Written by: Jaii Fredregill
Destination: Monterey Bay Aquarium
Visited: December 2017
Do you remember the first time you visited the sea? Can you recall the smell of ocean brine or the taste of salt on your lips? Were you humbled by this vast body of water capable of swallowing you whole but still somehow irresistible to explore? I have always envied those who are lucky enough to live near the sea.
Monterey, California was not the first seashore I visited, but I have plenty of fond memories associated with being there. When an opportunity to go back presents itself, I do not hesitate. The sun does come out in Monterey, but unlike its tropical counterparts, the temperature rarely climbs above 70 °F/21 °C and the ocean here is cold year-round.
Kelp Garden, Monterey Bay
Scuba diving is awe-inspiring, doubly so on a clear day when the kelp forest and much of what inhabits this frigid part of the Pacific are lit up by sunbeams penetrating the surface. The remarkable life that resides in these waters is indeed part of the appeal; sea lions, otters, and whales can sometimes be spotted from the shore, via kayak or from one of the Monterey Bay Aquarium Wildlife Viewing Stations.
Monterey Bay Aquarium Wildlife Viewing Station
In his book by the same name, set during the American Depression, John Steinbeck described Cannery Row, where the aquarium is located, as, “a poem, a stink, a grating noise, a quality of light, a tone, a habit, a nostalgia, a dream.” A lot has changed since this was published in 1945.
Cannery Row, Monterey, California
The sardine canneries, brothels and sketchy bars that once lined the seaside here are now defunct. The aquarium moved into the Hovden cannery and steadily attracted tourist since it opened in 1984. With its success, a new, grander home was eventually constructed to accommodate its growth.
The revenue this brought to the city of Monterey led to the renovation of Cannery Row. New businesses moved in, and it has long been a friendly place for tourists to dine, shop and walk safely along the shoreline with friends and families.
Monterey Bay Aquarium
Though not all visit the aquarium, most do. More than 60-million people have made their way through the exquisite, ethereal displays of ocean creatures and their habitat over the past 34-years. If you would like to avoid crowds at their thickest, it is probably best to go during the week or later in the day.
The harshest criticisms of the aquarium have included accusations that profits made from spikes in attendance were put before the welfare of [Great] white sharks on exhibit. These same efforts have been equally applauded and supported by the scientific community.
Scientist working on shark studies at the Monterey Bay Aquarium are considered the leading experts in their field globally. The sharks were studied for 3-years before any effort to capture one. White sharks must swim continuously to push water through their gills and avoid suffocation.
Therefore, they were transported to the aquarium in 12,000-liter tanks then housed in 15,000,000 liter tanks (4-million US gallons) while on display. Despite these efforts, a juvenile white shark died one week after being released back to the ocean in 2011. There has not been a white shark exhibited at the aquarium since.
This does raise the question of whether zoos and aquariums should remove animals from their natural habitat at all. The topic is complicated and must weigh the benefits of species saved by captivity vs. the neglect and mistreatment of others by hack organizations just looking to turn a buck by displaying ill-fated animals they have stolen away from a happy existence.
The Open Sea exhibit featuring two beautiful Mola Mola
I believe we need to understand our oceans, jungles and fellow inhabitants of this planet, so we will stop destroying them. But I would be lying if I did not admit that I do not feel entirely comfortable with animals in captivity beyond those in need of rescue that will be released.
I do know that few can rival Monterey Bay Aquarium at the mastery of making science fun and approachable for children and adults and I do not think this aquarium makes a regular practice of putting science before the welfare of the animals they study and care for because their primary focus is on conservation and sustainability.
A display of plastic that currently polluting our oceans in clumps larger than the country of Mexico
Ending ocean plastic pollution is something the aquarium has declared commitment to. By “advocating for science-based policy action,” the aquarium appealed to elected officials and voters to successfully pass a statewide ban on single-use plastic bags in California.
It is also one of 21 aquariums located throughout the U.S. that have formed Our Hands, a collective committed to raising awareness of humankind’s destructive day-to-day practices that many do not even realize are seriously harming the ocean and environment.
Crab - Monterey Bay
Seafood Watch is a well-known sustainability project in the United States. It has influenced chefs, restaurateurs, and consumers to make the switch to sustainable seafood, and discourage overfishing and habitat damage. The aquarium was one of the leading sponsors on statewide shark fin ban that went into effect in 2011.
Ocean Travelers Plastics Gallery
Education and awareness efforts include an annual Ocean Plastic Pollution Summit for students in grades 3-12, the Ocean Travelers Plastics Gallery, a stunning exhibit of ocean-related sculptures and artwork created from plastic, and keeping conversations regarding this and other environmental concerns going on social media.
Monterey Bay Aquarium is a participant in conservation and science efforts by the Association of Zoos & Aquariums. Other Partners include MBARI and Center for Ocean Solutions. In 2017, the aquarium publicly endorsed the March for Science and maintains regular involvement in ocean health and climate-related conferences held by the United Nations.
To read more about the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s most recent efforts visit their Conservation & Science Blog.
Tickets & Hours
Monterey Bay Aquarium
886 Cannery Row, Monterey, CA 93940