Friday, February 20, 2009
The Amazing Aquarium
The Monterey Bay Aquarium never ceases to amaze me. As a member, I can go any time but admit I don't get there often enough. But each time I do I am awed by what this conservation organization is doing.
One of the things that draws me to visit the aquarium is its aviary. Yes, I go there to look at birds. Depending on the time of year, I can view, up close and personally, shorebirds and other waterfowl in a variety of plumages. Many of the birds at Monterey are the same species that visit Morro Bay during fall and winter months when they are in drab or duller plumages. The seasonal turn takes them off on migration with no chance for a view of their true colors. At the aquarium, in spring, these same birds exhibit their dazzling nesting feathers. Black-bellied plovers, that are shades of gray in winter, show their distinctive black-feathered breasts. Wintering gray and white avocets acquire brilliant rust color heads and necks.
At the aviary you enter through the swinging doors and come into the sandy shoreline exhibit with a wetland pond on one side and a wavy shoreline on the other. The newest addition to the aviary is a deeper pond located to the right beyond the entrance and here waterfowl such as buffleheads paddle around and pop underwater to forage. The aviary is a wonderful place for photographers to take shots of these birds. The challenge is to do this without getting the disturbing background of the aquarium windows in the photos.
Obviously a visit to this special place is to see, learn, and appreciate the diversity and abundance of our planet's water worlds, both ocean and fresh water.
Because the aquarium is located on the Central Coast of California it takes advantage of the proximity to this section of the sea and its natural flora and fauna. Its first exhibit, the kelp forest, is still one of the most popular and it is a mesmerizing experience to sit and watch the flowing fronds of kelp and the circling fish. Giant kelp is indigenous to the ocean off the Central Coast and it supports a vast array of marine life.
Sea otters are one of the species that benefit from kelp using it to wrap up in and sleep. The aquarium has been instrumental in the rehabilitation of sea otters and performs ongoing research of this species. They are the only facility doing this. The sea otter exhibit houses five sea otters brought to the aquarium for rehabilitation and it is one of the most popular exhibits. Crowds linger at the windows watching the comical antics of these cute little creatures. While the exhibit's five otters cannot be returned to the wild, the aquarium regularly rehabilitates otters and returns them to the sea.
There are new otters at the aquarium now, but they don't come from the sea. River otters are cousins to the sea otter and are found in many places in the world. Now Monterey Bay Aquarium is showing Asian and African river otters in a new exhibit section. If you thought watching the sea otters was infectious you'll find it almost impossible to stop watching these energetic guys. River otters are fresh water creatures and the exhibits reflect their environment. The staff places large chunks of ice in their habitats from which the otters chew off pieces, knock them into the water, and bat them around. They spend hours zipping around doing this.
The huge outer bay exhibit is like an enormous living IMAX screening. Square-headed dolphin fish, large chunky tuna, and slinky tiger sharks swim around with huge schools of sardines and more in this exhibit. Be patient, sit and wait and you will be rewarded with a showing of one of the oddest looking fish in the sea, the sunfish. With its fins placed on top and bottom of its large rounded body it appears as an alien even in this strange deep water world.
The best exhibits for me are still the jellies. Beautiful translucent creatures with long flowing tentacles drift in sapphire blue waters. It is so calming to observe them. Moon jellies are some of the largest while others are so tiny they are exhibited in special enclosures that magnify them.
I look forward to the upcoming exhibit of many of the world's seahorses that will open in April and I hope everyone who can, will at some time visit the Monterey Bay Aquarium.
American Avocet - Recurvirostra americana -- in breeding plumage
Buffleheads, male and female - Bucephala albeola
River Otter - Asian