Behind the scenes at Monterey Bay Aquarium

After already visiting the aquarium twice we’ve all had the chance for a good look round the exhibits.  The sea otters are my favourite, I could watch them all day!  Others would maybe choose the huge outer bay tank or the seahorses.  Although it’s generally agreed that nothing is more fun that flashing our MBARI cards at the front desk and waltzing on in for free!  (A perk of the job!)

Last week we were treated to a behind the scenes tour of the aquarium.  We spent around two hours exploring what goes on behind the intriguing ‘Staff Only’ signs, and it was definitely one of the high points of the internship so far.

Another of my favourite exhibits is the kelp forest.  These huge plants are at home in the waters off California and play a number of extremely important roles.  For instance, they are a main food source for sea urchins and without these urchins, otters have nothing to eat!  The size of these forests also act to protect coastal areas from storms.  So next time you see a piece of seaweed on the beach just remember how these plants are critical for both sea otters and humans!

The kelp forest viewed from the aquarium

The kelp forest exhibit from above

As you can see in the picture above, there is a lot of equipment around the top of the kelp forest exhibit.  A constant spray of salt water comes from around the sides to make sure that any kelp leaves above the water are kept moist.  There is also a wave generator at the end – this is used to give an authentic movement to the exhibit but is also important for the kelp’s health as it provides fresh water to the leaves and helps with gas exchange.  Some of the equipment is also used to manage the pH of water as very acidic or alkaline conditions would be harmful for these giant plants.

Next stop was the huge open water tank.  The window for this exhibit is one of the largest in the world and through it you can watch blue and yellowfin tuna, pelagic rays, a hammerhead shark, a Galapagos shark, barracudas, dolphinfish and a massive school of Pacific sardines.  We were lucky enough to arrive at feeding time so we witnessed a frenzy of activity in the water!

Some of the fish are fed individually and have learnt to come to the side of the tank to receive food.  This is why, when we walked up to see the tank from above, the hammerhead was swimming around at our feet!

The outer bay tank

... and from above!

We also had the chance to see some of the animals that are not currently on display, like these green turtles…

Next to the aquarium is the Hopkins Marine Station Tuna Research and Conservation Center.  There were a lot of tunas here, and we saw one that was in a respirometer.  This machine measures the amount of oxygen being used by the animal, and from this the metabolic rate can be calculated (basically how much energy the animal uses).  They also had a sunfish in one of the tanks.  These are strange looking fish as their body seems to finish after the dorsal and anal fins so they can look like they’ve been chopped in half!

A pretty chilled out sunfish

Like the hammerhead, this guy also thought we had some food for him so we got a good look up close!

Overall, another great day and another brilliant experience to take home with us!

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