under the sea
Our last bit of sightseeing in California was a visit to the Monterey Bay Aquarium, which was listed as a top-ten highlight for the state in our Lonely Planet. The guidebook suggested spending at least half a day there — perhaps to justify the price of admission — but after arriving in Monterey late in the afternoon we only had an hour and a half to walk around and explore the various marine exhibits.
We spent a few minutes watching the frisky sea otters we did not get to see in the wild and marveled at the big fish in the massive open ocean installation, but it was the smaller fauna that we found to be the most interesting.
An entire wing of the museum was dedicated to an exhibit called “The Secret Lives of Sea Horses,” which featured some of the most fantastic-looking creatures imaginable. In addition to dozens of different kinds of sea horses, there were several tanks of sea dragons, which look so preposterous and implausible that even after watching them swim around for fifteen minutes it strained our credulity to believe that they actually exist in the wild.
We also were fascinated by the jellyfish. Last year, the aquarium opened the trippy “Jellies Experience.” The installation is filled with psychedelic designs that make the dozens of different jellyfish evoke visions of lava lamps as they slowly drift about, suspended in slow motion by cross currents in the tanks.
The aquarium proved smaller than we had imagined it to be, and we managed to hit all the major highlights in just under ninety minutes, walking through an interesting and informative exhibit on various marine habitats before finding our way just before closing time to a small aviary for orphaned and injured birds.
Growing up on the East Coast, we both visited aquariums on various school and camp trips. It’s nice to know that what fascinated us then still has the power to captivate the imagination and give that little tingle of discovery that only the incredible diversity of nature can inspire.