By Diane Ako
Monterey Bay Aquarium is one of the nation's top family attractions, with one of the world's largest exhibit aquariums. It was a must-see on our family's trip itinerary!
The moment we walked in, it felt like we were swimming with the fishes due to the three-story aquarium with amazing views of sharks, sardines, and kelp-forest favorites. Our first stop was at the newly remodeled, million-gallon Open Sea exhibit, to watch a feeding of tuna, turtles, sharks, sardines and others.
A friendly diver named John and a volunteer docent explained to the crowd for 15 minutes what we were seeing in this tank, as well as why each animal is important in the ocean's ecosystem. We learned about Monterey Bay's status as a marine protected area, how fish swim, and how the SCUBA equipment works; a well-rounded lecture for the many eager children sitting on the ground in front of the tank, as hungry for information as the fish were for the two-and-a-half pound of fish food John was doling out.
It was a great display, and I highly recommend you try to take in at least one daily show or feeding, as they're entertaining for both kids and adults. Show up a few minutes early to secure a seat or a spot on the floor.
Another much anticipated exhibit was the southern sea otters, housed in a two story tank so you can look at them as they romp, tumble and wrestle above or in the water. The spirited sea otters are all rescued animals, no longer able to survive in the wild.
The big surprise for Olivia is that they are much larger than they seem like in photos- about five feet long and up to 70 pounds. The big surprise for me was that they were hunted to the brink of extinction for their pelts- sad.
The Jellies is the exhibit that turned out to be my favorite. "Enter a far-out world where jellies dance, bloom and sting. These graceful and mysterious animals flaunt an array of fashions, from simple, see-through styles to vibrant colors with ruffles and beads. Some even glow when the light is just right," says the website. I could easily have sat there for an hour being mesmerized by their rhythmic movements and otherworldly glow.
The Rocky Shore touch pool was fun, of course, but Olivia's favorite display was the Wave Crash gallery! We have not seen anything like that before, and all the little kids were delighted to stand under an acrylic tunnel and be "splashed" by a huge wave every half minute. The Wave Crash pumps about 600 gallons of water and "crashes" every 30 seconds. That's more than 500,000 gallons per eight-hour day.
It took us three hours to feel like we'd seen the majority of things, but if you really stopped to read each and every placard like my cousin Toni, it would take you double the time. It really is a great way to pass half a day or a whole day.
Founded in 1984, the mission of the non-profit Monterey Bay Aquarium is to protect ocean life for future generations by inspiring young and old with the beauty and wonder of the oceans. To that end, there is a heartbreaking display on how human carelessness kills marine life, helpful solutions as to what we can do about it now, and compelling reasons as to why you and I should care. If you'd like to support the aquarium or its conservation efforts, go to https://www.montereybayaquarium.org/support-us.
It's a beautifully designed aquarium and a place the entire family can enjoy. Don't miss it if you're in the area!
If you go:
Walking shoes are a must. Plan for three hours if possible so you can see it all without feeling rushed. Go early for street parking or find a nearby pay lot. More information at https://www.montereybayaquarium.org/visit.