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 sea turtles and sharks, a massive school of 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 fishes, 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.
Monterey Bay Habitats
Over 90 feet long, the hourglass-shaped Monterey Bay Habitats exhibit highlights four 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 rockfishes, sevengill sharks, flatfishes, prehistoric-looking sturgeon, skates, 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 central California’s coastline.
The two-story Sea Otter exhibit is home to the only marine mammal residents at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Each rescued by the Aquarium’s Sea Otter Program as an abandoned, injured or ill animal and was 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 Aquarium’s 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 Aquarium’s sea otters rotate through the exhibit when they are not serving behind the scenes as surrogate mothers or companion animals 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.
Splash Zone and Penguins
The 14,000 square-foot family gallery takes visitors on a tour through three ocean habitats: the Enchanted Kelp Forest, the 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. Splash Zone was, in 2000, 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, earning the Aquarium No. 1 ranking from Parents magazine and the Zagat U.S. Family Travel Guide as the best Aquarium for families in the nation. A renovation in 2008 doubled the space that encourages families to learn together about the ocean through play.
¡Viva Baja! Life on the Edge
The Aquarium’s latest 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 fishes, invertebrates and several iconic desert land animals (a first for the Aquarium) that live in Baja’s harsh deserts, lush mangrove forests and vibrant coral reefs. (Opened March 19, 2016)
Tentacles: The Astounding Lives of Octopuses, Squid and Cuttlefishes
“Tentacles: The Astounding Lives of Octopuses, Squid and Cuttlefishes” is the largest, most diverse living showcase ever created of cephalopods, a unique family of animals which includes octopuses, squid, cuttlefishes and chambered nautilus. The exhibition features more than two dozen species of octopuses, squid and cuttlefishes that rotate through a dozen living exhibits. The 3,700 square-foot space tells the story of masters of disguise and the adaptations that have allowed these accomplished hunters to thrive for hundreds of millions of years. Four 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)