Academy of Sciences prepares to move

Exotic animals will perform laps of their tanks and terrariums in front of hordes of gawking families this weekend before being put on stretchers, bagged and boxed up for a massive move from the California Academy of Sciences’ temporary home in the Financial District to its new digs in Golden Gate Park.

The Academy’s Steinhart Aquarium, Morrison Planetarium and Kimball Natural History Museum are expected to open for the public in October in a new 410,000-square-foot, $484 million building that will include a living rainforestdisplay and a simulated Amazonian river ecosystem.

But first, Academy staff must transport their piranhas, electric eels, snakes, coral, sea bass, lungfish, penguins and ants across town in moving vans — along with tens of millions of cultural and scientific artifacts taken from across the globe by Academy scientists during more than 100 years of expeditions.

After 3½ years in a cramped temporary home on Howard Street, excited Academy scientists were working Thursday to wrap and pack jars of atrophied fish, cardboard boxes of pinned butterflies, Native American children’s dolls, birds’ nests filled with preserved eggs and a stuffed rhinoceros head. They said the move will give them more space and a rare chance to help arrange a famous collection.

“It’s the opportunity of a lifetime,” Steinhart Aquarium curator Bart Shepherd said.

Shepherd’s team plans to stretcher an oversized 58-year-old garfish into a transport tank, and they expect to slip snakes in canvas bags for their ride across town.

Lower profile collections at the Academy are stashed in thousands of filing cabinets away from public view.

Birds caught at the Galapagos Islands during a 1905 and 1906 expedition are among the oldest stuffed animals at the museum, which lost much of its collection to the 1906 earthquake, according to birds and mammals curator Jack Dumbacher, who was surrounded by piles of antlers, boxes of Latin-named mammal pieces he couldn’t identify and a bubble-wrapped porpoise skeleton as he spoke.

Even as the museum’s collection has overflowed in recent years, its staff has continued to scour the earth for new specimens.

Academy herpetologist Jens Vindum plans to leave for Burma later this month, where he said he’ll catch reptiles, kill them, then bring them back to the United States and preserve them.

The reptile department has collected 11,000 specimens while housed at Howard Street, according to Vindum, who said local governments and communities benefit from the Academy’s work even though they’re not paid for wildlife taken back to California. “They want to know what’s out there,” he said.

The 875 Howard St. location will close Sunday at 5 p.m.

jupton@examiner.com  

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