Monterey aquarium tells true shark tales

Richard Moreno/Nevada Appeal A pack of brilliant moon jellyfish glide through an exhibit at the Monterey Bay Aquarium.

Richard Moreno/Nevada Appeal A pack of brilliant moon jellyfish glide through an exhibit at the Monterey Bay Aquarium.

Editor's note: This the final installment of a two-part series.

It's hard to take in everything at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. After wandering through the Ocean's Edge galleries, which fill a two-story wing, there's still another entire building of nearly equal dimensions to visit.

Known as the Outer Bay Wing, this portion of the aquarium boasts one of the largest windows on Earth, a hunk of acrylic that is 78,000 pounds, 54 feet long, 15 feet tall and 13 inches thick.

The Outer Bay, which opened in 1996, contains more than 1 million gallons of seawater, more than all the other exhibits in the aquarium combined. Because of its enormous size, the Outer Bay is the place where the largest fish live, including hammerhead sharks, Galapagos and soupfin sharks, bluefin tuna, sea turtles, ocean sunfish, California barracuda, dolphinfish and schools of yellowfin tuna.

Until last year, this was also home of the only white shark on display in the world. But the shark was released back into the wild after showing a fondness for eating some of the other fish.

The wing contains other interesting displays. For instance, one particularly hypnotic exhibit is a 27-by-20-foot oval filled with thousands of shimmering, silver anchovies swimming in 15,000 gallons of saltwater. The fish seem to move as a single entity, shifting one direction then going another way, all as one.

As you wander around, you encounter the Drifters Gallery, a wall-size tanks that glow with pulsing varieties of jellyfish, There are purple-striped , moon, egg-yolk and comb jellies plus other species that float through neon-blue waters.

Evocative music in the background enhances the graceful movements of the translucent creatures and helps to create an almost dreamlike atmosphere.

To further enhance the jellyfish exhibits, the aquarium has a special show through fall 2006 titled, "Jellies: Living Art."Several species of live jellyfish are displayed alongside jelly-inspired artwork by internationally known artists such as Dale Chihuly, David Hockney, Leopold and Rudolph Blaschka and others.

The aquarium recently added another special gallery show, "Sharks: Myth and Mystery," which incorporates interactive galleries that explore misconceptions about sharks and different cultural views of the creatures.

It is amazing to realize how many different societies from around the world - including Central America, Australia, Africa and the Pacific Islands - share stories, art, music, dance and other traditions involving sharks. As with the jellyfish gallery, it incorporates displays of live fish, including coral catsharks, zebra sharks, hammerhead sharks and more.

Other Outer Bay galleries include the Plankton Lab, where a video microscope offers visitors a close-up look at the tiny plants and animals that sustain many ocean dwellers; and the Ocean Travelers room, in which visitors can learn about the seasonal residents of Monterey Bay.

In the Flippers, Flukes & Fun room, children are invited to discover the differences and similarities between people and marine mammals. Interactive exhibits show how mammals eat, communicate, and care for their young.

Among the most popular displays are the one where kids can put on flippers and flukes to feel how whales swim, and another in which they can crawl through a simulation of a blubbery elephant seal to learn how natural insulation keeps mammals warm in the cold ocean.

The Vanishing Wildlife gallery offers an impressive ground-floor view of the million-gallon Outer Bay. Here, visitors peer through a giant 25-by-10-foot window that slants above their heads, which provides a real up-close-and-personal perspective of the large yellowfin and bluefin tuna, sharks, sea turtles and other fish.

Signs describe the threatened state of many of the fish species on display and explain how the growing demand for seafood and poor fishing practices have endangered most of the world's populations of bluefin tuna, sharks and sea turtles.

n Richard Moreno is the author of "Backyard Travels in Northern Nevada" and "The Roadside History of Nevada," which are available at local bookstores.


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