The two story building once was the largest sardine cannery just before WWI when there was a need for protein rich food by the overseas army forces. Now it has been transformed into an aquarium it still is the largest building on Cannery row.
The set up of Monterey Bay Aquarium is based on and present the various habitats and flora and fauna of Monterey Bay. At some point they do not live up to their mission though, because I don’t think penguins belong to the native wildlife of Monterey Bay. Certainly not black-footed penguins or African penguins which are only found exclusively in Africa. The penguin enclosure, by the way, is not very impressive and provides a rather small pool for the black-footed penguins. On the other hand there is the walk-through aviary that is situated indoors but has access to the outside. Via the wire-mesh fences the fresh ocean winds can come inside this part of the enclosure. Several indigenous shore birds can be seen here, such as the black oystercatcher and the red phalarope (Phalaropus fulicarius) in its breeding plumage, due to the time of the year of course.
Since the polluted bay area became so clean that kelp is growing there again different native species flourish also, such as the sea otter, their flagship species. In all their tanks they use the clean pristine bay water, and with this water invertebrates are coming in and will grow naturally in the aquarium basins. That way they present local flora and fauna in the Aquarium quite literally. Moreover, they go to great lengths in their exhibitions to show how fragile these habitats are. Their educational exhibitions about marine pollution, its effect on marine life and mankind are profound. The story about all the plastics we dump in the environment and which finally end up in the gyres of the ocean contains a very strong message.
Feeding time at the Aquarium’s Open Sea exhibit is for many people the highlight of their visit to Monterey. The largest tank at the Aquarium provides enough space for the different fish species to coexist. The school of sardines, prey species for the Pacific blue tuna, spend most of their day at the bottom of the tank and only during feeding they move upwards and show their marvellous capacity to move as one entity, as a cloud through the exhibit (see ). After being fed, the sardines move downwards again to avoid the predator fish when they get their meal. It seems that, now and again, the more careless sardines end up in the predators’ stomachs.
Viewing the Pacific sea nettle (Chrysaora fuscescens) and the moon jellyfish (Aurelia aurita) in Monterey Bay Aquarium water tanks can be a mesmerising and relaxing experience due to the slow but steady movement of these jellyfish (). I missed the ‘Secret Lives of Seahorses’ exhibit, but I have been told this is great and as good as many of the other exhibits in Monterey Bay Aquarium.
The Aquarium is about raising awareness of Monterey Bay nature and ecosystems. Exactly this specific mission makes the Aquarium interesting in my opinion. They focus on that specific location while situated at the shores of the Bay. So the effect of their conservation effort regarding the sea otters is illustrated right outside. Monterey Bay Aquarium’s mission is saving injured and orphaned sea otters to return them in the wild. From the viewing decks on the Bayside you have excellent views on the Monterey Bay, and wild sea otters (Enhydra lutris) are there to be seen. The ones that cannot take care of themselves (yet) can be seen inside, in the sea otter pool, but outside at open sea in front of the Aquarium buildings you can see these magnificent creatures in the wild. In the it seems as if the captive otter is making its way through to open sea via a tunnel, though this is actually not the case.
They are very successful at the Aquarium in rescuing sea otters (see ) and their work supports the federal government, which protect and manage the Southern sea otter by law. This is a good thing of course, but it also means that it is not allowed to export any sea otter outside the United States. In fact, it means that sometimes cubs born in captivity in Californian zoological establishments that cannot be returned in the wild, have to be euthanized when there is no zoo or aquarium within US boundaries able to keep them. While I know that there are many zoos and aquariums in Europe that want to add sea otters to their animal collection.