The Monterey Bay Aquarium is much more than just a fish zoo. It treats marine life, even sharks, like visitors. In cooperation with the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute, it assiduously monitors the health of nearby bay and ocean. With the goal of sustainability, it even told me what seafood to buy. A visit to it is nothing less than a 5 Compass experience.
Since opening, it has been part of Cannery Row in Monterey. In fact, it’s partially in a former cannery named Hovden, whose brand was Portola. After sardines disappeared, Hovden was the last cannery to close. Visitors to the Monterey Bay Aquarium enter through its building, and I was about the only one who paused to learn something about it before proceeding on to the sea otters and sharks.
Because Ruth and I had limited time, only one day, I asked one of the helpful employees what was essential to see. She circled 5 areas on my map and told me to hurry up some stairs to witness the popular sea otter feeding that would take place in about 15 minutes. By the time I got to the top, every window was 5 deep with families, and I couldn’t get anywhere near a good view so I abandoned the attempt in favor of sharks.
I attended a 15 minute lecture about sharks and began learning about the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s dedication to research. First up was a film about great whites. This aquarium was the first in the world to exhibit a great white. For 198 days it managed to play well with others, but then it attacked 2 other sharks and had to be set free. Yes, set free. Its monitors didn’t punish it for acting like a shark, they released it. Our young host dropped a few lame jokes before telling us about ongoing shark research mostly around the Farallon Islands off the coast of California, where I won’t be vacationing. There’s also a shark mosh pit halfway to Hawaii where males circle endlessly looking for mates. They spend 6 or 7 months of their year cruising here, and human experts regularly haul them out of the water like pool toys to tag and study them before returning them to their home.
It’s not hard to lose track of time in the Monterey Bay Aquarium since it’s one of the best, maybe even THE best aquarium, I’ve ever been in. My 4 favorite areas were the jellies, the color-filled reefs, the newest exhibit called Tentacles, and the penguins. Jellies have always struck me as innocent looking drifters, so I’m forever amazed to learn about their Hyde side. “A sea nettle,” I read in horrified fascination, “hunts by trailing those long tentacles covered with stinging cells…that stick tight and paralyze prey.” Tentacles opened in spring, 2014, and it’s, in my opinion, the current star among the major exhibits. It’s worth a day or more all by itself. It was here that I read how important squid are to California’s economy. I don’t like to eat squid or octopi, and I was quite disappointed to learn that scallops and halibut weren’t on list of the current best seafoods to buy.
This aquarium has an exceptional staff. Ruth bought a cute collection of toy penguins and couldn’t identify one of them. One lady volunteered to track down its name and email it to Ruth. Three weeks after we had forgotten about it, the name showed up. Ruth also took me by the hand to show me a quote. “In all things of nature there is something of the marvelous.” This is attributed to Aristotle and really described the Monterey Bay Aquarium for me, but I doubt if Aristotle ever used the Greek word that’s equivalent to marvelous.