Seeing through Water: Imaging and Teaching about Marine Organisms
Maura C. Flannery, Division of Computer Science, Mathematics and Science, College of Professional Studies
Representing marine organisms, particularly invertebrates, has been a perennial problem for biologists. These organisms often die rapidly when removed from their environment, and usually quickly lose their color in death. Also, some of them, such as jellyfish, have no definite shape when out of water. In this presentation, I illustrate how such problems relate to efforts to create images of these creatures. Obviously their poor preservation means that images have greater significance, but underwater photography is difficult and costly and was not available before the 20th century. I present some of the art work that documented marine organisms in the past—not only zoological illustration but also glass and wax models, and I look at how the invention of the aquarium changed the way sea creatures were portrayed. Two giants of 19th-century biology, Thomas Huxley and Ernst Haeckel, were involved in both the scientific and the artistic side of documenting marine organisms. The value of their work, and its limitations, is presented as is the work of such present-day artists as Alexis Rockman. I also illustrate why such representations are important in teaching about limitations to scientific imaging.