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California Academy of Sciences undertakes “Great Migration” in Anticipation of Sept 27 Re-opening


On January 7, The California Academy of Sciences officially embarked on the most massive move ever undertaken by a museum, transporting millions of priceless treasures across the city of San Francisco into their new home in Golden Gate Park. The monumental move encompasses more than 20 million scientific specimens collected over the past 150 years from around the world, along with live penguins, parrots, pythons, piranhas, and thousands of other live aquarium animals. These specimens and animals, which had temporarily resided at the Academy’s interim facility in downtown San Francisco, form the backbone of the new Academy’s research, education, and exhibition programs when the new museum opens in Golden Gate Park on September 27, 2008.

A parade of unprecedented proportions, the Academy’s “Great Migration” will take approximately eight months from start to finish. Participants range from two million fish specimens stored in jars of alcohol (including some species that are now extinct) to Methuselah, the Australian lungfish—the oldest living fish in captivity. The packing and moving tactics that employed are unique and highly customized: A colony of African penguins loaded into dog kennels lined with recycled newspaper pellets, a 58 year-old alligator gar lifted by stretcher into a transport tank, live snakes slipped into soft canvas bags, and 1, 500 colonies of living coral individually packed in plastic bags full of carefully regulated water. The moving techniques also include stabilizing with bubble wrap the thousands of Galapagos finch study skins (the group studied by Darwin) and more than 10, 000 sets of bird nests and eggs, and tying into secure bundles the Academy’s millions of pressed and dried plant specimens. A 1, 350-pound quartz cluster will be hoisted into a moving van. To stabilize some of the most delicate participants in the migration – the more than 700, 000 pinned butterflies and moths – requires additional pins and extra-careful handling to prevent their wings from being jostled. Rather than cardboard boxes, reusable plastic bins that can be securely stacked on top of one another are being used to complete the move as efficiently and “greenly” as possible.

The Academy’s specimen collections are an invaluable research tool for scientists around the world, collectively serving as an expansive reference library of Earth’s life forms. The collections contain a number of specimens, such as the Elephant bird and the Falkland Island fox, which are now extinct. These specimens preserve some of the only genetic and anatomical information that remains about many extinct species. Perhaps more importantly, the collections allow scientists to create biodiversity maps, highlighting those ecosystems and environments that are most critically in need of protection if we wish to avoid future extinctions. Data embedded in the Academy’s specimen collections also allow scientists to track species ranges and environmental pollutants over time, as well as evolutionary pathways and climate change patterns. Once these specimens are nested into their new high-density, compactable storage cabinets, they will take up about 360, 000 cubic feet—the equivalent of a 10-foot-wide by nine-foot tall strip of cabinets that runs the length of over 13 football fields.

The live animals that will participate in the move will fill the new Academy’s aquarium displays, natural history exhibits, and living rainforest dome, bringing new life to timely topics such as evolution and sustainability. Representing over 900 separate species, these animals will comprise one of the most diverse assemblages of live animals at any museum or aquarium around the world.

About the new California Academy of Sciences Building

One of the world’s most innovative museum building programs, the record-setting new California Academy of Sciences building will blend seamlessly into San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park. Expected to earn a LEED Platinum certification, the new Academy will be topped with a 2.5-acre living roof and will employ a wide range of energy-saving materials and technologies. Designed by Pritzker Prize winner Renzo Piano, the new building will stand as an embodiment of the Academy’s mission to explore, explain and protect the natural world. With interpretive signage about its green features and a roof-top observation deck, the building will also serve as an exhibit in and of itself. Construction on the exterior of the new facility, which began in September of 2005, was completed at the end of October 2007. The Academy received the keys to the building on November 1, and has now begun the process of building out the exhibits and moving its collection of live animals and research specimens into their new home.


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Image at top: For the California Academy of Sciences temporary location in downtown San Francisco, Cinnabar California ( created the popular Skulls exhibit, showcasing part of the museum’s extensive specimen collection. Cinnabar is also designer of several exhibit galleries for the natural history portion of the new Academy, which opens Sept 27 in Golden Gate Park.

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