Susie Bright: Take Me To Your Jelly Leader

Today, I'm off to the Monterey Bay Aquarium with a new generation of children who've never seen the Pacific Ocean like this before.

Someone called MBA one of "10 Things You Have to See Before You're 10" which made me smile- but it's a really a place that invites multiple pilgrimages over a lifetime.

Here are live webcams of their OuterBay exhibit, Kelp Forest, Aviary, Otters, and others. Just remember there's no substitute for petting the head of a manta ray- softer than goofer feathers.

The MBA is a revelation compared the aquariums I visited as a child in the 60s... where you peered into a series of "boxes" with plant and marine life hiding around. With MBA, it's like the sky- or in this case, the ocean- opens up. The anchovies swirl over your head- yes, you read that right. The comb jellies, as seen above, seem to be sending you secret messages. The architects of MBA give as much thought to mind-blowing design as they do to science, and so it's no wonder the whole environment is a psychonaut's delight.

The latest gizmo from MBA:  Seafood Watch for Your Cell Phone

(Susie Bright is a guest blogger)


  1. Enjoy your visit Susie! I grew up in Monterey, and remember my first visit to the aquarium still (I was in kindergarten and my mom took me out of school for the day) It was before it was even open to the general public.
    Even though I’ve been probably 50 times, it’s still freaking awesome- especially since they are always augmenting it and making it MORE fabulous. But still my favorite parts are the sea otters and the touch pools. I guess it’s the 5 year old in me.

  2. The MBA and the surrounding shops were once the heart of Cannery Row. I recall what it looked like before it was gentrified.
    By all means pick up a copy of John Steinbeck’s “Cannery Row”. It’s a delightful page turner.

  3. I’ve been to MBA twice, once as a child and once again as an adult. I have also been to the aquariums in Baltimore, Atlanta, New Orleans, Duluth, and Boston. They are all worth visiting with or without kids, but MBA seems to have better conservation and education components.

  4. MBA is a premiere research facility as well as a tourist destination. I’ve been there many times.

    The jellyfish are simply not to be missed. They are proof of alien visitation on the planet.

    Also not to be missed, the Mola Mola ocean sunfish, a fish so ugly and unfinished that it wraps all the way around to stunning.

    And the otters. because really, who doesn’t like otters?

  5. One of my fav places on earth. My only gripe was the info provided on Ed Ricketts, a recurring character in a couple of Steinbeck’s novels and who the aquarium was dedicated to. They have a small exhibit with a couple of laboratory specimens he used to keep in jars but not a whole lot of info. He was truly a fascinating man.

  6. If you head out to the beach at the right time of year, you can actually catch otters playing in the kelp forests. Monterey is a pretty nifty place.

  7. As a native to the area, and former volunteer for the MBA, I have a couple minor quibbles.

    @Susie: The rays in the petting pool are bat rays (Myliobatis californica), not manta rays (Manta birostris). Manta rays are a warm-water species that have funny looking heads (since they filter-feed) and get up to 25′ across. Bat rays are much smaller (3-4′ at the most) and eat mollusks primarily.

    @5: The otters are out there in the kelp beds all year around, and pretty easy to spot if you have sharp eyes. Mothers give birth all year, but there’s a peak from January-March. The babies lead to the mothers spending more time on the surface, which makes them easier to spot.

    Monterey as a whole was a pretty good place to grow up, but the area as a whole has one of the biggest discrepancies between cost of living and average income in the country. Seriously, for many years we were number two, after San Francisco but before Manhattan. In other words, don’t forget to tip your waitress, your cabbie, etc. They need it.

    For my money, the most entertaining thing in the aquarium is in the Outer bay exhibit. Catch them at feeding time, and you can witness massive pelagic tuna accelerate in a moment to unbelievable speeds before turning away from the walls at the very last second. We’re talking fish that mass as much as a Toyota.

  8. I’ve been to the Boston Aquarium many times, and the Baltimore Aquarium at least once. But the jellyfish exhibit at MBA was about the neatest thing I’ve ever seen in water. If I lived near there, I’d have a membership.

  9. I missed visiting the aquarium when I was pedaling down the coast in ’06…I was overnighting at the park all the way on the other side of town with the homeless folks. But! I’m planning a short cycle tour from Monterey to Santa Barbara in May, and I fully intend to get some jelly time in. I managed to see the much smaller exhibits at the San Francisco aquarium, and was sorry to miss out on Monterey. It’ll be a fine way to start the journey, I think.

  10. MKultra: Thank you so much for your correction, and the deeper background. Another thing I love about MBA is that everyone who works there is so kind, patient, and forthcoming. I made a joke today that I wished I could lie down in the Outer Bay Exhibit and take a peaceful nap, and one of the docents said, “Go ahead; it’s wonderful!”

  11. The big critters and the jellies are hard to miss, but there are plenty of other wonders that don’t get so much notice.

    I’m partial to the splash zone, a colorful area designed for toddlers to crawl through with low tanks practically at ground level. Adults visiting without children might give it a pass. Don’t. They’ve got some great stuff there including living giant clams with those colorful photosynthetic mantles and, my personal favorite, leafy seadragons.

    The leafy seadragons are not to be missed and if you have to get down on the floor to get a good look, I suggest that is what you do. They are positively magical!

  12. One of my all-time top-favorite acid trips was spent at the MBA. I was able to continually amaze my friends by correctly identifying whatever we were looking at, using my incredible powers of “adult literacy”, which my friends had somehow lost ;)

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