Discover the Wonders of the Ocean at the Monterey Bay Aquarium

Feb 08, 2016

Aquarium News
©Monterey Bay Aquarium

On October 20, 1984, the fish came back to Monterey’s historic Cannery Row.

They came back in style, too, as the stars of the world-acclaimed Monterey Bay Aquarium. Today, more than 35,000 creatures representing over 550 species fill 34 major galleries. With nearly 200 exhibits in all, the aquarium is a showcase for the habitats and sea life of one of the world’s richest marine regions.

Since its opening, in surveys of peers and public alike, the aquarium has consistently been ranked No. 1 in the United States for its innovative exhibits and unsurpassed visitor experience. Among many accolades, the aquarium was named the No. 1 family-friendly aquarium by Parents Magazine and Forbes Traveler, and the best aquarium and the third overall top-rated family attraction in the country, according to the Zagat Survey U.S. Family Travel Guide. It has also grown to become one of the leading ocean conservation organizations in the world.

Over its 32 years, the non-profit Monterey Bay Aquarium has been lauded for creating an expertly designed “undersea tour” of Monterey Bay’s hidden world. From coastal wetlands to the open sea, from kelp forests to a mile-deep submarine canyon, the bay shelters an amazing range of habitats and sea life. The bay is also at the heart of the largest marine sanctuary along the shores of the continental United States.

Visitors can discover the plants and animals of Monterey Bay in a series of remarkable exhibits that have changed the face of aquarium design. With the debut of its award-winning “Open Sea” galleries in 1996, Monterey Bay Aquarium became the first in the world to create open ocean exhibits on a grand scale. The exhibits are shining light on epic migrations of ocean animals across the Pacific and the constant motion of life in the open ocean.

The million-gallon Open Sea exhibit houses a diverse community of open-ocean animals, including tunas, pelagic stingrays, mackerel, sardines and scalloped hammerhead sharks.

Elsewhere in The Open Sea galleries visitors can immerse themselves at one of the largest permanent jellyfish galleries to be found at any aquarium.

Marine life closer to shore is the highlight of the aquarium’s “Ocean’s Edge” galleries. Here, visitors can explore habitats including coastal wetlands, the rocky shore, a living kelp forest and the undersea waters of Monterey Bay.

Visitors can enter the realm of the giant octopus, explore an expanded shorebird aviary and coastal wetland exhibit, and venture beneath crashing waves. They also can step into the “Real-Cost Cafe” and learn how to order a seafood meal that pleases the palate and protects ocean wildlife.

Sevengill sharks, salmon, giant sea bass and other fishes roam the 90-foot-long, 326,000-gallon Monterey Bay Habitats exhibit, which recreates a cross-section of the bay’s major habitats: sandy seafloor, shale reefs, deep reefs and wharf pilings. Sea otters frolic inches away from visitors in a two-story exhibit where they’re on view both at the surface and underwater. A towering 28-foot-high Kelp Forest exhibit offers a diver’s-eye view of a living kelp forest community.

The aquarium not only puts people eye-to-eye with a host of creatures, it puts them in touch with sea life, too. Kids and adults alike can touch bat rays in the Bat Ray Pool and sea stars, gumboot chitons and abalone in the Ocean’s Edge Touch Pool. They can stroll through an open-air shorebird aviary, walk under a kelp canopy, and pass beneath life-size models of orcas, gray whales, porpoises and dolphins.

Microscopes, magnifiers, telescopes and even a viewer-guided underwater macro-video camera bring visitors closer to the mysterious world beyond the aquarium’s decks. A hands-on learning gallery lets younger children and their families explore the adaptations that allow marine mammals to survive in the ocean.

More than 1.8 million people visit the 322,000-square-foot aquarium annually. There’s always something new to see and do – even for those who return often – such as new animal arrivals, days with special animal-themed programming such as sharks, and other family events. Among the aquarium’s unique programs are kelp forest feeding shows where a diver talks with the audience through a two-way communications mask, and daily video broadcasts of deep sea marine life, sent to the aquarium from a scientific research submarine operating as much as 12,000 feet below the surface of Monterey Bay. Hands-on “discovery stations” and interactive exhibits help make each aquarium visit a memorable experience.

Elsewhere in the aquarium, opening on March 19, visitors can explore “¡Viva Baja! Life on the Edge.” Featuring an amazing array of tropical fishes and invertebrates, and several iconic desert animals (a first for the Aquarium), visitors will encounter animals that live in Baja’s arid deserts, lush mangrove forests, and vibrant coral reefs.

Journey to a world of undersea magicians, masters of disguise and quick-change artists this summer in the aquarium’s newest special exhibition, “Tentacles: The Astounding Lives of Octopuses, Squid and Cuttlefishes.” Brainy and beautiful, cephalopods change colors like a chameleon, have hard beaks like birds, three hearts, blue blood and suckers that won’t let go.

In 2016, “Aquarium Adventures” programs will again let visitors enhance their experience with behind-the-scenes tours and activities. Offerings include daily behind-the-scenes tours, a seasonal surface SCUBA diving for kids ages 8 to 13 in the Great Tide Pool, family sleepover programs,  pre-opening feeding tours and other adventures.

Other permanent exhibits at the aquarium include “Vanishing Wildlife: Saving Tunas, Turtles and Sharks,” that focuses on why these magnificent animals need our protection and what individuals can do to help.

The “Splash Zone: Ocean Homes” family galleries features interactive exhibits and living species designed to engage the imaginations of young visitors and inspire a lifelong connection with the wonders of the oceans. The galleries encourage families with children to play and learn together, exploring three ocean habitats – the Enchanted Kelp Forest, Coral Reef Kingdom and Rugged Rocky Shore.

“Splash Zone” features over 45 bilingual interactive exhibits, many fascinating animals including penguins, lionfish  and seahorses, as well as exhibits featuring the kelp forest habitat and an immersive touch pool.

The aquarium’s waterfront decks offer telescopes and sweeping views of Monterey Bay. Inside, visitors will find gift and bookstores, and the Monterey Bay Cafe and Restaurant, with its self-service cafe, ocean-view restaurant and full-service bar.

The aquarium is located on historic Cannery Row, just two and a half hours south of San Francisco and only 15 minutes from Carmel and Pebble Beach, at 886 Cannery Row in Monterey. Hours of operation vary by season.

Travelers can find more information about the aquarium’s exhibits and the local marine environment – plus live web cams, a special events calendar, online games and more – at All programs and special exhibitions (except for “Aquarium Adventures”) are included with aquarium admission of $39.95 adult (18 and over); $34.95 senior (65+) and student (13-17 or with college I.D.); and $24.95 children (3-12). (2016 rates; subject to change). Children under 3 are admitted free. Discounted tickets for members of the military and their families can be purchased in advance at many California and Nevada installations.

Advance tickets can be purchased online or by phone from the aquarium at (866) 963-9645. To register for “Aquarium Adventures” programs, call (866) 963-9645. Guests at select Monterey Peninsula hotels can buy two-day tickets (at one-day ticket prices) at hotel front desks. Visitors can find aquarium hotel partners on the aquarium website. They can also book rooms and learn about special lodging packages with one toll-free phone call to (866) 900-9188; or at

Parking for visitors is located three blocks away, in the Cannery Row parking garage. From Memorial Day to Labor Day, the free MST Trolley links the aquarium and Cannery Row with downtown Monterey, Pacific Grove, and major waterfront destinations including Fisherman’s Wharf.

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The mission of the nonprofit Monterey Bay Aquarium is to inspire conservation of the ocean.