Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Nature Attraction Review - Monterey Bay Aquarium

First up - lets get one thing out of the way straight away. Monterey Bay Aquarium is probably the most advanced aquacultural facility in the world. They have consistently done things better, on a bigger scale and before almost all other public aquariums worldwide. Any small criticisms that follow should be judged on the basis that we are talking about minor defects in the sprinkles on top of the cherry on top of the whipped cream on top of the cake....

monterey jellies

Girl and Jellies.

MBA is built around 2 huge exhibits. The first is the outer bay tank a huge round tank which is devoid of decorations and simulates the blue water of the outer bay's pelagic zone. In this tank are huge blue and yellowfin tuna, dorado and Mola mola as well as Galapagos and Scalloped hammerheads. I suspect the inhabitants of this tank will vary greatly from month to month as it may well hold additional animals for a relatively brief period of time. It is in this tank that MBA achieved their unprecedented success in maintaining great white sharks and I understand the tank has also housed several turtle species as well as oceanic whitetip(!!) and soupfin sharks. This tank is sensational and I suspect we caught it on an off day. It is surrounded by smaller open water exhibits such as jellies in kriesel tanks (guess which aquarium pioneered this?) and a few different spirals of small pelagic schoolers like sardines and mackerel.

leopard shark

The second big feature is the kelp forest and deeper water tanks. These two big tanks give (a slightly idealised) idea of what a dive into the kelp outside the aquarium might yield. Leopard Sharks, Smoothhounds, bat rays and garibaldi all star. I was particularly pleased to catch up with an old friend, the seven-gilled cowshark, the first I've seen in captivity. These tanks are again truly impressive and the difficulty of growing kelp in captivity can't be underestimated. This also highlights one of MBA's strengths and weaknesses - it is predominantly focused on its local ecosystem and as such misses out on some of the world's other great aquarium exhibits - I'd have liked to have seen a third zone more fully dealing with tropical seas (there are tanks but they are no match for the 2 main hitters).

One of the coolest features at MBA are the birds - some rehabilitated guillemot thingies dive into the kelp tank, an injured albatross gives displays from a rolling hostess trolley and then there is the aviary itself. This consists of an enclosed area with some sea ducks and waders wandering around on a seashore feature and diving into a set of small open topped tanks stocked with sea grass and cruised by small sharks, guitarfish and rays. Very cool.

Kids meet Mola mola

A couple of other minor irritations did surface. Firstly there are far too many shops in the aquarium. I get that souvenirs are a big income stream but does the aquarium really need 3 or 4 separate huge vending areas inside it. Couldn't we do without it and whack in a few more 6 foot reef or oddball tanks? There was, I felt a fair bit of "wasted space" generally that could've been used to put in additional small displays to supplement the big hitting major tanks.

Also I was a little disappointed with how the bay itself was incorporated. Whilst people were getting views of the captive sea otters inside I could actually see wild sea otters playing outside in the bay. If I were in charge one of the helpful volunteers, of which there were many, would've been stationed out on that balcony with a scope and a few pairs of bins to show people the bay's wild mammals be they otters, seals, sea lions or cetaceans.

These are small complaints in the grand scheme of things: 9.5 golden rays out of 10 - a must visit if you're in the area.


Patrick Belardo said...

I think the Great White died a few months before I visited several years back. The aquarium was spectacular, but I agree on your sticking points. The drive along the ocean south of Monterey is fantastic too. I had the pleasure of seeing the whale sharks at the Georgia Aquarium. Their huge tank their is unreal.

tai haku said...

Patrick - they've had 2 whites but neither died as far as I'm aware, both were released when they got to a size where they were hard to maintain.

I won't be visiting Georgia Aquarium - suffice it to say my views on the keeping of whale sharks in captivity are somewhat different to Georgia Aquarium's

Neil said...

I believe the "guillemont-thingies" are Common Murres, although it's been a couple of years since I visited...

DJB's Photo Adventures said...

Pigeon Guillemots are sea birds that breed and live along the Pacific coast. See link below for more information if interested.

tai haku said...

Neil I believe you're right - they may well have been common murre.

Aiyana said...

Interesting. I get to Monterey about every 5 years. Next time I'm in the area, I'll visit the MBA. It looks fascinating.

Aquarium said...

This aquarium looks fascinating. I love your photo of the jellyfish.

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