The Monterey Bay Aquarium

This is a historial post from Hiking the California Trail, a 1998/2002 book set by Bob Lorentz and Richard Nichols. Where possible an update has been provided.

Complementing the wonders of the immense Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary is one of the world’s great aquariums and interpretive centers. The Monterey Bay Aquarium, located at the end of the last hike in this book, presents a living representation of the many habitats in and around the bay in more than a hundred innovative habitat galleries and exhibits.

The kelp forest exhibit alone merits a visit. It’s 28 feet deep and holds 335,000 gallons of water open to the sky. You can watch sardines, sharks and many other kinds of fish swim among the giant kelp which grows as much as eight inches a day.

Another exhibit explores Monterey Bay habitats.A 90-foot long tank recreates four distinct habitats: deep reef, sandy sea floor, shale reef and wharf pilings. Large sharks, salmon, striped bass, albacore, bat rays, halibut and other fish species inhabit the exhibit along with the tiny crabs, barnacles, urchins and other tidal creatures.

In the Outer Bay Wing, a million gallon exhibit, currently the world’s largest aquarium tank (35 feet deep, 90 feet long and 52 feet front to back), holds seven foot long ocean sunfish, yellowfin tuna, green sea turtles, barracuda and other ocean swimmers. Visitors view this world, suspended far from shore and above the sea floor, through the largest window on the planet 54 feet long by 15 feet tall. Other exhibits in the wing bring drifters of the open ocean close to viewers. These drifters range from plants and animals too small to see without a microscope to the elegant, hypnotic jellyfish that come in an amazing variety of shapes and sizes, many pulsing with bright electric currents.

The two-story sea otter exhibit is among the most popular with visitors and also an important research facility. The exhibit approximates the wild near-shore habitat and gives visitors a close look at these curious, playful creatures. The aquarium runs a research and conservation program to help the wild otter population recover from near extinction by hunters in the 1 8th and 19th centuries. Sea otters were hunted because their fur is the thickest of any animal at a million hairs per square inch. For years scientists thought the southern sea otter was extinct until a small group was found at the mouth of Bixby Creek in Big Sur in 1938. The aquarium staff rescues and rehabilitates sea otter pups with the goal of returning them to the wild. The effort has resulted in a deeper understanding of how to care for otters in the event of an oil spill or other disaster. Today more than 2300 otters live along the central coast, an astounding rebound from the 50 that survived hunting.

The Monterey Bay Aquarium also serves as a major educational institution. More than 70,000 school children visit the aquarium each year participating in tours, laboratories and presentations. Around 1500 teachers attend programs designed So they can bring marine science and environmental topics back to their students. The Monterey Bay Aquarium in the old Hovden Sardine Cannery on Cannery Row is open 10AM to 6 PM daily. For information, call 1-831-648-4888.

Originally Published in Hiking the California Coastal Trail: Guide to Walking the Golden State's Beaches and Bluff from Border to Border - Volume One: Oregon to Monterey (2nd Edition) by Bob Lorentzen and Richard Nichols
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