The Monterey Bay Aquarium and Me

In honor of the last day of Shark Week, I’m going to share my impressions of a really special place

I don’t remember all the details of my first visit to the Monterey Bay Aquarium. I know it can’t have been too long after it opened, because it was before they added the (temporary) exhibit for Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. I do remember looking up and seeing the giant whale hanging from the ceiling. At the time, even though I had to be thirteen or fourteen years old (because the Aquarium opened in 1984), I remember feeling like I’d entered a place of magic.

Over the years, and many subsequent visits, that feeling would never change, and to this day, more than 20 years later the Aquarium is one of my favorite tourist attractions ever.

My second visit to the Aquarium was in late 1986 or early 1987. ST:TVH had come out by then, and anyone – everyone – who knew anything about the area had recognized the Aquarium playing the part of the Cetacean Institute in the movie. Of course, the Aquarium has never, and will never, have real whales in their exhibit – and why should they, when these same animals pass by the facility every year? I have fond memories of the alert horn being sounded, though, and of everyone rushing outside to stand by the railings and watch as a pod of whales passed by. Excited pointing and gleeful shouts of “Look, one’s blowing!” and “Thar she blows!” were exhibited by adults and kids alike.

Other than the Star Trek exhibit, some of my favorite experiences at the Monterey Bay Aquarium included being among the first to play with the bat rays (my parents were Aquarium members, and we would go to special members-only previews) – fish with chihuahua faces, that were learning to be social – handling Sea Stars (star fish) in the tide pool exhibit, watching the seven-gill sharks (it always comes back to sharks with me), and their famous jellyfish display, which was rather like walking through a dark tunnel lined with glowing aliens.

Aquariums and museums grow up faster than humans, but I like to think that the Aquarium and I sort of grew up together.

Last month, when was still half-considering participating in the annual blogathon, where bloggers raise money for pet charities, the Aquarium wasn’t on my list. In fact, it wasn’t until after the ‘thon had started that I went to its page at Charity Navigator and found out that they’re really a non-profit, and that they have a five-star rating on the site. (If I do blogathon next year, they’ll definitely be one of my top contenders.)

I hadn’t realized they were a non-profit. I did, of course, know about their conservation and research efforts, not just studying great white sharks, but also sea otters and tuna, pushing for legislation that protects oceanic ecosystems, and educating us about sustainable fishing practices, and sustainable fish eating.

My only disappointment regarding the Monterey Bay Aquarium is that I never got to visit it during the period in 2004 when they had a Great White Shark living in the Outer Bay exhibit. We were, at that point, in the process of moving to Texas. Still, I have fond memories of eating fish and chips at Phil’s (near the MBARI – Montery Bay Aquarium Research Institute – docks), and then going into the Aquarium to walk under the great whale.

I’m closer to forty than fourteen now, and the magic hasn’t dissipated at all.

2 thoughts on “The Monterey Bay Aquarium and Me

  1. One of my happiest holiday memories was a visit to the aquarium in Vancouver. we had already seen the whales off the coast of Victoria and were drenched by the ones in the aquarium but the most delightful creatures were the otters and I have cine of them zooming around lying on their backs going backwards. So funny!
    Michele sends her best.

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