Monterey Bay Aquarium II, Monterey Bay, CA

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This page contains display that are further into the ocean, mostly in the Outer Bay side of the aquarium. The most impressive among the displays, and probably the most stunning of all aquarium exhibits in the world, is the million-gallon Outer Bay tank that house the largest open-ocean community to be found in any aquarium in the world. Through the largest single-pane glass in the world, you meet face-to-face with the giants of the sea such as the Ocean Sunfish, Giant Bluefin Tuna, and even the formidable Great White Shark, all cruising in open water.

Here it is, probably the only Great White Shark (Carcharodon carcharias) in captivity at the time (2007). Great white shark is the largest predatory fish in the world, with length up to 6m (20ft) and weight up to 2.2 tons (5000 lbs). Thanks to Steven Spielberg, the great white shark has been carrying the reputation of "dangerous man-eater" since the popular 1975 movie Jaws. In reality the great white shark do not typically target human. However, they are very difficult to keep in captivity for more than 2 weeks. Monterey Bay Aquarium broke the record in 2007 by keep one young male for 137 day, before releasing it to the ocean in January 16th. This is the third great white shark in the Aquarium we're watching here in the million gallon Outer Bay water tank. He's a young male of 4'9" and 67.5 lbs, arrived in August 28, 2007. In the million-gallon tank it really stands out because of its unusual high level of energy. It typically cruise in circle on top of the tank with speed and vigor no other fishes in the tank can match.

More sharks. In the first 3 pix is a Galapagos Shark (Carcharhinus galapagensis) with a classic "shark" look: slim streamline body, greedy little eyes, gaping mouth... Although aggressive, Galapagos Shark rarely attack human. In the last 3 pix is a Scalloped Hammerhead, (Sphyrna lewini) with its head widen like a double-headed hammer and the eyes and nostrils located at the end of the hammer. Theory has it, the peculiar shape of its head provide extra lift during swimming, and enable the shark to make quicker and sharper turns.

The most eye-catching resident in the Outer Bay tank is probably the Ocean Sunfish (Mola mola), because of its sheer size and peculiar look. This is the biggest bone fish (fish with actual bone skeleton, unlike cartilaginous fishes such as sharks and rays) in the world, with a length up to 3.3m (10.8ft), fins extend up to 4.2m (14ft), and weight up to 2.3 tons (5,100 lbs). On the first glance a sunfish resemble a huge head with two fins, one grow on the top and the other on bottom. Without a distinct tail, sunfishes rely on their pronounced dorsal and ventral fins for propulsion. The name sunfish refers to its habit of laying flat on the surface of the ocean for sunbathing. Monterey Bay Aquarium was the first and only aquarium in the US to host the giant sunfish. These pix of the 6'7", 1,247-lb sunfish were taken in 2007. In Feb. 14th, 2008, this fish was euthanized after a period of failing health. It spend two and a half years in the aquarium, growing from a little 22-inch, 20-lb baby to its current size. RIP...

The spectacular Pacific Bluefin Tuna (Thunnus orientalis, first 5 pix) is sleek and quick. In fact it's one of the fastest fish in the Pacific Ocean. They can reach 3m (10ft) long and weigh 550 kilo (1,200 lbs). Yellowfin Tuna (Thunnus albacares, last pic) is smaller (up to 2.4m long and 200 kilo) and more common. When you order tuna sashimi in an average Japanese restaurant, most likely what you get is the yellowfin. Only upscale restaurants serve bluefin, which is much more expensive. In January 2001, a 444-lb Northern Bluefin was sold in Tokyo for $173,600. Mind you that's $391 a pound. By the way, even that is not the most expensive fish. In 2008 a 105-lb Golden Tigerfish was sold for $75,000 ($714/lb) in China.

These shiny surface dwellers are Dolphinfish (Coryphaena hippurus), or Mahi-Mahi in Hawaiian.

In the first 3 pix is a group of California Barracuda (Sphyraena argentea). These long, slim, toothy fishes are aggressive hunters that prey on smaller fishes such as anchovies, sardines. In the last 2 pix is a Pelagic Stingray (Pteroplatytrygon violacea). As the name implies, unlike other ray species, pelagic stingrays spend most of its time in open water instead of burying under sandfloor.

Schooling fishes. Pacific Mackerel (Scomber japonicus) in the first 2 pix; gaping Northern Anchovies (Engraulis mordax) in the last 4 pix.


Deep Reef. Way out in the Pacific Ocean, all the way to the bottom, hundreds of feet deep. It's cold, quiet, and sunless here; so dark that it's very challenging to grab a good photo. But in the dark animals flourish: resting, lurking, cruising leisurely. In the 2nd-4th pix is a slow-cruising White Sturgeon (Acipenser transmontanus). Also found in fresh water, it is the largest fresh water fish in North America. An adult White Sturgeon can weight over 1,500 lbs, measure up to 15 ft, and live well over 100 years. In the last pic is a Chinook Salmon, or King Salmon (Oncorhynchus tshawytscha). They're well known for swimming up the streams, going back to their fresh water birth places to spawn after living in the ocean for a few years. Along their arduous final adventure of their lives, they do not feed but only live on their stored fat. Not only they have to battle against the current, fish ladders, and even waterfalls, but also have to escape from all kind of predators: grizzlies, wild cats, eagles, and sport fishermen... Finally, after the lucky bunch made it to the quiet, cool freshwater of their birthplace, they lay eggs... and die. What a life! Every year from September through December, from California to Alaska, hundreds of streams, small and large, are the stage of such epic of life.

In the first 3 pix is a Broadnose Sevengill Shark (Notorynchus cepedianus). It has seven pairs of gill slits (compare to five for most other sharks) a wide nose as the name suggests. In the last 2 pix is a Soupfin Shark (Galeorhinus galeus). The name come from its fin is desired in the Oriental for fin soup, but its meat is not very popular; once caught, many fishermen simply chop the fin off the shark and throw the dying fish back to the sea, which is very wasteful.

Bottom dwellers. In the first 4 pix is a Bat Ray (Myliobatis californica). Like Stingray, Bat Ray also has a venomous spine near the base of its tail, but it is rarely used unless the fish is frighten or attacked. In the last pic is a Starry Flounder (Platichthys stellatus), a kind of flatfish.


Coral Reef. A new exhibit. There are actually no coral reef outside the Monterey Bay. For that we need to go a few hundred miles southward, to the tropical coast of Mexico. But who would mind it's not from local, as long as we have an additional wonderful display? The vivid colors of these tropical creatures add depth to the already impressive collection.

Blue Tang (Paracanthurus hepatus, first 3 pix) and Yellow Tang (Zebrasoma flavescens) are Surgeon fishes. They both have a pair of protruded spine plates that are as sharp as scalpels, which can create very deep and painful cut in enemies or careless human. But of course, born with such bright colors, you're considered forewarned.

Orange Clownfishes (Amphiprion percula, first 3 pix) have gained immense popularity, almost overnight, owing to the block buster Pixar animation Finding Nemo. Clownfishes all form symbiotic relationship with Sea Anemone, cleaning on the undigested wastes from the Anemone, while received protection from the poisonous tentacles of the anemone. In the last 3 pix is a Longfin Bannerfish (Heniochus acuminatus). It the marine aquarium industry it's known as "poor man's Moorish Idol" because its similar look but much easier to care for.

In the first 2 pix is a Devil Damselfish (Chrysiptera taupou). The name come from its extreme aggressiveness in fish tank. Although a few inches in size, it's bold and territorial, and does not hesitate to attack much bigger fishes if feel offended. It may even go after your hand if it reach its territory. Next in the 3rd and 4th pix is a flamboyant Flame Angelfish (Centropyge loricula). In the last 2 pix is a Longnose Hawkfish (Oxycirrhites typus).

Eels. In the first 2 pix is the ferocious-looking Dragon Moray Eel (Enchelycore paradalis), with a pair of nasal tubes shape like horns and a gaping mouth full of needle-sharp teeth. Somehow the look didn't scare off the Northern Cleaner Shrimps (Lysmata amboinensis), who leisurely dining on the parasites on the eel. Next in the 3rd pic is a Snowflake Moray (Echidna nebulosa); in the 4th a Whitemouth Moray (Gymnothorax meleagris); the 5th a Zebra Moray (Gymnomuraena zebra). In the last pic is the strange Garden Eel (Heteroconger hassi). They gather in colonies at the bottom of ocean, planting their tails in the sand to form a garden. Once frighten, they'll pull themselves back into the sand, tail first.

In the first 2 pix, a Leafy Sea Dragon (Phycodurus eques). No surprise at how it got the name. With those leaf-like fins, they glide through the jungle of seaweed and kelp gracefully, well disguised. Next in the 3rd and 4th pix is a Weedy Sea Dragon (Phyllopteryx taeniolatus), with a somewhat less leafy outfit but still very suitable to blend into the environment. In the last 2 pix is a group of peculiar-looking Potbelly Seahorses (Hippocampus abdominalis) and Longsnot Seahorse (Hippocampus reidi Ginsburg, last pic), with the head of a horse, tail of a monkey, and a front pouch like a kangaroo. But don't be misled, seahorses are fishes.

In the first 2 pix is an Barrier Reef Anemone Fish (Amphiprion akindynos). Next in the 3rd and 4th, a Bird Wrasse (Gomphosus varius), quite ugly for a fish if you ask me. Creatures in the last 2 pix, I still need to find out what their names are.

Invertebrates. In the first 3 pix are Giant Clams (Tridacna gigas). They look so colorful because they form symbiotic relationship with algae, which is very similar to corals. The algae gain protection from grazing fishes, while the clam can obtain food from the algae. In the 4th pic is a pair of Pharaoh Cuttlefish (Sepia pharaonis), a cousin of octopus but with ten tentacles. 5th pic, Sea Urchin. Last pic, Corral.


Jellies: Living Art. My all-time favorite exhibit. Unfortunately the exhibit was reduced and merged into the Ocean's Edge / Drifter section last year (2008), so the following images will serve well in commemorating the joy and fascination brought to us by these magical creatures. Jellies or jellyfish or medusa are not fish but a group of semi-transparent, soft-bodied, ocean-drifting animals, mostly of the phylum Cnidaria. They typically have a cup/bell-like body, with a mouth opening surrounded by tentacles. These are primitive creatures that don't even have a specialized digestive (no stomach) or central nervous system (no brain). But never belittle these simple creatures and for a moment let your guard down, when you see these pretty jellies drifting in the ocean. Their tentacles are covered by tiny sacs that are full of alkali-based venom. If you just allow a slightest kiss in your bare skin from those long flying tentacle, you'll most likely have some exciting moment that you'll remember for the rest of your life. Most jellyfish stings are not fatal but extremely painful, and can easily last for days or weeks. Even though the sting itself may not be fatal, you still should get out of water as soon as possible to make sure you don't lose control of your movement and drown. Now if you're lucky enough to encounter a group of box jellyfish, which is not out of the ordinary on the east coast of Australia, it'll be a totally different matter. Known as one of the most lethal creatures in the world, the box jellies are so venomous, in minutes their sting can cause cardiovascular collapse, respiratory and neuromuscular paralysis. So your heart fail, you become breathless, your muscle stop listening to you, and accompanied by one of the most excruciating pain ever known to human, you die. Mind you, Box Jellyfish have claimed at least 5,568 lives in record since 1954, and probably many more not in the book.

Fortunately here in the aquarium we don't have to deal with such unpleasant aspect of an encounter with these fascinating creatures. With a thick piece of glass separating us, under artistic light for brilliant visual effect, these simple yet delicate animals are actually... quite adorable.

Take the giant Black Sea Nettle (Chrysaora achlyos, first 2 pix) for example, its dark purplish bell-shaped body can grow up to 3 feet (91cm) in diameter and that long skirt can reach over 25 feet (7.6m). It's mesmerizing to watch such giant dancing and swirling slowly in front of you, make you almost forget the extreme pain those venomous long skirts can cause. The Pacific Sea Nettle (Chrysaora fuscescens) are smaller in size, but it was quite a magnificent view to see them dance in group. In the last 3 pix is another group beauties, the Purple-striped Jellies (Chrysaora colorata) with their airy, immaculate long skirt.

In the first 3 pix is a group of Moon Jellies (Aurelia aurita), the name is visually appropriate. In the last 3 pix is a group of Crystal Jellies (Aequorea victoria). Without the lighting, these little creatures are actually crystal-clear, almost completely transparent. In the open water with no hiding places, being invisible is the best camouflage.

In the first 3 pix is a group of Lion's Mane Jellies (Cyanea capillata), the largest known species of jellyfish. Its body can measure up to 7'6" (2.3m) in diameter and the tentacles can reach up to 120 ft (36.5m). Such length, beating that of an average blue whale, is sufficient to won the jelly a spot in the list of longest animals. In the last 2 pix is a similar-looking, but smaller Egg-yolk Jelly (Phacellophora camtschatica). The name obviously comes from the yolk-yellow inner layer in the body.

The plant-like Upside-Down Jellyfish (Cassiopea xamachana) usually form colonies that carpets the seafloor in shallow water. Their bells work like a suction cup that attach the jellies to the seafloor upside down, with their short green or blue oral arm swaying in the current like green flowers. The green and blue colors come from symbiotic algae that live in their tissues. The jellies find sunny spots to let the algae photosynthesize, and in turn live on the food algae produce. Spotted Jellies (Mastigias papua) in the last 3 pix also grow a crop of algae in their bodies, which make them appear lightly greenish-brown. But in addition, spotted jellies also have many small mouth openings in their oral arms that can capture small plankton for food.

These are free-moving jellies that don't rely on current to drift around. The Mediterranean Jellies (Cotylorhiza tuberculata) have a short skirt decorated by dangling small pieces of sapphires, which is very appealing to me. In the last 2 pix is a group of restless Blue Jellies (Catostylus mosaicus). The color of blue jellies actually ranges from light blue, dark purple, to burgundy.

My favorite among all is the tiny Lobed Comb Jellyfish (Bolinopsis infundibulum), with movable combs in their bodies working like gratings in a spectrometer, or a prism, reflecting rainbow-like colors in rhythm (last 2 pix). Strictly speaking, the comb jellies are not jellyfish since it belong to a different phylum Ctenophore (as supposed to phylum Cnidaria for most jellies). Note that it doesn't have the bell-shaped body plus tentacles structure of common jellies. But who cares, the Lobed Comb Jelly is a magnificent animal. The name comes from the two lobes that the jelly spreads out like net when feeding.


The Giant Octopus (Enteroctopus dofleini) is arguably the largest octopus species, weighing up to 71kg/156.5lbs and an arm span up to 4.3m/14ft (some claim that the Seven-arm Octopus can reach 75kg). Its skin contains a large amount of pigment cells that can change colors to let the octopus blend into the environment, as it glide and crawl over the ocean floor, sneak close to the prey, then swiftly wrap the prey up with its eight arms with thousands of suckers, and feed with its sharp beaks of chitin. Although giant octopus normally feed on crustacean, fishes, shellfishes, it has been observed to prey on small sharks a few feet long.


Local animals. Start with mammals. The active Sea Otters (Enhydra lutris) are always popular in the aquarium. To withstand the cold water of the Californian Coast (and further north all the way to Alaska), sea otters wear the densest fur of all animals (150,000 hairs per sq. cm). This made Sea Otter fur an highly sought after luxury item. Intensive hunting almost wiped out the entire sea otter population early last century (estimated 1-2,000 individual left in the wild in the 1910s). Today, sea otter population has rebound to about 2/3 of their historic range, a major success of marine conservation.

A group of California Sealion (Zalophus californianus) in the Monterey Bay.

Birds. The following row are all wading birds. In the first 2 pix is a Long-billed Curlew (Numenius americanus). The largest member of the sandpiper family, its long bill helps it dig deep into the mud and soil for insects and worms. Next in the 3rd and 4th pix, with the exceptionally long leg is a Black-necked Stilt (Himantopus mexicanus), a shore bird commonly found in salty wet land and grassy marshes. In the 5yh pic is a Ruddy Turnstone (Arenaria interpres). In the last pic is a Killdeer (Charadrius vociferus).

In the first pic is a Heermann's Gull (Larus heermanni), easily recognized by its red bill and gray body. In the 2nd pic is a Ruddy Duck (Oxyura jamaicensis). Next in the 3rd and 4th pix is a group of Common Murre (Uria aalge). In the last pic is a pair of Brown Pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis).


Foreigners. In the first 3 pix are Blackfooted Penguin (Spheniscus demersus) from South Africa. They can't fly, but if you see how swift and graceful they glide through water, you'll forgive that. In the last 3 pix is the venomous Asian Vine Snake (Ahaetulla nasuta), widely found from Southeast Asia to Korea. I remember seeing them in the bushes as little kid (how well they blend in!) and was repeatedly warned not to mess with them.

In the first 3 pix is a group of Asian Small-clawed Otter (Aonyx cinerea), the smallest otter species. They live in small families that are female-dominant. In the last 3 pix is an African Spotted-necked Otter (Lutra maculicollis), found widely in sub-Sahara Africa.


Colorful tropical freshwater fishes from Africa and Asia. Below are fishes from Lake Tanganyika in Central Africa, the third lagest (by volume) and the second deepest freshwater lake in the world. In the first 3 pix is a Checkerboard Julie (Julidochromis marlieri); in the last 2 pix is a Black-finned Slender Cichild (Cyprichromis leptosoma).

In the first 3 pix are a group of gorgeoous Princess Cichlid (Lamprologus brichardi); next in the 4th pic is a Lemon Cichlid (Neolamprologus leleupi); in the last pic is a Gold Head (Altolamprologus compressiceps), also a species of cichlid;

These are Lake Tanganyika fishes I can't recognize:

Lake Chad is a large, shallow lake surrrounded by Chad, Cameroon, Niger, and Nigeria. It has been dramatically shrinking in size in the last century. In 1823 when it was first surveyed by the European it was one of the largest lake in the world, but the size reduced considerably since then. From 1960 to 2000, the lake's area shrinked from 26,000 to 1,500 sq. km. The lake is expected to disappear in the course of the 21st century, so be prepare to say good bye to the pretty fishes below. In the first pic is a pair of Freshwater Butterflyfishes (Pantodon buchholzi), with exceptional long pectoral fins. Note that these Butterflyfishes have nothing to do with saltwater butterflyfishes. Next in the 3rd pic is a Norman's Lampeye (Aplocheilichthys normani); in the 4th pic is a Congo Tetra (Phenacogrammus interruptus); I can't recognize the fish in the last pic.

Lake Victoria is the largest fresh water lake in Africa, and the second largest in the world (in terms of surface area), the home of the African Spotted-necked Otter shown above. Bellow are all Lake Victoria Cichlid of different colors.

Fishes from Southeast Asian Rivers. In the first 3 pix is a group of Scissor-tail Rasbora (Rasbora trilineata). The name is rather descriptive since these fishes move their fin like scissor when swimming. In the last 3 pix is a Pearl Gourami (Trichogaster leeri).

In the first 3 pix is a group of Espe's Rasbora (Trigonostigma espei); in the last pic is a Glass Catfish (Kryptopterus bicirrhis), so transparent you can see through its heart, literally.


Baby Yichi and mom enjoying the aquarium.


Point Lobos State Reserve is another great spot for wildlife watching on the Pacific coast south of San Francisco.


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