Digitize This, by Marlene Bruce



Monterey Bay Aquarium

January 18, 2003

Monterey Bay, California, is only two hours south of Mountain View (where I live as of this writing). It's where John Denver died, after the experimental plane he was flying crashed into the Bay (bad interface design killed John Denver).

Rash and I drove down to see the Monterey Bay Aquarium, situated at the end of Cannery Row which itself was made famous by John Steinbeck. I liked this aquarium better than Baltimore's National Aquarium, though it's been years since I've seen the latter. I'll have to do a comparison when I'm back on the East Coast.

We spent most of the day looking at marine life, including the awesome special exhibit of Jellies: Living Art (we broke only for lunch at The Fish Hopper ... good service, but the food was mediocre and overpriced). I think I could have easily spent three days at the Aquarium and not have gotten bored.

There's a lot I didn't photograph: marine birds, octopi and squid, otters, penguins, the splash zone (for kids), the petting pools, most of the artwork, and more. Here's what I managed to record:


The Kelp Forest is a huge 335,000 gallon two-story tank filled with Giant Kelp and others, and marine life. I think that's a Soupfin Shark in the porthole (comparison). Blue Rockfish swim on the edge of the kelp forest and feed off jellies and plankton. "Groves of waving kelp form a sheltered, sun-dappled forest." Waving indeed; it was hypnotic and I could have watched it all day. The tank seemed to be gently breathing. [more]

Like anchovies on your pizza? Either way, the Anchovy Cylinder (left) is fun to watch. At the other end of the Aquarium there's also the Anchovy Ring (center and right). In both, anchovy schools swim in an endless circle.

Alaskan and Spiny King Crabs (left) live on the sea floor, 500-2,400 feet. In the enlarged photo the Spiny King Crab is in front. The Predatory Tunicate (second from left) is reminiscent of a Venus Flytrap. "Predatory tunicates are simultaneous hermaphrodites—each animal produces both eggs and sperm." [more] Sand Dollars (center) fill this cool convex aquarium. They can live to be 50 years old. Next is the amazing Leafy Sea Dragon, a relative of the Seahorse. Dragons are perfectly camouflaged against seaweeds and sea grasses [more]. I'm guessing that the last photo is a clump of Upside-Down Jellies. "Upside down jellies don’t have a central mouth—instead the edges of its eight oral-arms are fused and folded into elaborate frills containing hundreds of tiny mouth openings." [more]

Anemone environments
- Anemones are tentacled sea creatures with tube-like bodies sometimes anchored up to two feet in the sand (if they're the borrowing kind). Some anemones live 100 years or more. They are home to many types of anemone fish, and stun prey with their tentacles (anemone fish have a protective mucous to shield them from stings). The sea star (aka starfish) in the fourth photo may be a Bat Star, which eats plants and animals, dead or alive. The anemone below it seems to be feeding, its tentacles withdrawn. Be sure to notice the many-armed sea-star in the last image. (Second photo by Rash)

The Mushroom Soft Coral (left) "takes on two very different shapes. When closed up tight, it looks like a mushroom. But with tentacles outstretched to feed, it looks more like a flower." [more] The other corals and barnacles shown are living creatures which help build reef environments and stud the Monterey Canyon walls.

This tank of Black Sea Nettles was especially striking, for the abundant large orange jellies floating in the blue lozenge, their cloudy arms and long tentacles streaming behind. "The black sea nettle is considered a giant jelly; its distinctive purplish bell [purplish? ... maybe the Aquarium's lighting brings out the orange] can reach over three feet in diameter, its lacy, pinkish oral arms can reach nearly 20 feet in length and its stinging tentacles 25 feet or more." [more]

The Aquarium currently houses two great walls of Moon Jellies (left), gently drifting. Also known as Saucer Jellies, they have a very short fringe of tentacles. Next, the Lions Mane Jelly (I could be wrong about this classification) is a giant jelly, with a bell as large as 8 feet and tentacles 100 feet or more. Unfortunately, I can't find a reference for the third photo, a white and red jelly. The Spotted Jelly (right) have many small mouth openings on their oral arms. Some of the larger spotted jellies—up to 2 feet in diameter—actually have small fish living inside the bell.

I think most of these are Comb Jellies. "As they swim, the comb rows diffract light to produce a shimmering, rainbow effect." The little comb hairs are visible in the fourth photo, but the first three are the most interesting for the undulating neon rainbow effect they produce under the Aquarium's lighting. Some other jellies are bioluminescent, but not these. [more]

Fish from the outer Bay - This blue lozenge of unidentified (by me) fish was striking. The second fish is either a Yellowfin or Pacific Bluefin Tuna, one of the fastest fish in the sea at up to 40 miles per hour.

Here's a view of the Monterey Bay through the Aquarium windows. Models of a Gray Whale and Common Dolphins (among other marine mammals) hang from the Aquarium's ceiling.

In addition to fish, birds, marine mammals and the like, the Aquarium also offered marine-inspired artwork. Left is glass work by the famous Dale Chihuly [more]. Center is a sea form entirely covered with beads (artist unrecorded by me). At right is detail from a ceiling sculpture hanging in one of the gift shops. The metal fish have an eye-catching iridescent coating. Not shown here was a wall in a dark nook (across from the Chihuly shown) which displayed two score Lava Lites, slowly bubbling away. Also, plates by Ernst Haeckel, Tesla-coil art by Cork Marcheschi, and other artists were exhibited.