An Afternoon at the Monterey Bay Aquarium
From the Old Fisherman's Wharf, I took the Monterey Bay Coastal Trail and enjoyed a nice walk to the Monterey Bay Aquarium. It was sunny and cool, and I passed a bunch of joggers and cyclists (or should I say they passed me?) on the greenway. I considered renting a bike but realized I didn't have enough time. Plus, the aquarium was less than two miles away from the wharf. Maybe for my next visit I can bike the entire trail.
I was very excited about going to the aquarium. The last time I was there was about 20 years ago, and I remember loving the touch pools and being able to pet a bat ray. It was also the first time I ever saw an octopus. A real octopus. I remember the giant octopus sticking its tentacles against the glass, which frightened me a bit. I also remember liking the jellyfish exhibits a lot, so that's exactly where I went as soon as I paid my admission and got my aquarium map.
Watching jellyfish float and pulse their way through the water is so calming. And the ambient music and dark exhibit hallway put you in a trance as you watch and learn about the different types of jellyfish in the ocean. The orange jellyfish are my favorite, followed second by the moon jellyfish, which are the clear ones that have a very simple symmetrical design on them. I seriously could stare at jellyfish for hours.
After checking out the jellyfish, I went to the "open sea" exhibit. There were a variety of sharks, bluefin tuna, and crazy things called sunfishes (or molas). The bluefin tuna area was very interesting and a little sad because it explained how they're being overfished. One of the great things about Monterey Bay Aquarium is how they teach conservation through interactive displays. They also had pamphlets on sustainable seafood available in all of the exhibit areas to help folks eat seafood responsibly. (By the way, did you know that there is a tuna research facility next door to the aquarium?)
I arrived at the puffin habitat just in time to see them get fed by the aquarium's aviculturist. The tufted puffins are fed three times a day, and they're hand-fed each time. Hand-feeding keeps the birds stimulated, and it's also one way they're trained and have good behaviors reinforced.
When you think of tufted puffins, you usually think of them with bright orange beaks and feet. But apparently during this time of year, their colors are a bit duller. That's because mating season is over, so they don't have to look good for each other. :)
From the Open Sea, I crossed over to the other side of the aquarium to check out the kelp forest and the shore exhibits.
The Kelp Forest is one of the tallest aquarium exhibits in the world. It's almost 30 feet deep, and the kelp grows an average of four inches daily. Crazy! By the way, there's a kelp forest web cam on the aquarium website with a live stream that you can watch during the day.
At the different shore exhibits you can experience the crashing waves of a rocky shore as well as meet the birds and learn about some of the more interesting marine life that live on and near sandy shores. I really wanted to see a shovelnose guitarfish, but I couldn't spot one in the water. The illustration is pretty good though. And I especially like the copy below the illustration. Pun intended? (See pic below.)
From the shore exhibits, I headed to the Splash Zone where the touch pools are. Because the aquarium wasn't too crowded, I was able to play around in the touch pools for a while. I ran my finger over sea stars, grabbed a handful of kelp, poked at some warty sea cucumbers (squishy!), and picked up several hermit crabs and let them crawl around my fingers. I also stuck my hand in the bat ray pool and let one swim by and graze my fingertips.
I visited "The Secret Lives of Seahorses" next, which was pretty cool except for the sort of creepy, large model of a seahorse dad with a baby seahorse popping itself out of the father's pouch. It had a sign next to it that said, "Pose for a family portrait."
I thought about it for a second but I couldn't find anyone to take my picture. And I couldn't hold my iPhone or camera far out enough to do a selfie of me and the seahorse and the seahorse baby.
Oh, if only my arms were longer!
I wrapped up my visit to the aquarium with a walk through a very trippy jellyfish exhibit (more jellies!) called "The Jellies Experience." The area was decked out in groovy neon decor with giant quotes on the wall referencing Jimi Hendrix lyrics, the Sergeant Pepper album, and other psychedelic rock songs. You could watch jellies dance, glow, bloom, and sting. And you could even "picture yourself with kaleidoscope eyes" -- you know, the way a jellyfish would.
Also, thanks to this special exhibit I discovered my third favorite type of jellyfish. The blubber jelly! They're the grooviest.