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The Monterey Bay Aquarium


International Destination'¦ World-class Inspiration


text and images byAnthony Calfo





caption pic left, 'Coastal Monterey often embraces a most beautiful fog. There is an ancient peace on these shores.'

caption pic center, 'The Garibaldi damsel, Hypsypops rubicundus, is one stunning fish to behold in the California kelp forests and on display at the aquarium. Adults grow to a magnificent 30 cm (one foot) in length!'

caption pic right, 'Along the rocky shores of Monterey, sealife abounds on, in an under the water. It's a beachcomber's paradise.'


From around the globe, travelers cross the oceans to visit one of the finest aquariums, in the paradise state of California (USA). Monterey is the home of many beautiful sites, and the bay area has a bounty of attractions for visitors of all cultures and interests. Within minutes or just a few hours drive, there are microclimates and environments of the most eclectic contrast. Peoples, foods and commerce of every conceivable creed thrive distinctly and harmoniously under the sun and through the mysterious fog, in what some describe romantically as an Elysian sprawl. For folks with refined social tastes, some of the best restaurants and wine country anywhere can be found here. Noble territories of Sonoma, Napa and San Francisco look over the shoulder of a distinguished Monterey with pride. Nestled on the shore, the aquarium looks over the unique California coast and legendary kelp forests, replete with history and endemic wildlife. But for all of the wonderful diversions in and around the region, the Monterey Bay Aquarium stands soundly on its own merit as a travel destination in its own right -- an understatement, to be sure! Beyond the delightful excursions and local attractions, living treasures await the apprenticed spirit who makes the journey to this seaside town'¦ and a jewel of aquatic science, the Monterey Bay Aquarium (MBA).




caption pic left, 'For those unable or unwilling to dive the cool coastal waters, a glimpse of the Giant Kelp biomass can often be found with a stroll on the beach among fragments of Macrocystis.'

caption pic center, 'Brilliant architects and engineers have exploited every possible opportunity to integrate the construct of the aquarium into the natural seascape with breathtaking views throughout the Aquarium.

caption pic right, 'In one of the most unusual displays of the aquarium, native (local) head-shield, opisthobranch snails are kept not only for their unique planktivorous feeding mode: Senior Aquarist - David Cripe demonstrates how humans can also sense the chemical potency of this very noxious family of reef invertebrates. These animals produce a distinct odor like watermelon when removed from the water!'


The phrase 'world-class' is often bandied about and may suffer diminished value for its popular use in marketing and advertising. Seasoned travelers and savvy aquarium enthusiasts, however, will immediately recognize on arrival that the mettle of this machine is like none other and truly deserves the merit. To see all of it in motion, it is no wonder that admirers donate funds so generously when each new exhibit opened is an affirmation of effective and dynamic use of available resources. The facility was funded and continues to operate entirely on private funds. Built in 1984, MBA boasts traffic of 1.8 million visitors each year. The paid staff numbers almost 500 people, and there are more than 800 volunteers enlisted for support. There is none other like Monterey.


The aquarium's mission of conservation and education is reflected in every facet of the operation. Let me begin with, perhaps, a surprising anecdote highlighting their resolve. Before I made my first visit, I'd heard the highest praise from numerous friends (aquarists and non-aquarists alike) for many aspects of this travel destination. One commonly reoccurring compliment, however, revolved around the tutorial signage and graphics of all things! This struck me as peculiar and intriguing when one would expect to hear more of the engineering marvels of construct (the aquariums and architecture), or the crowd-pleasing sharks and sea mammals. Yet having seen the facility with my own eyes, I must say that the informational aspects of the aquarium live up to their superlative reputation. I have never seen such thorough and effective educational materials. The placards and dimensionals alike (televisions, sensory objects and interactive media) were concise, captivating, and lucidly communicative to both children and adults. There clearly is a concerted investment of considerate thought and time going into the information that guides visitors throughout the facility'¦ from simple species identifications, to lessons of physiology and behavior, and - most importantly -- a message of good stewardship of the earth. Lest there be any wonder if they heed their own advice to 'live gently on the earth', we can look beyond the expected modes and models of recycling and good use of resources for their operation'¦ to the novel, eco-sensible way that they heat the facility: with humans. Indeed, the heat energy generated daily by the significant people traffic that frequent the aquarium is manipulated and utilized in their climate control systems. MBA also uses natural seawater for their displays and pumps almost 8,000 liters per minute full-time. Interestingly, the water is filtered by day for clarity for the viewing public, but at night the water is admitted into the facility raw with plankton to feed numerous kept animals with natural prey. In the brevity of this article, it is impossible to even introduce you to all of the numerous and ingenious ways that this facility and organization set standards for life, science and commerce. We must move on, though, or risk not mentioning the best part of Monterey Bay aquarium: the living displays.




caption pic left, 'Many of the displays and educational supplements to the displays include three-dimensional and interactive artifacts that are especially effective for teaching children. Pictured here, a clear model of what lends a parrotfish its name.'

caption pic center, 'One of the most amazing displays to be found anywhere: the Monterey Bay Aquarium features living, skate eggs cases that have been safely modified so that viewers can observe the developing embryo of this relative to the shark.'

caption pic right, 'In just one of the many exhibits featuring jellyfish themes, this aquarium reveals the complex life cycle of developing 'jellies' with a settled stage of polyps, plainly visible to visitors.'


Our tour group had the pleasure of a walking with the inimitable David Cripe, senior aquarist and guiding hand of many of the finest exhibits in the aquarium. As we traveled in front and behind the scenes, we were given insight into the mission of the organization in action. Their programs of growing reef animals produce many kilograms of thriving stony corals annually, which are actively and systematically exchanged with numerous other public aquaria. This one program alone displaces the demand for thousands of wild-harvested specimens while serving in other capacities of filtration, aesthetic display, science, and of course'¦ education.


Research is, in fact, the driving force behind the species selection of many exhibits. To that end, they have assembled a collection of some of the most fascinating, rare and intriguing organisms in the world. More than a few exhibits boast organisms on display that can be found nowhere else in the world or in very few other collections. At MBA, I was privileged to see a most entertaining and fascinating fish that could only be observed at one other aquarium in the world, in Japan.





picture caption: ' A very rare guest in zoological collections, The Alticus Leaping blenny (underwater at left) demonstrates its fascinating adaptation (above right) of leaving the safety of the water to exploit opportunities above sea level in a rocky habitat.'


Tourists will also enjoy one of the most unique exhibits in the world in a multistory display of the living California kelp forest. The exhibit is open to the atmosphere and proffers a year round glimpse into the seasonal changes of the sealife in this crucial native California ecosystem. The indoor kelp exhibit holds 1.25 million liters of water and is truly a sight to behold. Not far from this indoor glimpse is a discreet and strategically placed cliff view restaurant where visitors can relax and overlook the unfettered wild coastal habitat in all of its glory. The breathtaking view thrusts the action of a timeless surf and the working sealife into a quiet space for contemplation and wait for the setting sun. All of this and an environmentally sensitive menu with aquacultured and farmed seafoods is offered nourish both the mind and body of exploring visitors. If you are lucky, you can watch endangered sea otters playing in their natural environment from the comfort of your seat. Magnificent waterfowl also flock to the rocky shores here to the delight of patrons with an appreciation for bird watching.




picture captions, 'Very few people leave the Monterey Bay Aquarium without remarking on the breath-taking displays of jellyfish from around the world. In numerous exhibits, from a few tens to thousands of gallons, visitors are treated to a rare view of these fascinating creatures and their feeding, breeding and life cycles.'


Monterey Bay perhaps most notably of all, sets the standard for the study and husbandry of jellyfishes of the world. In exhibits ranging from a few tens of gallons to many thousands of gallons, visitors are awed by a show of more species and numbers of jellyfish than they could find most anywhere else. MBA owns the largest kreisel tank (a specialized aquarium for jellyfishes) in the world, which is over 7 meters long and holds almost 8,000 liters of water. The acrylic on this display alone is 15 cm thick! The jellyfishes are captivating, the presentation is pioneering and complimentary, and words simply cannot do any of it justice. Visit Monterey Bay Aquarium in all of its glory, and see for yourself. J



* Special thanks to MB aquarist Paul Mansur for his help and friendship in coordinating a tour of the facility and providing data for this article. 



For more information about the aquarium and its mission, look them up on the World Wide Web at:

http://www.mbayaq.org  and be sure to check out some of their live cams!

Anthony Calfo is an active writer living in scenic Western Pennsylvania. He is an author for Reading Trees publications and WetWebMedia.com (aquarium science). Please feel welcome to make contact at readingtrees@yahoo.com 

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