Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Monterey Bay Aquarium

On January 29th, Justin, Kenny, Miguel (Kenny's friend) and I headed to Monterey, California to see the Monterey Bay Aquarium.
The Monterey Bay Aquarium, which is located in a former sardine cannery on Cannery Row, is one of the largest and most respected aquariums in the world. It has an annual attendance of 1.8 million and holds 35,000 plants and animals representing 623 species.

The Aquarium has preserved sections of the original cannery as part of its exhibits. Shown here are two of the original boilers.

Among the aquarium's numerous exhibits, two are of particular note. The centerpiece of the Ocean's Edge wing is a 33-foot (10-m) high tank for viewing California coastal marine life. In this tank, the aquarium was the first in the world to grow live California Giant Kelp using a wave machine at the top of the tank (water movement is a necessary precondition for keeping Giant Kelp, which absorbs nutrients from surrounding water and requires turbidity), allowing sunlight in through the open tank top, and pumping in raw seawater. The second exhibit of note is a one million gallon tank in the Outer Bay Wing which features one of the world's largest single-paned windows. The window is constructed of four panes seamlessly glued together through a special process. We were excited because for the third time in the Aquarium's history, the Outer Bay was the temporary home to a juvenile Great White Shark. It took a while for us to spot the shark as it swam in the Outer Bay tank. He wa a dark grey-blue and blended into the background. But once we finally located him, we could see that the Great White had an entirely different build than the Hammerhead sharks and the Galapogos sharks which were also part of the display. He was heavier and his jaws were larger. Twice, as the shark swam by, he stretched his jaws and we could see his teeth --- rows of very sharp triangles. Overall, it was quite interesting to see him. And it turned out, it was also the last weekend he was on display. On February 5th, 2008, he was returned to the Pacific Ocean.

Perhaps my favorite exhibits in the entire aquarium are the jellyfish. "Jellies" live in virtually every part of the ocean and come in a dizzying array of shapes, sizes, and colors. Some, like the aquarium's box jellies, are no bigger than a thimble. Others, like the Arctic lion's mane, have umbrella-shaped bells that reach 7 feet across and tentacles that stretch 100 feet or more. Jellies often use their tentacles to sting and snare prey, such as small fish, while drifting with the current. Mediterranean jellies are also called fried egg jellies, for obvious reasons—namely, their smooth golden globes on top of their brown bells. But despite their beautiful purple and white colors, these jellies are no treat in Mar Menor, a coastal lagoon in Spain. Fertilizer runoff there led to an oversupply of the plankton that’s a staple of the jellies’ diet. Now there’s an oversupply of jellies, too, threatening fisheries and tourism.

Like a large bird egg cracked and poured into the water, that three-foot, translucent bell is yolk-yellow at the center, with hundreds of tentacles clustered around the margin. The egg-yolk jelly is one of the larger species of jellies commonly found in Monterey Bay. This massive jelly usually drifts motionless or moves with gentle pulsing. Acting like an underwater spider web with a mild sting, an egg-yolk jelly captures other jellies that swim into its mass of tentacles.

Nearly as beautiful as the jellies are the Anemones. Sometimes called flowers of the sea, Anemones are ancient and successful animals. They lack heads, but have a ring of tentacles around a mouth that opens into a tubelike body cavity, where food is digested. Anemones are voracious feeders that eat almost anything. Stinging cells (nematocysts) on their tentacles paralyze small prey animals. Anemones can even ingest small crabs and then spew out the shells.

After we left the Aquarium, we drove along the famous "17 mile drive", a scenic road through Pacific Grove and Pebble Beach before heading back home. Much of this highway hugs the Pacific coastline and passes famous golf courses and mansions. Along the way, we saw sea lions, whale spouts, and sea otters along the shoreline as we drove. All in all, a wonderful time was had by all.


Wendee said...

I'm a sucker for aquariums! That one looks amazing! Thanks for sharing.

Carrie said...

Oh I do love the Monterey Aquarium. The one in Seattle is very poor in comparison! The jellies are my favorite too, but I really remember that million gallon tank. Hugely impressive! Will have to go back someday :)

Tina T-P said...

WOW! What a lovely day you had - have you ever been to the Maui Ocean Center? I could have spent all day in there.

Happy Valentine's Day! Tina

QuiltingFitzy said...

Monteray is wonderful no matter how you slice it! We spent many weekends driving that coast before moving to AZ in April.

knottykitty said...

You made me so homesick with this post...sigh. I used to have a membership at the aquarium when I lived in Monterey so I could wander in and out at will. I could stay there for hours just gazing at all of the gorgeous creatures. Monterey is an awesome place, isn't it?

Yarnhog said...

Awesome pictures! I've been there before, but I don't remember seeing such cool stuff.