Moose less than meek in Omnitheater Great Lakes flick

By Tressa Versteeg

Some believe that the spirits of nature will reclaim the land, air and sea.These are some of the closing lines of perhaps some of the best 45 minutes of my life. “Mysteries of the Great Lakes,” an Imax movie currently showing at the Omnitheater at the Science Museum of Minnesota, is full of stomach-turning, yet breathtaking shots capturing the majesty of the Great Lakes, but also calling attention to the depletion of many of the habitat’s wonderful creatures living in water, land, and air that are an imperative part to the vitality and allure of the Great Lakes.

The film’s goal isn’t just to make you ooh and awe over the splendor of the Great Lakes on the big screen, but also to tug at your heartstrings about environmental issues surrounding the region’s ecosystem. I think “Mysteries of the Great Lakes” does just that. The beautiful footage of plush woodlands and sparkling lakes is mixed with stories of destruction.

The film takes you through a short environmental history of the area, focusing on the degradation of the land and water quality in the late 1800s due to industrializing cities. The chemicals and other toxins that permeated the land, water and air caused the population of many species to decrease rapidly, creating a fragile ecosystem in need of some tender love and care.

Much of the film focuses on the near-extinction of the sturgeon, one of few species that still remains from pre-historic times. In this period of environmental destruction these seven-foot long fish suffered from the toxins in the water, but their population also decreased because of overfishing.

Biologist Dr. Ronald Bruch’s quest to save the sturgeon is a central part of the narrative. After 20 years of research, he has finally created a contraption to fertilize the eggs in a way that will spur population growth. However, there is no guarantee that the sturgeon will make it back to their birth waters each year to lay eggs, important because the sturgeon have to lay eggs in the waters of their birth. Dan nervously awaits the return of his beloved sturgeon whom he has studied since he entered the field of biology. At 120 years old, her return is most questionable of all.

I will not ruin the outcome. However, I will say, part of Dan’s solution is squeezing the eggs out of the fish and stirring them up with sperm in a mixing bowl.

“Mysteries of the Great Lakes” also touches on the plight of bald eagle and caribou populations, completing the harmonious triad of land, water and air creatures. The film explains the predicament of these animals, but also carries a hopeful message of possible recovery, as long as these populations are left alone by human beings.

While there are clear messages of environmental justice throughout the film, there is more to it than that. If these types of messages turn you off as being too environmentalisty redundant, the film is worth seeing anyway for its celebration of the freshwater lakes, above and below the waterline. Seeing this film made me want to go to the Great Lakes but also hide under the Omnitheater chairs and never leave.

“Mysteries of the Great Lakes” runs through April 12 at the Science Museum of Minnesota, located in downtown St. Paul. Four other films are running right now as well: “Lewis and Clark: Great Journey West,” “Adventures in Wild California,” “Super Speedway” and “Grand Canyon Adventure: River at Risk.” Admission is $7.50 without museum admission (if you drive, the parking ramp costs $6 for the hour). Tickets sell out quickly, so make a reservation at the museum website: smm.org.