The Monterey Bay Aquarium is located on the site of a former sardine cannery along what is known as Cannery Row. The basic design of the aquarium pumps 2000 gallons per minute of Monterey Bay ocean water, night and day, through the more than 100 exhibit tanks. During the day the water is filtered for viewing clarity. During the night, unfiltered seawater is pumped through exhibits, bringing in food in the form of plankton. Waste ocean water from the aquarium is returned to the Bay. This design makes the aquarium ecologically part of the ocean in the Bay, and allows the tank to grow organisms such as Giant Kelp, which are not suitable for ordinary saltwater aquariums.
The first large exhibit we saw was the Kelp Forest. The 28 foot tall, 333,000 gallon Kelp Forest exhibit was designed as the centerpiece of the aquarium, and was the first exhibit in the world to include a living kelp forest. In addition to the bay water provided to all tanks, a surge machine at the top of this exhibit provides the constant water motion that kelp requires. The top of the tank is open, and was situated to maximize its exposure to sunlight during the day, thus further mimicking the bay. Eighty species of seaweeds grow in this exhibit, some of which have entered the aquarium through the water from the bay rather than being deliberately planted. The kelp in this exhibit grows about 4 inches per day and requires divers to trim it once a week
It is very interesting to sit and watch the schools of sardines and anchovies in the Kelp Forest. The schools dart quickly in all directions reflecting the light in different ways. In the picture below the sardines are the larger of the small silver fish on the left and anchovies are the smaller ones on the right.
Pictured below is a Garibaldi fish. To warn other animals to stay away, the bright orange Garibaldi “growl” by grinding and clicking their teeth.
The California Sheephead below probably wears his colors to warn others away. Big buckteeth make him look even fiercer, although they are not used to attack as much as crunching lunch.
The White Sturgeon is a primitive fish that moves easily from salt water to fresh, leaving the sea for the rivers and streams where it spawns. Sturgeon live a long time. One reached the ripe old age of 71.
One of the most interesting exhibits is “The Jellies Experience.” With quiet mood music playing softly in the background, we looked at numerous tanks filled with jellyfish gently moving through the water.
The spotted jelly has a ring of muscle around the rounded bell that help it swim. Below the bell, frilly clubs surround the center like petals on a flower. Those are mouth/arms, and they are covered with tiny mouths that catch and feast on plankton.
The Sea Nettle’s long tentacles carry a deadly surprise. They fire thousands of tiny stinging cells that paralyze prey. Then the jelly transfers its catch to those frilly mouth/arms and finally to its mouth, where the jelly eats its meal.
“The Secret Lives of Seahorses” area includes more than 15 species of seahorses. The Tigertail Seahorse provides the classic look of a seahorse. If you could look closely at it you would see its gills and fluttering fins. That’s what makes the tigertail a fish.
The Leafy Sea Dragon is a seahorse that looks more like a drifting clump of tangled seaweed. As the water flows by you can see the eyes that tell you it is a fish, not a plant.
The picture below shows the Open Sea Gallery. It is one of the largest tanks in the world. The main viewing window is 56.5 feet long, 17 feet tall, and 13 inches thick. The window weighs 78,000 pounds and was lowered into place by a specially built crane. Fresh ocean water from the Pacific is constantly circulated throughout the 1.3 million gallon exhibit. The Outer Bay animals eat half a ton of food per week!
In the picture above you can see a Dolphinfish (Mahi Mahi) in the upper left corner, a yellow fin tuna in the upper right, a school of mackerel in the lower middle, and a school of sardines behind the mackerel.
This blog only presents a small sampling of the many, many types of strange and interesting sea life on display at the aquarium. We spent about three hours inside and only read about half of the information available. But one has to be careful to prevent “information overload”, especially when your dealing with a shortage of memory space!