Monsters of the Deep: Where science and the supernatural co-exist

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Monsters of the Deep:  Where science and the supernatural co-exist

With a Vampire Squid (from hell), tales of a Kraken with tentacles 2 metres long and a scale-model of Boaty McBoatface; Chatham Historic Dockyard Trust is about to showcase an exhibition that has been described as the most technically sophisticated and lavish sea monster-themed showcase ever produced

Curated by the National Maritime Museum Cornwall with the National Oceanography Centre’s Discovery Collections, Monsters of the Deep breathes life into the supernatural and shows how the fantastical co-exists with science as we try to make sense of what lives down in the depths of the ocean.

Unveiled at The Historic Dockyard Chatham on Saturday 1 April, Monsters of the Deep encourages the publicto explore centuries-old myths and legends of mermaids, tales of deep-sea creatures, explore the fake news stories that proliferate today, and meet the real monsters of the deep housed in tall ‘bubbling’ enigmatic glass tubes containing specimens that will change the way visitors view sea ‘monsters’.


Originally opened at the National Maritime Museum Cornwall in Falmouth (2020) Monsters of the Deep shares creatures from the National Oceanography Centre’s Discovery Collections (first started in 1925) which aim to record life at the darkest depths of the ocean.

The X-Files of the oceanography world, not many people know about the Discovery Collections, and Monsters of the Deep is the first public exhibition of the Collections that’s ever taken place.

Dr. Tammy Horton from the National Oceanography Centre (NOC) is the scientist responsible for the Discovery Collections specimens and is the keeper of the real-life monsters of the deep.

Dr Tammy Horton explains: “The samples of real-life monsters in Monsters of the Deep come from a warehouse, or large shed, housed at the back of the National Oceanography Centre in Southampton – not many people know about it,  so it’s a huge privilege to be able to bring the samples to the public, help share the stories behind them and encourage the wider population to engage with ‘Planet Ocean’.”

There are many in the scientific community who believe that our planet should be ‘Planet Ocean’ rather than ‘Planet Earth’ as only 30% is covered by land and over 70% of the globe is covered in ocean – most of it unsampled and unexplored.

There are very few sample collections in the world dedicated to understanding the unexplored oceans. Dr Tammy Horton says: “The Discovery Collections are made up of specimens and samples collected since 1925 from the open ocean and deep sea that provide a picture of how the ocean is today and to understand how the oceans are changing, the impact we are having on the ocean (and planet at large) and this research allows us to provide answer to societal questions such as climate change.”

Nick Ball Collections, Galleries and Interpretation Manager at The Historic Dockyard Chatham adds: “At first glance, some of the specimens we have in our Monsters of the Deep exhibition could be thought of as terrifying – the Sloane’s Viper fish for example with its teeth so large they don’t fit inside its head, or the Giant Sea Spider with a leg span of 75cms! We have these specimens in the exhibition and while they sound terrifying, when visitors get the chance to get up close and personal with the specimens in the exhibition, they learn that there’s nothing scary about these monsters – in fact they are incredible, startling and wondrous.

Dr Darren Naish, scientist, zoologist, consultant for the BBC Natural History Unit  and co-curator of the exhibition says: “Human beings are not creatures of the sea, but we have always looked at the sea and wondered what is out there.  We have always known that there is ‘weird stuff’ in the sea but early on, we had a belief that whatever was on the land was also in the sea.”

Visitors will also get to explore the medieval myths about marine life such as mermaids, and see specimens borrowed from the British Museum, Royal Museums Greenwich, the Booth Museum in Brighton and Cambridge University Library.   Running alongside this, visitors will be able to explore HMS CHALLENGER’S story (via a replica of the ship’s laboratory) and chart the scientific study of the sea.

Nick Ball, says “We are indebted to co-curators of the exhibition Dr Darren Naish, Dr Tammy Horton, the team at NOC and National Maritime Museum Cornwall, for loaning us this unique exhibition which provides a human story of why we study the oceans, how we’ve studied them since time began and how our thoughts on what lives in the oceans has changed over time.  We are now at a time when we can really understand what lives in the depths of the ocean.”

Monster of the Deep will open on Saturday 1st April at The Historic Dockyard Chatham and run until the 19th November 2023.


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