Two days at the Monterey Bay Aquarium

Yours truly at the other Happiest Place on Earth

For part two of our Monterey trip Scott and I got to take Cat to see the Monterey Bay Aquarium for the first time! I’m happy to report that she is hooked 🙂 Since we had 2 day passes, we went back the next day as well! And even cooler, we got to do the most awesome behind the scenes tour – Feeding Frenzy. It’s 2 hours long at starts almost 2 hours before the aquarium opens which meant that after the 500 Girl Scouts who got to spend the night in the Open Sea Exhibit left, it was just the 12 of us on the tour, our two tour guides and the aquarium staff! Oh my gods. Best way to see the aquarium, seriously!

Our tour started at the Sea Otters and included not just our guides but one of the members of the Husbandry staff who work with the Otters full time. We had his undivided attention of a good 10-15 minutes. The girls, because all the resident otters at the MBA are female, also got one of their food based enrichments while we watched- blocks of ice with shrimp inside. And yes, the banged the blocks on everything including the exhibit windows. Each of the otters has distinct personalities. Some are very good as Foster Moms for the pups the MBA rescues. Some not so much. And the old matriarch of the bunch, Rose is apparently as likely to let her blocks of ice melt as to bang them on things. I was having so much fun listening to the Sea Otter guy that I didnt take many pictures so these are from day two when we went to see them right after the doors open and before the crowds showed up for their feeding. On our second day I discovered the third floor out door over view from which you can see the back side of the Sea Otter exhibit among others things!

Next up on Awesome Day – Feeding the anchovies in the Kelp Forest!!

How to know you’re a marine biology & aquarium management nerd… while getting to do the feeding was neat – the real awesomeness, for me, was getting to go up to the third level to the Kelp Forest overlook, which I didn’t even know existed! WTF? and then go *through* the magic gate to the staff side! We got to stand right up at the edge of the Kelp Forest and look at all the gear and the wave machine and the wires that keep the birds out of the tank, and everything!!!!!! I’ll pause here to say that way back in college I did a year of Marine Bio that included a side track of Aquarium Management in which I helped build and maintain a 50 gal cold, salt water, tank for hermit crabs we collected off the long island sound. I have been deeply in love with aquariums all my life and that just sealed the deal. Its why I always want to see how they work so this? WAS AMAZING. Also not long enough or deep enough into all the goodies, but still awesome 😃 We went back up to the public side of the overlook on Monday which was still fun – but – Gate that we didn’t have the key for 🙁So feeding – we each got a handful of krill and we all threw it into the tank then hurried down to the second level to watch the anchovies feed – which was way cool!.

After the Kelp Forest we headed into the deep ocean. We got to see the sardine roundabout both from the audience’s side and behind the scenes. If you haven’t seen it, the round about is what it sounds like – a doughnut shaped tank which houses ALOT of anchovies all going around and around – against the current it turns out, so they can feed as they swim. At the MBA the round-about is above the viewer, so you have to look up to see them swimming. Its very cool. The backstage view is a teeny room above the tank that has an open section which allows the staff to take water samples, feed the anchovies and generally keep an eye on how things are doing. We didn’t get to feed them ourselves but we got to watch one of our tour leaders toss in pellets and then watch the anchovy roil about as they gobbled up breakfast.


So, the exhibit builders are no fools. The jelly tanks are set up for optimum photographing fun so of course I took ruthless advantage of that fact 🙂 oops? One of the neat things about the Monterey Bay Aquarium is their mandate to showcase the life of the bay itself. I’ve know that all along, but this trip was the first time I had been out on the bay one day and in the aquarium the next. On the boat I saw, and was able to photograph, both Purple Stripe Jellies and Sea Nettles. And of course, both these species and the Moon Jellies are at the aquarium – so now I can do side by side photos!

Open Sea!

(AKA the 1.2 million gallon tank formerly know as The Outer Bay and changed because people apparently thought the Aquarium had built a window IN THE OCEAN to let them see into the deep water. ??? wat? the new name is better but apparently still not ideal – as some, though fewer, people are still confused – per our tour guide Tall Cat (who was 6’3″).)

Normally I am not a big fan of joining with the crowds for tank feedings but having never seen the Open Sea at feeding time this was too cool to miss. They fed the Sea Turtles but we mostly heard about that and saw what that looked like on big screens. I suspect the timing of their feeding was about getting the turtles out of the way of the main feeding – the Pacific Sardines! “Visitors often ask: how do you tell the difference between anchovies and sardines on exhibit? Sardines have distinctive black spots, for one thing. Sardine schools also tend to move in darting motions, while anchovy schools form a vertical funnel or “swirl.” Anchovies tend to swim with their mouths wide open, gathering food.” – I still cant tell the difference they all look cool when the school. The staff person narrating the feeding told us that there is Low perdation in the exhibits not No perdation – right before some of the big fish started swimming through the school of sardines looking for a snack.

Then of course there is the tidal splash zone spot where you can stand under a crashing wave! We actually have three different views of the wave in action. One – from the top where it starts, one from about eye view as its coming down, and one from the overlook above it looking down as it happens!

Splash Zone from above, between waves

It also turned into the Take pictures of Kate and Cat moment 🙂

Yours truly on the left, Cat on the right.

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