The largest exhibit at the Monterey Bay Aquarium introduces visitors to the mystique of the vast blue world that lies offshore of land and is seemingly the last true wild place on Earth. The 1.2 million gallon Open Sea exhibit is home to some of the ocean’s most impressive long-distance swimmers including green sea turtles and hammerhead sharks, a massive school of Pacific sardines, the elusive ocean sunfish (Mola mola) and flashing mahi mahi, or dolphinfish. Exhibits within the 12,643 square-foot Open Sea galleries connect visitors with marine animals and birds of the Pacific through stories of their epic migrations. Exiting the Open Sea, visitors encounter innovative environmental art installations and sculptures to explore the impacts of single-use plastic on ocean wildlife, paired alongside artists’ stories.
The Aquarium’s signature three-story exhibit, the Kelp Forest, is the first, largest and most successful living kelp forest outside the wild. The ecosystem-based exhibit is home to hundreds of species of fish, invertebrates and algae, many of which arrive via seawater pumped directly from Monterey Bay. At 28 feet tall, the Kelp Forest was designed as a portal to transport visitors into the cold, nutrient-rich waters of Monterey Bay. The majestic giant of the kelp forest (Macrocystis pyrifera) grows faster than tropical bamboo, about three to five inches each day in the exhibit and 10 to 12 inches in the bay. The towering marine algae, iconic to the bay, is the inspiration for the Aquarium’s logo which represents the tip of a growing giant kelp frond. The Kelp Forest exhibit is the gateway to the 14,810-square-foot Ocean’s Edge galleries.
More than 90 feet long, the hourglass-shaped Monterey Bay Habitats exhibit highlights five different habitats within Monterey Bay. The exhibit is home to a colorful and complex array of marine creatures that live in the sandy seafloor, shale reefs, deep rocky reefs and wharf pilings. They include rockfish, sevengill sharks, California halibut, prehistoric-looking white sturgeon, big skates, bat rays and giant sea bass. Around the corner are touch pools, a wave crash passageway, walk-through aviary and intimate jewel case exhibits that invite visitors to take a closer look at wildlife found along the Central California coastline.
The two-story Sea Otter exhibit is home to the only marine mammal residents at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Each was rescued by the Aquarium’s Sea Otter Program as an abandoned, injured or ill animal and deemed non-releasable by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Over time, they have become more than engaging ambassadors for their threatened species. The Aquarium's otters are all female and also serve as surrogate moms for stranded sea otter pups. In that capacity, they play a vital role in sea otter recovery and nearshore ecosystems restoration efforts. Behind the scenes, the resident sea otters and their predecessors have raised scores of orphaned pups, which are now back in the wild having babies of their own. The sea otters rotate through the exhibit when they are not serving as surrogate mothers to stranded pups. At the Sea Otter exhibit, visitors have the opportunity to watch them swim at the surface, including during feeding and training sessions. First-floor windows offer an underwater view of the most aquatic of the 13 global otter species.
The 14,000 square-foot family gallery takes visitors on a tour through three ocean habitats: the enchanted kelp forest, a coral reef kingdom and the rugged rocky shore. There are more than 45 interactive experiences, as well as colorful live displays featuring more than 60 species, including coral reefs, giant clams and African penguins. In 2000, Splash Zone was the Aquarium’s first special exhibition created especially for families with young children, and its popularity made it a permanent part of the Aquarium. The space drew praise from the beginning for its engaging and playful atmosphere. A renovation in 2008 doubled the space that encourages families to learn together about the ocean through play.
The Aquarium’s special exhibition, ¡Viva Baja! Life on the Edge, explores habitats from sun-soaked deserts to vibrant tropical reefs in Baja California, a unique and fragile Mexican peninsula only a few hundred miles south of Monterey, California. It’s a place where life thrives on the edge of sand and sea on a wild coast whose future hangs in a delicate balance. The exhibition explores the diverse habitats and amazing animals that thrive where Baja’s coastal deserts meet sapphire seas. Highlights include an array of tropical fish, invertebrates and several iconic desert land animals that live in Baja’s harsh deserts, lush mangrove forests and vibrant coral reefs. (Opened March 19, 2016)
Tentacles is a diverse living showcase created of cephalopods and features more than two dozen species of octopuses, squid and cuttlefishes. The exhibit tells the story of masters of disguise and the adaptations that have allowed these accomplished hunters to thrive for hundreds of millions of years. The exhibit galleries take visitors into the mysterious world of cephalopods, combining live displays with immersive experiences and hands-on activities created by the Aquarium’s award-winning team of exhibit designers and developers. (Opened April 12, 2014)