Monterey Bay Aquarium I, Monterey Bay, CA

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Monterey Bay faces the Pacific Ocean some 50 miles south of San Francisco, forming roughly a half-circle between Santa Cruz and Monterey. Inside the bay, the Monterey Canyon is one of the largest underwater canyon in the world. The bay nourish a rich variety of marin life, including many marine mammals such as otters, harbor seals, sea lions, and elephant seals. The Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary was created in 1992 to preserve the natural environment of the bay and surrounding ocean.

 

Monterey Bay Aquarium in Monterey Bay, CA. One of the largest and most renowned aquariums in the world, with an exhibits of some 35,000 animals and plants of 623 species. The aquarium features many stunning exhibits such as the largest single pane glass window in the outer bay display and a large collection of jellyfishes. It is one of the few places in the world that you can watch a Great White Shark in captivity.The aquarium attracts by 1.8 millions visitors year round. Founded in 1984, the aquarium was initiated and financed by David Packard (co-founder of Hewlett-Pakard).

The Monterey Bay Aquarium has been our favorit weekend excursion spot in the past a few years. As the pictures we took in the aquarium kept piling up, the urge of cataloging these beautiful creatures become stronger and stronger. So now I've done it. These two pages cover all major exhibits and most animals in the aquarium in the last threer years (2006-08). There have been some significant changes in the exhibits in those years: three Great White Sharks came and gone from the Outter Bay million-gallon tank; its tankmate, a magnificient 1,250 lbs Sunfish die in Feb 2008; one of my favorit exhibit, Jelly the Living Art was reduced and merged into the Outter Bay/Drifter Section; additions of new exhibits such as the colorful Coral Reef section... But for the half dozen times we've visited, never once had the aquarium failed to fascinate us with its riveting and elegant displays. The only side effect is that the exhibits never failed to stimulate our appetite for Seafood either (hmm... wonder how it taste like...). So after each visit, we typically found ourselve sitting in a sushi restaurant, studying the fleshes of various colors on our plate, not without a slight bit of regret, trying to imagine how lively they look just a few hours ago in the aquarium... Call it original sin for being on top of the food chain. Anyway, that's a little too far off the topic; back to the aquarium. the following are a few snapshots of the displays. Check out the giant Sunfish in the 3rd pic.

 

The Ocean's Edge section include several themes that reproduce various near-shore ecosystems: the Kelp Forest, Sandy Seafloor, Wetland and Sandy Shore, Rocky Shore, and the Wharf. The 28-ft-high Kelp Forest exhibit is one of the tallest aquarium display in the world. It reproduces the most dynamic and productive ecosystem in the temperate and polar coastal ocean, including the Californian coast and the Monterey Bay right outside the aquarium. The exhibit is open to the air so the sun could stream down and nourish the giant kelps, which can grow a few inches a day. These giant kelps in turn provide the habitat and hideout for a wide variety of marine organisms.

The restless Leopard Sharks (Triakis semifasciata) are the most eye-catching habitants in the display, with their long, sleek, spotted body moving swiftly in between the giant kelps. They are bottom feeders that live on worms, mollusks, and small fishes. Leopard sharks are prized delicacies that reportedly taste very tender and flavorful.

The California Sheephead (Semicossyphus pulcher, 1st 3 pix) is a clumsy-looking fish with a giant head that obviously gives its name. All sheepheads are born female but will turn into male when they're 7 or 8 years old, unless there're too many males around. In the 1st 2 pix is a female while a male in 3rd. In the last 2 pix is a Garibaldi Damselfish (Hypsypops rubicundus); it is not very friendly to divers, and can give you a surprising nip if you get too close;

More peculiar habitants of the kelp forest. The malicious-looking Wolf Eel (Anarrhichthys ocellatus, first 2 pix) is a rare sight in the display, since it spends most of the time hiding in between rocks; next in the 3rd and 4th pix, a California Moray (Gymnothorax mordax), also an eel; in the last two pix is a Cabezone (Scorpaenichthys marmoratus), which means "big-headed" in Spanish. How appropriate. It can be recognized by the two spiny "eyebrows" on the face.

 

The most abundant habitants in the kelp forest are Rockfishes, a favorite of seafood lovers. They come in different shapes, sizes, and color patterns, but they do have common features: large eyes, a large mouth with thick lips, and thick spines in their fins. Rockfishes are among the longest-living fishes in the world, with the oldest record of 205 years achieved by a Rougheye Rockfish in Alaska. Unfortunately this means it takes decades or even a century for a rockfish to reach suitable size for a delicious dinner plate. Due to their long life, low production rate, overfishing, and loss of habitats, rockfish population has declined dramatically. Some population actually has dropped by 98% since the 1970s. Just keep that in mind the next time you brows through the menu in a seafood restaurant.

In the first 3 pix is a Gopher Rockfish (Sebastes carnatus); the last 3 pix, a Grass Rockfish (Sebastes rastrelliger). The delicate lemon color of the last grass rockfish comes from a rare type of mutation.

A Copper Rockfish (Sebastes caurinus, first 3 pix); Next in the 4th and 5th pix is a China Rockfish (Sebastes nebulosus), reportedly one of the tastiest rockfish. It got its name from being highly prized by the Chinese population, especially those in California; in the last pic is a Treefish.

More colors: a Blue Rockfish (first pic); a Black Rockfish (2nd and 3rd pix); next in the 4th pic, a Brown Rockfish; next, a Black-and-yellow Rockfish (5th pic); in the last pic, a Kelp Rockfish (Sebastes serriceps).  

 

More delicious fishes: in the first 3 pix is a Kelp Bass (Paralabrax clathratus, last 2 pix), a favorite catch of Californian game fisher; next in the 4th pic is a Giant Sea Bass (Stereolepis gigas); in the last 2 pix is a Yellowtail (Seriola lalandi), which also known as Hamachi, mostly on the menu of Japanese restaurants... my favorite kind of sushi.

In the first 2 pix is a Rainbow Seaperch (Hypsurus caryi, 1st 2 pix). Unlike most other drab-looking seaperch, it's actually quite colorful as the name implies; next in the 2nd and 3rd pix is a California Salema (Xenistius californiensis); in the last pic is a Surfperch (Embiotoca jacksoni).

In the first 2 pix is a Giant Kelp Fish (Macrocystis pyrifera). It can change its color to blend into leaves of seaweed or kelps; next in the 3rd pic is a Crevice Kelpfish (Gibbonsia montereyensis); in the last 2 pix is a Senorita (Oxyjulis californica ), a small fish that feeds on plankton and occasionally, cleans up parasites and dead tissues from bigger fishes.

In the first 2 pix is a group of Halfmoon (Medialuna californiensis); next in the 3rd pic is a Blacksmith (Chromis punctipinnis); an Opaleye (Girella nigricans) in the 4th pic; in the last 2 pix, a group of Lion's Mane Seaslug is feeding on kelp leaves.

Schooling fishes. In the first 4 pix is a school of Pacific Sardines (Sardinops sagax); in the last 2 pix is a small group of Pacific Markerel (Scomber japonicus).

Feeding. Occasionally, you may see divers jump into the tank for feeding, which is quite a sight. Hundreds and hundreds of hungry captives of colors and sizes swirl around the diver, fighting for every bite off his hands. It may feel cool to be courted by so many beautiful creatures, but you got to be careful: some rockfishes have poisonous spins that can give you a pretty good sting; some fishes like the good old Garibaldi might give you a surprising nip from time to time.

 

The Rocky Shore. This exhibit covers animals living from the dry rock above water to lush rock exposed only by the lowest tides. Interacting with the tides, rocky shores are dynamic environments that are rich in life. Typical inhabitants include but not limited to crabs, anemones, sea stars, snails, fishes, and sea urchins. The displays in this theme are small in scale, but every life-rich inch of them is full of surprises.

Sea Anemones. The beauty of the rocky shore, for the most part, lies in the delicate, flowery Sea Anemones (Order Actiniaria). Although the appearance and the name can be deceptive, sea anemones are not plants but animals, predatory animals in fact. They're tube-like creatures attached to the rock on one end with an basal disc, while a mouth piece opened at the other end. Around the mouth piece are tentacles that can deliver poisonous stings, serving both as a defense and a device for prey. Below are the brightly-colored Corynactis Anemones.

The immaculate White Plumed Anemone (Metridium giganteum) look prominent in the dark (3 pix); the fleshy flowers in the next 3 pix are probably Rose Anemones.

Fishes. Hovering above the rocks are the long-live Rockfishes. In the first 2 pix is probably a pair of young Tiger Rockfish (Sebastes nigrocinctus ); next in the 3rd pic, a Flag Rockfish (Sebastes rubrivinctus); next in the 4th pic, a Ling Cod (Ophiodon elongatus), a large game fish prized by anglers; in the last pic, peeking from inside the rock crevice is probably a Blenny.

In the first 2 pix, hugging the rock bottom is a Coralline Sculpin (Artedius corallinus). Coralline Scuplins are master of camouflage, with their colors blending into the rock and seaweed perfectly. Next in the 3rd and 4th pix are a group of Leaping Blennies (Alticus saliens). These are restless little fellas that both swim and leap from one tide pools to another as the tide come and go. To adapt to such active lifestyle, they learn to breath in the air by their gill and skin. In the last pic is a Black Eyed Goby (Coryphopterus nicholsi).

Crustaceans. In the first 2 pix the devilish creature is a California Sheep Crab (Loxorhynchus grandis). Next in the 3rd pic, the rock-like creature is a Puget Sound King Crab (Lopholithodes mandtii). In the 4th and 5th pix is a Decorator Crab (Cyclocoeloma tuberculata). The name comes from its habit of covering itself with seaweed, algae, and anemone for camouflage. In the last pic is a group of Spot Shrimps. These are the largest shrimp in North Pacific; a little sweet in flavor, it's great for Sashimi.

Other invertebrates. Rock Scallops (Crassedoma giganteum) in the first 3 pix; Bat Star (Asterina pectinifera) in the last 2.

 

The Sandy Shore. This exhibit covers the sandy wetland along the Monterey Bay coast. You may think the sandy beaches seem devoid of life, it's actually a very dynamic environment, with constant exchange of wind, waves, sands, and currents. You'll be surprised by how lively it is underneath the moist sands and mud: crabs, shrimps, worms, clams... The sandy seabed is the perfect ambient for bottom dwellers such as flat fishes and rays. Where there are vegetation, it gets even more exciting...

Flatfishes are a peculiar group of creatures, arguably the most defiant heretic to the beauty of symmetry in the animal kingdom. With both eyes squeezed to the same side of the flatten body and mouth twisted, they seems to swim right out of a painting of Picasso. But they're not children of Cubism, but rather creation of evolution. Because the ancestors of flatfishes always lie on the ocean floor, on one side, symmetry became a problem because one eye always face the bottom. Over the generations, the problem was solved by "relocating" the bottom eye around to the top side. Along the way some species, such as this Starry Flounder (Platichthys stellatus) in the first 2 pix, also learned to change their color to blend into the ambient. Some disguise themselves with sands, such as this C-O Sole (Pleuronichthys coenosus) in the 3rd pic and Pacific Dover Sole (Microstomus pacificus) in the 4th pic. In the last pic is a Diamond Turbot (Hypsopsetta guttulata).

More bottom dwellers. In the first 2 pix is the Egg Case of Big Skates (Raja binoculata), a leathery purse that holds embryos of skates. The case has prongs on one end, which secure the case on seaweeds or sand floor. It takes almost a year for the embryos to mature and little baby skates swim out of the case. In the lat pic is how they look like when they're all grown up.

Swell Sharks (Cephaloscyllium ventriosum) also have similar eeg purse to nurse their embryos. Swell sharks got its name from a neat trick of hiding in rock crevices, biting its own tail to form a U-shape and swallow a large amount of water so that it swell into twice the normal size. This makes it difficult to any predator to bite or drag the shark out of the crevice. In the last 4th and 5th pix is a group of Longspine Combfishes (Zaniolepis latipinnis). In the last pic is a Shovelnose Guitarfish (Rhinobatos productus).

In the first 3 pix are a group of Spiny Kingcrabs (Paralithodes rathbuni). These thorny creatures are predator for other smaller crabs and sea stars. In the last 3 pix are stacks of Sand Dollars (Echinarachnius parma) . The name obviously refers to its round and flat shape. They are actually animals, relatives of Sea Urchin and Sea Stars.

Tube Anemones (first 4 pix) are not "true" anemones but belong to a different class of animal (Zoantharia). For one thing, they don't have a suction disk at the base to attach themselves to rocks, and that's why they burrow themselves in sand and leave only the tip exposed. In the last pic is a group of Acorn Barnacles (Semibalanus balanoides). These snail-like creatures glue their head on any hard substrate and whenever there's water, they extend their feather-like legs to collect food. Despite their looks, they're actually crustaceans and relative of shrimps and lobsters.

 

Costal channels, streams, and wet land connects fresh and sea water. The environments are diverse: from splashy, surging tides, slow streams, to quiet channels and still (temporary) tide pools. Many fishes, such as the Rainbow Trout here (Oncorhynchus mykiss, first 2 pix), learn to adapt to both sea and fresh water. They began life in freshwater streams, live in the sea for a few years, and then return to the fresh water to spawn. Next in the 3rd and 4th pix is a group of Opaleye (Girella nigricans). In the last pic is a Pipefish (Subfamily Syngnathinae), a relative of sea horse.

In the first 2 pix, a group of Reef Surfperches (Micrometrus aurora); next in the 3rd and 4th pix is a Shiner Perch (Cymatogaster aggregata). In the last pic is a Topsmelt (Atherinops affinis).

A pretty clusters of Giant Green Anemone (Anthopleura xanthogrammica) in the 1st pic. In the mud of coastal wetland hides the burrowing Ghost Shrimp (Palaemonetes spp., 2nd and 3rd pix) and Fat Innkeeper Worms (Urechis caupo, last pic). The Innkeeper worms dig up burrows that provide shelters for a variety of guests such as arrow goby, pea crabs, clams, and scale worms, who feed on food the worm leave behind.

 

The Wharf. Underneath the wharf is a unique ecosystem, in which we human is intimately involved. Our litter is actually become an important part of the food chain and part of the ambient. In such an environment rich in organic particles, anemone and algae thrive. Giant Kelp Fishes (Heterostichus rostratus, last 2 pix) feel right at home in such environment.

Other frequenter of the whart include Perches (first 3 pix) and Flatfishes (last 2 pix).

 

 

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