Take a trip under the sea at new, interactive Flandrau exhibit

A Flandrau staff member waits to greet visitors at the aquatic touch tank

University of Arizona geophysics undergraduate student and Flandrau staff member Ash Abbate waits to greet visitors at the aquatic touch tank located in the new Undersea Discovery exhibit. Within the tank are brittle stars (a close relative of the starfish), sea urchins and sea cucumbers.

Nick Letson, Flandrau Science Center and Planetarium

Lurking just out of sight on the University of Arizona campus is a giant squid, waiting to be discovered by visitors of all ages.

Made of foam and epoxy, the life-size model of one of the ocean's most mysterious creatures can be found as part of Flandrau Science Center & Planetarium's newest exhibit, "Undersea Discovery." Open just in time for summer, "Undersea Discovery" takes visitors on a journey from the ocean shore to its rarely seen depths, providing a look at the colorful animals and plants that make up the vast waters of the world.

"'Undersea Discovery' is the perfect opportunity to engage and learn a little bit about the ocean," said Bill Plant, Flandrau exhibits director. "We hope that people will walk away with an appreciation for just how beautiful the world's oceans are, and how important they are to the health of the planet."

A section of Flandrau Science Center and Planetarium's newest exhibit, Undersea Discovery

The touch and coral reef tanks at the front of Undersea Discovery.

Nick Letson, Flandrau Science Center and Planetarium

The journey of discovery begins in the shallows with an interactive touch tank staffed by UArizona undergraduate students. In the tank are sea urchins, sea cucumbers and brittle stars – close relatives of starfish. Employees trained in animal care provide information while visitors interact with the live specimens.

Moving into deeper waters is the coral reef tank, filled with clownfish, blue hippo tangs, peppermint shrimp and sea anemone. As some of the most diverse ecosystems in the world, coral reefs are home to thousands of species of fish and a wide variety of coral polyps, the animals primarily responsible for building reefs.

While coral reefs dominate the shoreline, kelp forests can be found in abundance in cool, shallower waters. With their thick blades and sprawling footprint, kelp forests offer protection for some species and hunting grounds for others. Flandrau's kelp forest tank is home to a herd of seahorses and three types of fish: grouper, wrasses and basslets.

A pair of seahorses lock tails in the kelp forest tank in the Flandrau Science Center and Planetarium Undersea Discovery Exhibit

A pair of affectionate seahorses live within the kelp forest tank in Undersea Discovery.

Kellee Campbell, Flandrau Science Center and Planetarium

The exhibit also features an open-ocean tank with schooling fish, eels and predacious species like the lionfish. Past the open-ocean tank lies a 25-foot-long model of an adolescent giant squid, handmade by Plant. With a beak that can cut through steel cables and eyes as large as basketballs, the giant squid is one of the largest invertebrates on the planet – and one of the least seen.

In addition to its touch and display tanks, "Undersea Discovery" includes several interactive offerings. An ocean rescue game teaches visitors how trash dumps and oil spills affect ocean life and lets players navigate through polluted waters as a shorebird, turtle or dolphin. An ocean sounds game challenges players to pair different calls and noises with whales, seals, orcas and other animals. A microscope projection station houses samples of tiny sea dwellers, while the "Midnight Zone" features illustrations of deep-sea species like vampire squids and angler fish, drawn by UArizona alumnus Robert J. Long, an assistant teaching professor in Northern Arizona University School of Communication.

"Undersea Discovery" doesn't stop with the ocean's depths. Flandrau is also showing "Expedition Reef" in the Eos Planetarium Theatre. Released in 2018, the documentary is an immersive undersea experience that describes how coral grow and support marine life, and the dangers reefs face from climate change, habitat destruction and overfishing.

"Undersea Discovery" will be instrumental in the future of Flandrau's existing Marine Discovery program, said Flandrau executive director Kellee Campbell. Sponsored by the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, the program is designed for students in third through eighth grade and provides hands-on, activity-based workshops that teach about the diversity of life in marine environments. The program is offered in the fall.

"Undersea Discovery'' is the newest addition to the Flandrau Science Center & Planetarium. Other exhibits at the science center feature the misunderstood story of sharks, the wild world of bugs, a journey through the solar system, a visit to Mars and more.

A section of the handmade, lifesize model of a giant squid in Undersea Discovery, the newest exhibit in Flandrau Science Center and Planetarium

A 25-foot long, full-scale model of a male giant squid can be found near the Midnight Zone of Undersea Discovery.

Nick Letson, Flandrau Science Center and Planetarium

"Our goal is to inspire curiosity in visitors of all ages," Campbell said. "That was the original mission of Flandrau: to introduce the sciences in a way that is interesting, exciting and ultimately inspiring. Flandrau is a place within the university where young kids can come and experience the wonders of science. Hopefully, that inspires them to pursue a career in science."

Flandrau Science Center & Planetarium is open Tuesday through Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tickets can be purchased in advance online or at the Flandrau ticket counter and include access to all science center exhibits, plus a planetarium show. Tickets are $24 for adults ages 16 to 64 and $16 for college students with ID or children ages 3 to 15. Children up to 2 years old do not require a ticket, and there is a $4 senior and military discount. Exhibit-only and show-only tickets are also available.

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