It’ll take years to fully know the effects of the BP oil spill on wildlife in the Gulf of Mexico. One thing we do know now is what that wildlife was like before the 206 million gallons of oil spewed into the water. For that knowledge, we have the Smithsonian Institution to thank.
The Smithsonian Institution’s Museum Support Center is an anonymous beige warehouse complex just outside Washington, D.C. It doesn’t look like anything special until you get inside.
These buildings house all the things that don’t fit into the museums on the National Mall, in endless rows of jars and bottles and boxes. Among them is the world’s largest collection of invertebrates from the Gulf of Mexico, all floating in 150-proof alcohol. It’s a pretty comprehensive snapshot of life before the spill.