We arrived a few minutes before 9 a.m. at the member’s entrance to find a line around the corner. Parents with screaming children, babies in strollers, and children with endless energy were milling about, awaiting the opening of the doors with eager anticipation. Young volunteers strolled through the sea of people, offering a glimpse of a sea slug while we waited.
I had been told that the Monterey Bay Aquarium is one of the world’s best, but the crowds of people so early on a Sunday morning, on the Fourth of July holiday weekend, no less, were unexpected. What’s more, the crowd was filled with only aquarium members–general admission wouldn’t begin until 9:30 a.m.
The doors opened and the excited families sprinted forward, identifying themselves and making their way into the building, hoping to wind their way through as many exhibits as possible before the larger general public crowd would be allowed to enter. We started at the center, with a visit to the sea otters.
In June, the aquarium had taken in a baby sea otter pup rescued from the wild and had paired her with a surrogate sea otter. To allow the two to bond, all of the aquarium’s other sea otters were moved to a separate space hidden from visitors’ view. We watched as the two otters swam around and were fed, the pup following her surrogate closely and imitating her behaviors.
Following the sea otters, we took in the Kelp Forest and the giant Pacific octopus, who was unusually friendly, according to the regulars; once the main doors opened and the aquarium filled with people, he would remain far more inactive. The octopus climbed along the glass with his tentacles, seemingly smiling at us suspiciously. I considered myself lucky to have the chance to see the underwater creature in action, yet hesitated to get too close.
As the clock struck 9:30 a.m., we saw first-hand the benefit to members of getting in early. The doors opened and almost instantaneously the aquarium was filled to the brim with people. No longer could we expect to get right up to the glass and spend time observing uninterrupted. From that point forward, there would always be someone in the way.
Still, with a number of permanent exhibits, as well as a rotation of temporary installments, you could easily spend a whole day at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. We saw penguins and seahorses and an impressive display of jellyfish that seemed to glow with the effect of well-coordinated backlighting. A group of hot pink flamingos stood against a black background in another exhibit, calling attention to their brilliant color. The most recently opened exhibit, The Open Sea, featured an impressive real-life ecosystem of sharks, tuna, sardines, sea turtles and more. We watched the scheduled feeding, a narrated show offering commentary as each species in turn was fed.
Walking through each of the exhibits, I noticed small signs referencing Seafood Watch. This program sponsored by the aquarium strives to educate consumers and businesses to make smart choices when eating seafood in an effort to contribute to maintaining healthy populations in our ocean’s ecosystems. The signs label various seafood options as “Best Choices,” “Good Alternatives” and those to “Avoid.”
By noon, we had made our way through each of the aquarium’s exhibits and had attended two organized feeding sessions. It was then only fitting to feed ourselves and we were primed for seafood – the most sustainable option, of course.
For more information on the Monterey Bay Aquarium, to schedule your visit or become a member, visit http://www.montereybayaquarium.org/.