Get on board Captain Mo’s Victoria Amazonica for a journey up the Amazon River. Keep an eye out for stingrays hiding underneath the sandy banks in shallow waters. Cruise through deep channels and marvel at the thousands of fish species, like catfish and piranhas, that call the Amazon home.
But don’t worry about becoming a piranha’s dinner.
This river adventure is part of the Patricia and Phillip Frost Museum of Science’s popular traveling exhibit, Amazon Voyage: Vicious Fishes and Other Riches. Amazon Voyage features hands-on activities, fish tanks, multimedia presentations and computer interactives for adults and children to explore the rich biodiversity of the Amazon and to experience the work of researchers in the region.
The bilingual exhibit takes visitors through seven ports of call along the most biologically diverse river in the world to learn about creatures big and small. Kids can dig their hands into the belly of a large model catfish and find some of the crazy things the fish eat — a monkey skull, chicken feet, even a shoe. Young visitors can also use yellow gloves to sift through mud in search of muck fish.
Bjorn Bouwmeester, an agriculture inspector and Miami resident, has taken his 4-year-old daughter Maria Beatriz to see the Amazon exhibit several times. She spent a good amount of time with her tiny hands in those elbow-high gloves picking through the mud.
“She loves digging through the fish’s stomach, too,” Bouwmeester said.
Kids learn about different species of creatures by playing matching games and identifying fish by their distinct characteristics. And, with enough help from family or friends, they can try their hand at picking up a 60-pound rubber anaconda. The real thing can weigh in excess of 500 pounds.
“It’s so fun to walk through the gallery on my way to a meeting and to see 14 elementary school kids working together to pick up the anaconda,” said Sean Duran, vice president of exhibition and design at the museum.
The exhibit is Duran’s brainchild. It was inspired by his multiple trips to the Amazon and his encounter with Captain Mo — yes, he’s a real riverboat captain — and the scientists and artists who live and breathe the Amazon River.
“We had a dream team of scientists and artists on that boat,” Duran said. “This is the most successful exhibit we’ve ever produced.”
Duran earned a $2.3 million National Science Foundation grant to fund the project, and it was five years in the making before it opened in 2005. Since then, it has traveled all over the United States, from Philadelphia to Portland, and to Ontario and London.
The exhibit has serious production value. Duran consulted with everyone from artists to paleobotanists and biologists studying the Amazonian wildlife to work on the project’s development and make sure every aspect was accurate. James Herring, exhibit designer and tour manager, was in charge of the production of photos and videos. The videos displayed in the exhibit were produced by a film crew that followed along as the scientists conducted their field research.
“There were so many levels of intricacy,” Duran said.
There is more to the exhibit than games for kids. The exhibit tells the story of the seven perils of the Amazon River, the creatures that are thought to be the most dangerous — the piraíba, a giant catfish; the candirú, a small parasitic catfish; the electric eel; stingray; anaconda; caiman; and piranha. As visitors near the end of the exhibit, they learn of the real perils of the Amazon, among them commercial fishing, poaching, mining and bio-piracy.
“I can tell you all day long that piranhas aren’t particularly dangerous, but you won’t get it in your head,” Duran said. “People think if they stick their toe in the water they won’t get it back. The real perils are the human factors endangering the Amazon.”
Visitors end their tour of the Amazon in the Encante Stage Area. Since 1994, the people of Barcelos, a municipality in the state of Amazonas in northern Brazil, have held the Barcelos Festival of Ornamental Fish, which celebrates the ornamental fish trade. The ornamental, or aquarium, fish trade contributes significantly to the municipality’s economy.
On the Encante stage, kids can dig through a box of costumes and dress up as stingrays or catfish and dance to Brazilian music on the stage’s lighted dance floor.
After touring for nine years, Amazon Voyage: Vicious Fishes and Other Riches is back in Miami to be the final exhibition before the museum moves to its new building in downtown Miami.
If you go
What: Amazon Voyage: Vicious Fishes and Other Riches
Where: Patricia and Phillip Frost Museum of Science, 3280 S. Miami Ave., Miami, FL 33133
Cost: Children’s tickets: $10.95. Adult tickets: $14.95.
More information: Visit http://www.miamisci.org/.