Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Monterey Bay Aquarium

The Monterey Bay Aquarium was just a couple blocks down the street from my hostel. I decided to walk down and check out one of the world’s largest aquariums, a sprawling facility that sits along the shore on a site that used to be a sardine cannery, which lends its name to the shop lined street leading to the aquarium, Cannery Row. I walked to the aquarium along Cannery Row, the touristy shops just opening at this early hour. When I got to the aquarium there was already a line, stretching out the door and part way down the sidewalk. 

I was taken aback by the lines length, I figure at such an early hour, on a weekday, I would have been joined by few others. The line moved along briskly and soon I was inside the aquarium, feeling giddy at the prospect of seeing amazing sea creatures up close. Most of the crowd headed to the right, eager to get to the sea otter tank, so I headed to the left in an attempt to find some solitude in the meandering facility, the effort was futile, however, as I found myself surrounded by a herd of school students out on a field trip.

I managed to squeeze into a gap between two field trip groups, getting a few minutes to examine the variety of tanks without much interference. I found myself in a room with a giant tank to my one side, filled with an awesome array of sharks and gigantic fish. It’s amazing how calming watching fish around can be, the display and extreme example, making it evident why people keep fish at their workstations. On the other side smaller displays showed critters that hid inside rocks or along the ocean floor, their brilliant display of colors, hiding them expertly amongst the tanks rocks and foliage. 

I’ve had for awhile now a real issue with zoos, it always seems the animals look sad, and the exhibits rarely seem large enough to provide enough stimulation for the animals. Aquariums seem much better at this, the giant tanks filled with a variety of species who can constantly interact and simply the current in the water can make and otherwise small enclosure, in relativity to the massiveness of the ocean, seem larger and provide exercise and some excitement. Few animals in an aquarium sit still, and even the ones that do have such amazing coloration on heir bodies that one can repeatedly see the same specimen an be transfixed by it’s renewed beauty. 

The groups of school kids were moving at varied paces and soon my slice of solitude had shrunk, so I hurried over to the other side of the building, passing the sea otter exhibit which was stuffed with visitors trying to get a peek at the frolicking otters, who were swimming around the exhibit sending up shrieks from the children lining it’s glass walls as they swam by. The other side of the building was quieter, I had beat the groups of children and entered the darkness of The Jellies Experience. 

The Jellies Experience housed an array of jellyfish species. I watched as the beautiful, but dangerous, invertebrates swam in the current of their tanks. Some species had amazing lace like tentacles that wafted in the current, a beautiful balance of grace and function. Other species we small and compact, pulsating in order to move around their tanks, their delicate bodies propelling through the water with impressive agility. Still others just drifted, as if apathetic to where the current would take them, in this case just a circle, repeated ad infinitum. The exhibit was incredible, bioluminescent jellies played a rainbow of colors as they floated around their dark enclosures, others were simply lit by the perfect lighting provided by their tanks. 

Down stairs The Jellies Experience continued, or maybe it was the beginning and I started at the end, either way, I encountered the incredible Indonesian Sea Nettle. This amazing jelly fish can grow tentacles ten feet long, spiraling gracefully out of a bell three feet in diameter. Their long flowing veil like tentacles awesomely illuminated by the tanks lighting. Golden and Platinum specters drifting in a black abyss, the room dark except for the light reflecting off the beautiful silhouettes. I sat and watched in a trance as they graceful pulsated around the tank, their long tentacles fantastically detailed, a complexity of simplicity. 
Indonesian Sea Nettle
I wasn’t able to spend nearly enough time with the jellies as I had wished, as the children soon showed up, their shrieks echoing around the small rooms of the jelly exhibit, forcing me to retreat to a quitter section. I found an exhibit of puffins tucked away near the end of the jelly exhibit and watched as they swam deep before flying up and out of the water, impressive attempts at real flight they were incapable of. But the school kids were biting at my heels, so I retreated once again, deciding to head out of the aquarium for lunch and return later when I wasn’t so pestered by school children. The aquarium allows for unlimited reentry throughout the day, which allowed me to hunt down some food along Cannery Row. 

The food options on Cannery Row are seemingly endless, but most were rather expensive, finally I found a taco place where I bought lunch. I don’t usual mention the food I eat, by these tacos are worth mentioning, I hadn’t expected much from a taco stand situated along a tourist corridor, but was pleasantly surprised. I was in little hurry as I was waiting for the school tours to finish up and leave, hopefully allowing me a more fulfilling aquarium experience. The Place Tico’s Taco was a tiny restaurant in the middle of Cannery Row, the place was filled with employees from the aquarium, which I think speaks volumes as to it’s quality and value. 

I headed back out into the day, choosing to forego the aquarium a little longer and take a nap back at the hostel. The living room of the hostel was filled with other guests, from all around the world, Croatia, Brazil, Germany, Holland among the ones I recall, and I failed at napping, spending time chattering about traveling and life stories instead. 

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