When it comes to flexing their muscle, not to mention
baring their teeth, sharks get all the headline-grabbing
attention. But they’re not the only fish in the sea—or
river, for that matter—that swim around with a chip
on their fins. It just so happens that the Amazon is chock-full
of nasty, some might even say vicious, fishes.
But fear not. Thanks to Amazon Voyage: Vicious Fishes
and Other Riches, visitors to Carnegie Museum of Natural
History will experience close encounters of the non-threatening
kind with many of the creatures that lurk below the Amazon
Five years in the making, Amazon Voyage is the creation
of the Miami Museum of Science & Planetarium, and that’s
where the exhibition made its debut this past February.
After a stint at Washington, D.C.’s Smithsonian,
Amazon Voyage will dock in Pittsburgh from September 2
through January 7, 2007.
Along with activities, original multimedia presentations,
computer interactives, story telling, live fish in specially-designed
tanks, artifacts, costumes, dance, music, and live demonstrations,
the exhibit features a colorful mural by artist Ray Troll.
According to Christine Mills, the museum’s program
assistant, the painting highlights 125 of the furred, feathered,
and finned species that call the Amazon home.
Troll discovered the Amazon’s diversity of riches
during a 1997 voyage on Captain Moacir (aka Captain Mo)
Fortes’ riverboat. As part of a crew of geologists,
ichthyologists (folks who make a living studying fish),
botanists, photographers, filmmakers, writers, and other
artists, Troll became so immersed with the world he saw
beneath him that he returned for an encore excursion three
Now, thanks to the wonders of video, the same Captain
Mo welcomes exhibit goers aboard the Victoria Amazonica.
While guiding his passengers from Manaus, Brazil, up the
Rio Negro to Barcelos, he offers these words of warning: “There
are thousands of river creatures we enjoy, but seven that
The perils Captain Mo speaks of are none other than piranhas,
stingrays, piraiba (giant catfish), electric eels,
anacondas, caimans (cousins of the alligator) and candiru
River riders are invited to dive inside the belly of a
piraiba and see what he’s had for dinner—how
does chicken feet, palm fruit, a monkey skull, a tennis
shoe, and piranha jaw bones sound? They’re invited
also to sing along with a music video that tells the tale
of the candiru, a catfish that’s been known to mistake
urine flow for water flow and, as a result, enter human
urethras, causing great distress to both man and fish.
They can even feel the zap of 600 volts of electricity,
comparable to the current produced by a relatively small
eel. Finally, they’ll learn for themselves that working
in the Amazon is a pretty hands-on experience. Just like
Brazilian scientist Paulo Petry did when he recently uncovered
a new type of fish, aptly called the muck fish, they can
sift through the muck and debris and make their own discoveries.
The exhibit also will answer that oft-asked question:
How much is that Tetra in the window? This brightly colored
tropical fish takes a surprisingly long and circuitous
road to land in living-room aquariums across the United
And speaking of colored fish, pink dolphins are a big
part of local lore. They’re said to live in the Encante,
the enchanted underwater world of the Amazon, every now
and then assuming human form and taking a walk on dry land.
Another long-standing Amazon tradition is the Barcelos
Fish Festival. Video-taped dancers don aquatic-inspired
costumes, and museum guests are invited to join in the
But like the Amazon itself, this journey offers its share
of twists and turns, eventually leading museum visitors
to the real perils confronting the region: namely, river
damming, pollution, cattle ranching, over fishing, bio-piracy,
poaching, and logging. To date, anecdotal accounts suggest
these practices will result in the disappearance of certain
animals, fish, and plants from the landscape; the permanent
flooding of some areas; and the drying up of small streams
in other locations.
Although the long-term effects of these hazards have yet
to be truly measured, NASA and the Brazilian government
have taken one giant leap toward documenting their impact.
In 2000, the Large Scale Biosphere-Atmosphere Experiment
in the Amazonia Research Station was established in northern
Brazil. More than 150 scientists, overseeing 30 ecological
projects, are expected to participate.
“We believe it’s very important to discuss
the conservation of resources and to offer an educational
component to our exhibits,” says Carnegie Museum
of Natural History’s Mills. “Amazon Voyage
works with our mission.”
And it’s a real trip.