NEWPORT - The popular OSU Hatfield Marine Science Visitor Center has a new exhibit whose short acronym underlines the effect the center thinks it will have on visitors: WOW.
The "World Of Wet" Pets exhibit is the first at the center to highlight ornamental fish, and is also the first major, permanent exhibit in several years.
It's likely to be a crowd-pleaser, with its own room where five large tanks are devoted to a kaleidoscope of ornamental fish species, including opalescent koi from an Oregon koi farmer, fancy goldfish from China, freshwater cichlids from Africa, and the multi-striped clownfish of "Finding Nemo" fame.
With the exhibit, the science center is addressing the interests of the very large number of Americans of all ages. The keeping of ornamental fish has become one of the top two or three hobbies in the United States, said Dr. Tim Miller-Morgan of Oregon State University.
The exhibit is the brainchild of Miller-Morgan, a doctor of veterinary medicine and the Oregon Sea Grant Extension veterinarian specializing in ornamental fish health and husbandry. Oregon Sea Grant manages the Visitor Center.
"The WOW Pets exhibit room is intentionally different from most of the rest of the Visitor Center," said Miller-Morgan. "It's a quiet place, where you can stop to think about what you've seen at the center, or simply enjoy the colorful ornamental fish."
The room also shows its relationship to the educational mission of the center with a display and free brochures that provide basic information about the hobby and the ornamental fish industry.
At a recent grand opening celebration, Robert Malouf, the director of Oregon Sea Grant, invited guests to look below the colorful surface of the exhibit and appreciate how the exhibit was a reflection of a new and broader interest in ornamental fish health and husbandry, not only at the center but at OSU.
Dr. Howard Gelberg, dean of the OSU College of Veterinary Medicine, voiced his support of the outreach and teaching being undertaken by Miller-Morgan.
"He's a real pioneer," said Gelberg of Miller-Morgan. "There was nobody to teach him some of the ornamental aquatic animal health information he's now offering our students."
Gelberg shared his own lifelong personal interest in ornamental fish, saying that it had helped spark his fascination with life sciences, and he predicted that veterinarians would play an increasing role in the ornamental fish industry in the future.
George Boehlert, director of the Hatfield Marine Science Center, noted that the World of Wet Pets exhibit is consistent with an emphasis of the center to attract the public to the facility and better acquaint them with the "research enterprise" there.
Miller-Morgan acknowledged several sponsors of the exhibit, including Bill and Judy Saunders, owners of Springbrook Koi Farm; Dr. Paul Jensen, a Lincoln city dentist; Northwest Koi and Goldfish Club of Portland; and Steve Weeks, owner of Pacific Coast Imports. He also acknowledged the support of the Oregon Coast Community College and students in the college's aquarium science program.