PAnews.com, Port Arthur, Texas

February 7, 2014

Sharks, creatures of the deep come alive at Museum of the Gulf Coast

"Sharkabet" exhibit opens Feb. 8

Erinn Callahan
The Port Arthur News

PORT ARTHUR — The double doors leading to the Dunn Gallery at the Museum of the Gulf Coast in Port Arthur have temporarily become terrifying.

A life-sized megladon jaw fashioned from Styrofoam circles the entrance, jagged teeth protruding like saws — giving an impression of standing inside the monstrous mouth of a beast that ruled the waters during the Cenozoic Era.

According to curator Sarah Bellian, this is the scaled-down version.

“They could get up to 11 feet, which would be too big for this room,” Bellian said. “So we compromised.”

The megladon jaw welcomes visitors to the museum’s latest exhibit, “Sharkabet,” an exhibit of illustrations by Alaska artist Ray Troll. Some paintings are whimsical, some more lifelike — but all are colorful and scientifically accurate iterations of both living and extinct sharks.

“Who doesn’t love sharks?” Bellian said.

Indeed, many people find themselves inexplicably drawn to sharks and other creatures of the deep.

“They’re not cute or friendly, or even very intelligent for the most part,” Bellian said. “Maybe it’s the mystery — that we don’t understand them all that well.”

The museum has supplemented the exhibit with a display of sea creatures from its marine biology collection, including clams and horseshoe crabs.

“We wanted to supplement it with three-dimensional things that people could see,” Bellian said.

That collection includes an umbrella handle made of abalone, a sea snail whose iridescent shell of mother-of-pearl has long won admiration from the earth’s land-dwelling inhabitants.

Its popularity surged in the late 19th century when it was made into items such as opera glasses, Bellian said.

“It’s really interesting when you see that for thousands of years, people have found beauty in things like shells,” she said.

Biology and history converge in “Sharkabet,” combining the impressive ferocity of sharks with the intrigue and mystery of creatures that have made their home on the ocean floor since long before humans began recording their experiences.

“We’re looking at more of a primordial world, and it’s interesting that they’ve been unchanged,” Bellian said. “Different clams and mollusks have been found that are 400 or 500 years old — around when the Ming Dynasty was ruling China.”

Half-price tickets are available for the public opening of “Sharkabet” on Feb. 8. The exhibit runs through March 16 at the Museum of the Gulf Coast, 700 Procter Street. Admission is $4 for adults and $2 for children.

The museum will also host its Family Fun Day, “A Sea of Sharks from A to Z,” from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 15. Admission is free.

Email: ecallahan@panews.com

Twitter: @ErinnPA