education Center, Vancouver, Washington, USA. February 22, 2014.

A couple weeks ago I went to an amphibian egg monitoring training at the Water Resources Education Center in Vancouver, Washington. While I won’t be participating in the program, which is centered in Clark County, Washington, I thought it would be nice to learn some more about the amphibians of the Pacific Northwest.

We started the day with a couple slideshows and a look at some captive salamanders, before heading out to a local wetlands to look for egg masses in the wild. The Water Resources Education Center was one of my favorite places as a kid, but I hadn’t been back in years.

Vancouver Water Resources Education Center

It’s an outdoor and informal education organization run by the City of Vancouver, right on the edge of the Columbia River and associated wetlands. The mission, as you might expect, is focused on water resources, particular the abundant wetland and river habitats of the Pacific Northwest. It’s a great place to learn about issues facing water resources in the region, as well as to see some of the native fish and amphibians you might not find in the wild.

Near the entrance is an area with a number of tanks and terraria, including salmon eggs and recently hatched alevins like the one above, as well as a bunch of native amphibians like this Pacific Tree Frog or Chorus Frog (Pseudacris regilla). We didn’t see any of these in the field, but we certainly heard them!

Pacific Tree Frog (Pseudacris regilla)

I find Western Toads (Anaxyrus boreas) and toads in general strangely charming:

Western Toad (Anaxyrus boreas)

Hanging above is a striking yet disturbing Salmon Lifecycle sculpture by local artists Maggie Rudy and Patty Maly, depicting the life cycle of the salmon in trash—such as that which ends up the oceans, negatively affecting salmon and other animals.

Salmon Lifecycle sculpture by Maggie Rudy and Patty Maly

Salmon Lifecycle sculpture by Maggie Rudy and Patty Maly

Moving towards the other exhibits, you pass a large fishtank, which usually has White Sturgeon (Acipenser transmontanus) and other fish. Later on, some of the salmon may move to that tank temporarily before release, although they can be aggressive. White sturgeons are the largest freshwater fish in North America, at their largest reaching up to 1,799 pounds (816 kilograms) and 20 feet (6.1 meters) and living over 100 years. In addition to overfishing, dams along the Columbia and Snake Rivers threaten sturgeon populations by reducing spawning habitat and blocking passage to and from the ocean.

White Sturgeon (Acipenser transmontanus)

I didn’t have time to poke around the main exhibit area, but I think it’s more focused on kid-friendly interactive activities and watershed education.

Vancouver Water Resources Education Center