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Dubuque's Version of Moby Dick

Giant Catfish Will Provide Museum Visitors With a Walk-Through Experience

Erik Hogstrom

May 27, 2006

[Note: This material is copyright by the Dubuque Telegraph Herald, and is reproduced here as a matter of "fair use" for non-commercial, educational purposes only. Any other use may require the prior approval of the Dubuque Telegraph Herald.]

Edging and tipping their way into the room, crews nudged a giant catfish head into the Norman Gallery like a big couch through a tiny door frame on moving day.

Huffing and puffing workers spent Friday installing the giant catfish model at the National Mississippi River Museum & Aquarium.

"This is coming along faster than I thought it would," said Mark Hantelmann, the museum's projects manager.

The catfish model provides a centerpiece for the "Catfish Planet" exhibit, opening today.

Museum staff designed the massive catfish - 28 feet long including the base, and 10 feet, 7 inches to the tip of the tail - with Scenic View, a Morton Grove, Ill., firm specializing in themed exhibits.

"We began the conceptual design in January," said Scenic View's Rick Cortez.

Scenic View has crafted exhibits for the Museum of Science and Industry and the Brookfield Zoo in the Chicago area, and for the National Basketball Association's Phoenix Suns, among others. The catfish project evolved during its six-month duration.

"It morphed into this walk-through experience," Cortez said.

Visitors step into the catfish, where they can learn about the digestive, circulatory and other anatomical systems of the fish.

Visitors can "steer" the whiskers of the fish and peer out the fish eyes.

"I think it will be a hit," Hantelmann said.

Scenic View constructed the model with isofoam - a roofing material - and wood.

Hantelmann helped unpack several smaller parts of the model, including a fin and a red heart that pulses.

Nearby, Jim Sanborn, of the museum's husbandry staff, checked water quality in tanks prepared to house a variety of living catfish.

"We have got over 100 difference species, from half an inch to over a foot long and all sorts of different colors and shapes," Sanborn said.

Husbandry staff maneuvered wheeled tubs of fish past crews installing the model.

"We will have them all in today," Sanborn said.