For better details on the actual size and structure of the Monterey Bay Aquarium exhibits, check out their website: http://www.montereybayaquarium.org/
because, seriously, I could drag on for days about the details I did witness and weeks about speculations on animal husbandry, staff interactions, and exhibit design. Instead I choose to focus on the experience itself, particularly for a marine biologist and mom who just thrilled to check a box off on the overall bucket list. I must add that this checked box now has an *asterisk next to it to ensure that someday I return. (my list never seems to shrink...)
The first 2 photographs were taken of the same exhibit, a live kelp forest. It was one of the most spectacular of the day(s). Being an Atlantic coast baby, algae is so incredibly different in my local ocean world, and having worked with aquaria including live marine plants and algae, I was absolutely stunned by the magnitude of these 20' strands of slow waving habitat. The Kelp Forest has 2 different viewing levels, and just like virtually every exhibit in the place, an interactive component to help identify the fish and other animals living inside. This computer program passed the toddler test for entertainment/education as well!
The newest exhibit at the Monterey Bay Aquarium (MBA) is "The Jellies Experience", which opened on March 31st, 2012. We visited the Wednesday after opening weekend and were extremely privileged to be some of the first visitors to take it all in. The following are some highlights of the "Experience" for us.
|Cassiopeia, the upside-down jellyfish, is my personal favorite|
|Jace sitting on the "bell" of a harmless jelly|
|fascinated by the few black jellies sprinkled throughout this tank|
|Jacen's finger painted jelly goes for a swim on the interactive wall of jellies|
|Lots and lots of Touch Tanks!|
Another cool aspect of the MBA is that the facility was an old cannery, so the architectural lay out of the facility is not in a traditional style. I sincerely wish our camera batteries hadn't died while visiting because some of the original equipment was still in place to commemorate the history of the Monterey Bay and its interactions with the humans that rely upon it. Alas, I do not have those photos.
|Love the intensity of my little pirate scouting the horizon|
|Jacen's reaction when we told him we were going back to the Aquarium the next day. The quote: "Holy Cow!" he says.|
Just as expansive and thorough as The Jellyfish Experience, we found the sea horses to be fascinating. Still dark in many areas, there was plenty of room to walk around and look at displays without feeling crowded. A significant feat for any busy aquarium. I liked that so many aquaria were low enough to the ground that a toddler could look at the animals without having to climb an adult or part of the exhibit.
As part of the interactive play, Jace and I took on the role of a sea horse hiding from predatory fish by changing our color or hiding in the colorful habitat.
|Having large scale sea horses to interact with created far more than a great photo-op, it allowed for a personal interaction with a creature that is far to sensitive to live in a Touch Tank.|
|How do I get one of these for my ceiling at home?|
So, if you do plan on exploring the Monterey Bay Aquarium, show up early for multiple reasons: parking is tricky if you don't know the area or aren't staying within walking distance. Take your entire party into consideration; when traveling with those who will struggle with a long walk or need a nap after a few hours, you might need to take a second day if the plan is to actually see and experience everything. If you want to spend an hour with the otters, plan for that too - it is easy to spend a entire day in this exceptional place.
While I know you wouldn't skip something on your bucket list when the opportunity arises, but be sure to give adequate time to fully embrace that experience too. Don't always cut corners when it comes to yourself!