Thursday, January 31, 2008


Detroit Science Center hopes to find gold as it lands a touring pirate exhibit

By Ursula Watson
January 31, 2008

Nautical-lore lovers or those infatuated by the "Pirates of the Caribbean" trilogy, say "ahoy" to the new traveling exhibit "Shipwreck! Pirates & Treasure," set to dock at the Detroit Science Center March 24 through Sept. 1.

The Science Center plans to announce today that Detroit is the first port of call for "Shipwreck!" which is currently at the Museum of Science & Industry in Tampa, Fla., through Feb. 10. The all-ages exhibit offers interactive games, photographs, pirate lore and facts, a tunnel that creates hurricane-force winds, and a robotic arm that retrieves buried treasure. In addition, there will be full-size, replicated portions of shipwrecks, such as the Civil War-era SS Republic that sank during a hurricane off the coast of Georgia in 1865, as well as a number of actual artifacts from the ship.

Todd Slisher, vice president of science programs at the Science Center, went to Tampa to see the exhibit first-hand and then lobbied to bring it to Detroit. "Shipwreck!" comes on the heels of the successful exhibit "Our Body: The Universe Within," which featured human corpses preserved through a process called plastination, where bodily fluids are extracted and then replaced with plastic. The year-long exhibit, which ended Jan. 6, attracted 275,000 visitors, generating about $6.1 million in gross ticket sales.

Slisher says the Science Center was on the hunt for a successful follow-up.

"We definitely wanted something big. We were looking for the next blockbuster and the 'Shipwreck!' exhibit is a great find, like buried treasure. Just the atmosphere of the exhibit is incredible," he says. "It's evocative of the high seas and pirates. It is very well constructed and incorporates not only science, but the engineering technology of underwater archaeology."

The Science Center hopes "Shipwreck!" attracts at least 100,000 visitors, Slisher says. Tickets range from $13.95 to $15.95 and go on sale online Friday.

Mark Gordon, president of Odyssey Marine Exploration, which specializes in deep-ocean shipwreck exploration and commercial marine archaeology, created the exhibit. Gordon credits the Detroit Science Center for its tenacity. "They traveled to Tampa and beat everyone to the punch," he says. Based on the exhibit's success in Tampa, Gordon says it should go over well in Detroit.

"It is one of the best traveling exhibits. The Museum of Science & Industry has seen major attendance and is generating dollars," says Odyssey's Gordon. "Everyone is interested in shipwrecks and pirates, and this exhibit brings it together."

Wit Ostrenko, Museum of Science and Industry president adds, that while "Shipwreck" is just as good as "Our Body: The Universe Within," it is so for very different reasons. "'The Body' exhibit was not as interactive as "Shipwreck." People learned more with this exhibit and spent double the time enjoying it. You can bring the entire family because there is so much to do."

If possible, Gordon says, Odyssey hopes to add more artifacts to the "Shipwreck!" exhibit from the Black Swan shipwreck. The ship, according to the Associated Press, is believed to be the Spanish galleon Nuestra Señora de las Mercedes that a British warship sank off the coast of Portugal in 1804.

But the inclusion of those finds, Gordon stresses, is contingent on litigation surrounding ownership. In general, he says the Black Swan is in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Europe. Spain has intervened with a claim on the ship.

"Our plan is -- if we can, as we can -- we will incorporate some pieces from the Black Swan into the exhibit. When the legal thing is resolved, Detroit may be the first place where the artifacts are displayed," says Gordon.


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