Monday, April 15, 2013

Monterey Bay Aquarium

Working just blocks from the Aquarium for 12 years was a treat like no other.  The last few years in Monterey I acquired an annual pass.  Thereafter, two or three days each week I brought my lunch and walked over to the Aquarium to meditate with the jelly fish or sit on these very steps and gaze out at the ocean.  Often I could watch one of the trainers working in the water with a baby sea otter, teaching him to fish and swim so that the otter could be returned to the sea.

After lunch I would play tourist for a few minutes in front of one of the stunning exhibits then meander my way back to work.  I admit, it was all I could do to keep my eyes open the rest of the afternoon.

Visiting the Aquarium again after so many years was a real treat--except it was Easter week and the crowds were enormous.

But the view was still wonderful.  It was disappointing to learn that baby sea otters are no longer being trained by humans in the shallows of the bay.  The otter program began sometime after the Aquarium was built when people, while walking on the beach, would discover a baby otter, abandoned by its mother.  It seems that mother otters can only care for one baby at a time so, if an otter happened to have twins, then one of the babies would have to be deposited on the beach to starve.  But the Aquarium came to the rescue.

The program was hugely popular. Docents were chosen to live day and night with the foundling otters and, as the training commenced, we all watched enthralled at the babies' progress.  Except it was soon discovered that the grown up otters, once reintroduced into the wild,  preferred human companionship.  They tried to play with the children on the beach or climb aboard the kayaks in the bay.  When does a cute, cuddly sea otter become a nuisance and a danger?

Now the babies are trained only by other otters, while separation from humans is rigidly maintained. And, sadly enough--no otters were around for me to get their picture.

The Monterey Bay Aquarium is so large and engrossing that it can take hours--even a full day--to cover all the exhibits.

(Italics are copies from placards near the displays.)

David and Lucile Packard
Their generosity and vision brought the aquarium to life.
The Packards paid for the original building in its entirely.  When the aquarium opened on October 20, 1984, it quickly became the new model for aquariums worldwide.

One huge tank is overhead in a round room and houses an enormous school of sardines that swim perpetually around and around in a circle.

A couple of times during the year season pass holders are invited to bring their sleeping bags and spend the night.  My aspiration was to sleep on the floor under this school of sardines.  But, alas, I think I might be able to get down on the floor but I don't think I could get up again.  (Just a reminder not to wait too long before doing those special things--you may be willing but the bones may not.)

On this particular day it was hard to get close to the windows to see the exhibits--notice the flashes of cameras in the glass--but I managed a few.

Fish come in stunning colors and designs, as do most flowers, butterflies and birds.  If I could choose the evolutionary grand finale of my outer covering I think I would select a deep royal blue skin color with aquamarine freckles.

The most charming of all undersea life has to be the seahorse.

Many years ago, my husband, Roger and I were snorkeling on a reef in the Florida Keys when one of these amazing creatures appeared right in front of my goggles. He seemed captivated by something, perhaps his reflection in my goggles. After a minute I slowly stretched out my hand and watched in amazement as his tail wrapped tightly around my little finger.  We traveled together for a few feet before he slipped from my finger and moved away into the grass. I would not have been surprised if a unicorn had been waiting on the beach when we emerged from the water.

This little guy is truly invisible until he moves.

Do you see a drifting clump of tangled seaweed? Welcome to the strange and beautiful world of sea dragons, where things aren't always as they appear.

And just as I was certain that the camouflage could not get any better I came across this guy....

Animal? Vegetable? Mardi Gras costume?

These dragons disappear in the weeds.  This astonishing animal defies imagination.  You might never guess it's related to seahorses, with that strange shape and cloak of iridescent colors.

I think he was designed by Doctor Seuss.

Each year, people buy millions of key chains, mirrors and other souvenirs made from dried seashorses.  These products spell serious trouble for declining seahorse populations.  The Aquarium urges everyone to protect seahorses by refusing to buy or collect these souvenirs.

The deep water tank with its resident hammerhead is always popular.  

A sea nettle hunts by trailing those long tentacles, covered with stinging cells.  When the tentacles touch tiny plankton, the stinging cells stick tight and paralyze prey.  From there, the prey is moved to the frilly mouth-arms and finally to the mouth, where the jelly eats its meal.

Those years ago when I wasn't eating lunch outside by the ocean I would sit in this room of the Aquarium meditating to these swaying, pulsing jelly fish.

This little girl was a pleasure to watch--she was totally engrossed.
I wish I had learned her name--I bet her mother would have liked this picture.


While it may seem that there are plenty of fish in the sea, it's a different story under the surface.  Around the world, many fisheries are in trouble.  We're taking so many fish that some  populations can't keep up.


  1. That acquarium has expanded so much since I saw it many years ago. Beautiful pictures. Thank you so much. I guess, like you, I could forgo sleeping on the floor!