MONTEREY -- It's the opportunity to peer at your underwater friends up close. Enjoy their frolicking while getting to know what makes them flip, glide, dive and jump.
It is water wildlife at its best, and it's an enlightening and enjoyable trip inside the Monterey Bay Aquarium.
More than 500 species of aquatic creatures make their home at the aquarium which opened in 1964. Each year, about 1.8 million people stop by to pay them a visit.
Visiting the first floor of the aquarium, guests can take a look at the giant octopus with their eight sucker lined tentacles or stop by and watch the sheep crabs or deep-sea predator wolf eel. In another area of the aquarium, an opportunity to meet jellyfish attracts visitors. This living art exhibit displays the jellies in all their wonder, highlighting their movement, their shape and their distinctive patterns and colors.
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Here on the bottom floor of the aquarium is also where the touch pool, and indoor tide pool is located. Feeling the back of a starfish, the soft spines of a sea urchin or learn the characteristics of a sea cucumber are all added bonuses to the visit.
One of the newer exhibits is Wild About Otters where freshwater otters from Asia and Africa cross continental boundaries to play together and create mischief. Speaking of otters, the aquarium also has an exhibit of California's own sea otters. Visitors can watch the antics and feedings of these creatures that are normally found in the wild swimming along the coast of California.
To highlight this playful group, a special event is planned for next Sept. 22-23 when "Otter Days" comes to the aquarium.
The second floor houses the aquarium's 28-foot-high kelp forest. Here in this massive display sardines, leopard sharks and a host of other fish weave among the fronds of kelp and guests can watch as divers hand-feed the fish at feeding shows which take place at 11:30 a.m. and 4 p.m daily.
Second-floor visitors who have their hearts set on seeing the tuxedoed birds of black and white, the penguins, will be disappointed as the aquarium has given the waddlers a vacation while a renovation takes place. The happy feet are scheduled to return to their splash zone in March.
The stunning Outer Bay exhibit with its one million gallons of water and more than 15-foot-high clear windows is where the beauty of sea life is truly magnificent. The blue tiles which line the walls help create a vibrant colorful backdrop for the Hammerhead sharks, giant turtles and Blue fin tuna that lazily swim by.
This exhibit is now home to the newest addition at the aquarium, a white shark. The young male shark, just 4-feet, 9-inches long and weighing 67 ½ pounds was caught in commercial fishing gear and observed for any health concerns before being brought to Monterey Aug. 28.
Since his arrival he seems to have adjusted to his housemates and is enjoying his meals of salmon and vitamins. The aquarium hopes to study him, tag him for research and then release him back to the open sea sometime in early 2008.
Visiting the Monterey Bay Aquarium can be a tour that lasts a couple of hours or it can be an adventure that consumes an entire day. Either is a chance to marvel at the majestic wonders of the ocean!
WHERE: 866 Cannery Row, Monterey, at the west end of historic Cannery Row
WHEN: Daily, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
COST: Adults $24.95; seniors (65 and older) and students (13-17 or with a college ID) $22.95; children (3-12) $15.95; children under 3 are admitted free.
GETTING THERE: Take Highway 99 south to Crows Landing Road. Follow Crows Landing Road south to Interstate 5 (road name will change to Fink Road). Take I-5 south to Santa Nella. Take the Highway 33 connector (right, toward Gilroy) to Highway 152 and go west over Pacheco Pass to Highway 101 (taking the Highway 156 turnover just past Casa de Fruta). From southbound 101, take the exit for Highway 156 (again) west toward the Monterey Peninsula. In Castroville, connect to Highway 1 and go south for about 13 miles and look for the Monterey Bay Aquarium sign. Exit onto Fremont Street and follow brown directional signs on Fremont. Turn right on Camino El Estero. Just past the Visitor Information Center, turn left on Del Monte Avenue and continue (in the right two lanes) past Fisherman's Wharf. Go through the tunnel to Foam Street and follow the brown directional signs to Cannery Row parking and the aquarium. There are several pay parking garages near the aquarium as well as limited metered on the surrounding streets.
DRIVE TIME: 2 hours, 13 minutes (Mapquest)
INFO: 831-648-4800, http://www.montereybayaquarium.org
Bee staff writer Karen Aiello can be reached at email@example.com or 578-2392.