The highlight of Cannery Row for me is the world-class Monterey Bay Aquarium, which highlights the vibrant life of the bay it is built by. I did have the chance to visit this magnificent marine museum the first time I was in Monterey, and if I were to go back, I’d probably visit again. As I said previously, I had high expectations of the aquarium before going and had often been disappointed by highly acclaimed zoos and aquariums before. However, the Monterey Bay Aquarium didn’t disappoint only added to my expectations of quality at such an establishment. This time I wasn’t any less amazed.
This time I spent a lot more time at the aquarium. After my sister and niece spent some time with me, I meandered around the exhibits for another couple of hours. This meant I saw some things I missed last time.
The aquarium is essentially an extension of the bay with thousands of gallons of actual sea water pumped into the tanks each day, which gives natural nutrients and conditions necessary for some of the unique displays the aquarium boasts.
The main wing of the building houses exhibits mostly about the waters just outside the walls of the building. This is where you’ll find the iconic kelp forest, the first of its kind, reaching more than 20 feet from floor to ceiling. Looking through the panes offers a glimpse of what lies below the water’s surface in the bay. An interesting fact, the aquarists must manicure the kelp forest weekly because the kelp grows several inches each day.
All around this exhibit you’ll find others that focus on various parts of the bay including the outer bay, the shale reefs and tide pools. The biodiversity found here is astounding! There are so many fascinating creatures with various adaptations to camouflage, hunt, breed, and compete in this tiny little piece of the vast ocean.
This wing of the aquarium also has the family area, which means fish recognizable to kids from Finding Nemo and hands-on experiences such as touch tanks and games to engage and entertain them when observing serenely floating jellyfish in dark quiet rooms isn’t cutting it. So, this is where you’ll find the stereotypical aquarium residents of clown fishes, seahorses and eels. This is also where you’ll find the penguins.
At the opposite end of the complex, you’ll find special exhibitions and the Open Sea gallery. The Open Sea welcomes you with a fascinating, live loop of sardines swimming around the top of the room. The exhibit highlights some of the more intriguing sea life such as jellyfishes, sharks, sea turtles, puffins and a rarely-seen sun fish.
Of course the jellies are mesmerizing and the glittering silver streams of sardines and anchovies hypnotic, but the highlight of this exhibit is behind one of the largest single-pane windows in the world—a 1.2 million gallon tank attempting to replicate the vastness of the ocean. For the most part the effect works as the ribbon of sardines interweaves the paths of hammerhead sharks, a green sea turtle, tuna, barracuda, the massive sun fish, and so much more. This tank is so big, you can view it from the main level or go up to a balcony.
A favorite of kids is the puffin enclosure found at the end of the exhibit where they can watch the birds dart back and forth underwater and pop out on land for a break.
The first time I visited the aquarium, their two special exhibitions were The Secret Lives of Seahorses and The Jellies Experience. This time the jellyfish exhibit was still there with its psychedelic, groovy feel, but the seahorses were replaced with the recently opened Tentacles: The Astounding Lives of Octopuses, Squid and Cuttlefishes—a wonderful exploration of otherworldly, multi-limbed sea monsters.
The exhibit greets guests with the rich stories and mythologies that have followed these creatures for millennia. Also discussed, is how the creatures continue to mesmerize and implicate themselves into modern culture especially highlighting some artfully crafted tattoos of these cephalopods.
The exhibit showcases a variety of animals each to illustrate various adaptations or specialties of the animals including camouflage, propulsion, strength, and more.
In between the two wings you find the gift shop, an eatery, and a couple of important exhibits. The first of which is the sea otter habitat, which is a tall cylinder enclosure for visitors to watch the animals on land and at sea. They use this space to house their own otters, all rescues who can’t make it on their own in the wild, and to help rehabilitate other otters in hopes of releasing them. This is an opportunity though to learn about and witness up close the creatures you see in the distance floating at the top of the kelp groves in the bay.
The other exhibit I found quite fascinating. The aquarium was built in Hovden Cannery, one of the biggest and the longest lasting cannery on the row. At the heart of the building are the original cannery boilers. This thoughtful exhibit tells the story of the Silver Tide, the innovations in fish canning developed in Monterey, the multiple uses of sardines from the canneries, and the process of canning sardines.
There is also a display about the work of Ed Ricketts who helped the world wake up the wonders of the sea through his research and collections. Next to information on him is some information on John Steinbeck who used Ricketts as a character in his acclaimed book, Cannery Row.
The aquarium has many programs including public feedings throughout the day at various exhibits. Each one shares information about the animals, their habitat and of course messaging about conservation. Throughout its programming, the aquarium’s messaging is clear and their conservation efforts prominent but not overbearing.
In addition to many efforts, their main public conservation program is Seafood Watch. I won’t go into detail about it since I don’t really eat a lot of seafood, but I’ll encourage you to visit their website for more information as to what seafood is sustainable for eating versus threatened from bad fishing practices.
The Monterey Bay Aquarium is a masterpiece of education, amusement and conservation. Its exhibits are presented extremely well and show concern for the visitors and the subjects of their admiration. When in Monterey, put the aquarium at the top of your list of things to do.
This finishes my posts from my recent California trip. I’m not sure what my next adventures will be, but until then, remember, adventure is out there, so go have one!