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TO DEC. 24.
We should all thank Norbert Wu: He’s braved the subfreezing waters of Antarctica so we don’t have to. Between 1997 and 2001, Wu withstood unimaginably cold temperatures for an hour or more at a time, diving beneath the Antarctic ice sheets to photograph a breathtaking array of creatures and underwater scenes that have rarely, if ever, been witnessed by man. Some of Wu’s featured species are to be expected (whales, seals, penguins), others are more obscure (anemones, sea urchins, nemertean worms), but all prove visually fascinating. A giant jellyfish with a meter-wide bell and 9-meter-long tentacles suggests the movement of a high-kicking Folies-Bergère dancer. Emperor penguins, charmingly ungainly on land, are shown zooming through the water with fighter-jet contrails. Even the humble starfish impresses: One image finds a gang of small red stars piling up on a much bigger white one, strangling it like the Lilliputians taking down Gulliver. The surroundings of ice, water, and skylimned in subtle but ubiquitous shades of blueare remarkable. In another image, a several-stories-tall iceberg wall looks as if it could be part of a Frank Gehry-designed casbah; another captures antifreeze-filled fish called rockcods that inhabit painfully narrow, water-filled tunnels inside sheets of ice. Compared with this panoply of life, Wu’s shivering fellow diverspictured here and in a number of other imagesseem rather small and boring. The show is on view from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays through Fridays, to Wednesday, Dec. 24, at the National Academy of Sciences, 2100 C St. NW. Free. (202) 334-2436. (Louis Jacobson)