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Chennai gets a new dinosaur attraction at India Seashell Museum

About 110 million years ago, the Irritator moved through the coastal lagoons of Brazil. We do not know exactly how it annoyed palaeontologists to earn that name, but what we do know is that it has earned itself a place in a coastal town again — that of Mamallapuram.

The Irritator, with the short-handed T Rex, the toothy Velociraptor and other giant reptiles are the denizens of Dinosaur Museum, the latest addition to India Seashell Museum on ECR. The park, opened last month, features 14 mechanical models fitted with sensors that prompt them to swish their tails, raise their necks, and roar every time a visitor moves past them.

“Families want entertainment. We added the Dinosaur Museum for children so that they don’t get bored as their parents stroll through the seashell museum,” says Mohamed Riswan, proprietor of the India Seashell Museum.

The Dinosaur Museum isn’t the only addition — over the years, the seashell museum has expanded to accommodate a pearl museum, set up in 2018, and a mineral museum, which was set up last year but owing to the pandemic, could only open this year, after the lockdowns were relaxed.

The collection belongs to Riswan’s father, Raja Mohamed, a fish merchant from Rameswaram who set up the museum in 2012. “For 38 years, my father has been collecting seashells, pearls and minerals,” says Riswan. But the idea of a mineral museum struck Raja only after a visit to Singapore. “When my father saw the Merlion, he wanted to recreate it with seashells,” says Riswan.

And so, a giant Merlion, made of 25,000 seashells stands outside the mineral museum, flanked by a shell chandelier, shell tree and shell bouquet. The space is decorated in blues and greens to simulate the underwater world. A tunnel-like room leads us to the mineral collection — behind glass panels are onyx, amethyst, quartz, moonstones, topaz, jasper and jade, all polished and shaped into orbs.

The seashell Merlion display at the entrance of the Mineral museum

The seashell Merlion display at the entrance of the Mineral museum   | Photo Credit: Sweta Akundi

The space is decorated in an underwater theme

The space is decorated in an underwater theme   | Photo Credit: Meghna Majumdar

From here, our guide, Syed Salim, takes us to the pearl museum, rattling off at full speed the names of oysters that hold pearls inside them. “The colour of the pearl depends on the colour of the lips of the oyster,” he says, before explaining how pearls are formed. “When a foreign body enters a mollusc’s mantle, it forms a sac around it. Layers and layers of secretion around it creates a pearl.” Which is why pearls are not always in the circular shape we know them to be, but appear as coins, claws, nuggets, peanuts, crescents — including one particularly unfortunate fish that has been encrusted into a pearl.

Pearl of Malleus on display at the museum

Pearl of Malleus on display at the museum   | Photo Credit: Meghna Majumdar

Chennai gets a new dinosaur attraction at India Seashell Museum

Riswan shares how his father collected these pearls and shells. “My father grew up in Rameshwaram, in a coastal hamlet. He started as a fish merchant at the age of 19. He would walk across the seashore, collect shells and sell them in markets. Once he started earning money as a fish merchant through exports, he used that money to invest in his hobby of collecting shells.”

Seashell museums are popular world over, however environmentalists have concerns over their mass collection. “Seashells feed the beaches — they have a function in the ecosystem, so their hardcore collection from one strip would be invasive,” points out naturalist M Yuvan.

“Collection shouldn’t be for collection’s sake, but to facilitate a deeper understanding about what lives on the beach.”


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Printable version | Sep 23, 2021 6:32:31 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/chennai/chennai-dinosaur-attraction-at-india-seashell-museum/article35739501.ece

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