Heart-palpitating Monterey Bay Aquarium

I’d anticipated this day for years; I was thrilled by this day; I took tons of photos this day; but my post of this day is the lamest I’ve ever written! Here are my excuses:

  1. I’m writing it offline so don’t have access to facts other than what’s in my sieve-like brain; I even stupidly threw out the basic brochure once we left. (“Save the Bay” to me has always meant the Chesapeake Bay, but I’m guessing similar issues here.)
  2. I tried to cram in as much animal-watching as possible because of the crowds and didn’t read all the displays.
  3. My brain got overwhelmed quickly: this was the longest I’ve been in an indoor public space since the pandemic started, by hours and hours.

So, this post a bunch of photos that you could probably see better at the aquarium website, without the info that the aquarium is all about. But, this is my blog, so here we go.

Monterey Bay is a unique stretch of protected ocean and coastline; it’s both a breeding area for marine life and a “highway” for crucial migrations. The aquarium was built in the 1980s to increase pubic awareness for the bay’s protection.

The aquarium is right on the coast, with its back decks and walkways jutting out over tidal pools; this itself is a cool exhibit in situ. And check out the color of the water. I am in love with the Pacific Ocean.

Squishy Critters


There are several octopi inside the building in display tanks, from a Giant Pacific Octopus to tiny ones hiding in coral. The bigger ones seemed bored, moving across their glass boundaries quickly. I wonder why they don’t have challenging-shaped objects inside their tanks to explore.

I did so love watching them, though. I could have dragged a chair from the cafe and spent the day in front of only one octopus. Elegant, delicate, surprisingly fast, seemingly intelligent.

If you’re an infrequent scuba diver and snorkeler like me, it’s rare to see these in the wild, and I missed the time my scuba group saw two because I didn’t have my contact lenses in (ARRRRG). But while snorkeling in the West Indies I swam over a lone spherical piece of coral with one hole at the top, and in that hole, an eye caught my eye. An octopus eye!

That octopus was curled up in the gourd-like coral with just one eye peering out the top, watching for predators like me. I hovered above and swam down closer, then swam to the shore to grab Finn to show him, then hovered more. An alien-like intelligence watching me watch it. I’ll never forget that, and all I saw was an eye!


I’ve written here before about my encounters with squid and how I feel like they tolerate my presence near them so they can study me. I even got a squid squad tattooed on my leg (long story here).

These squid didn’t have enough room in their tank to swim in formation (or a reason to?) so I watched them swimming both forward and backward at random.

Their colors are amazing, and they’d just been fed goldfish (look closely). Bonus for the crowd. I’m sad not to have seen them swimming like a formation of alien ships checking me out, though. In the ocean they work as a regimented squad.


More beautiful than silk scarves.

Kind of like photos of stellar phenomenon.

Kelp Forest

Again with the ill-informed, extremely remote personal connections: I’ve written here how I used to dream about swimming in a kelp forest, and the dreams stopped only after my sister dyed my hair green and blue (this was long ago).

The Bay kelp exhibit is my first time seeing an actual kelp forest. Turns out kelp is less colorful than in my dreams (no surprise there), but the animals living in this exhibit are large, varied, and fast.

The kelp tank spans three floors (at the top of the building you can look down into it). So many big fish and rays and sharks zipping about in captivity, above you and below you. Again, overwhelming.


There’s one large coral reef tank with several fish I could ID from my reef time underwater.

And a column reef tank.

And tanks exhibiting rocky and coral-dotted sea floors. So many tiny animals peering outward, feeling outward, hanging outward.

Deep Ocean and More

We went outside the aquarium for an expectedly overpriced and mediocre lunch (but right on the bay) and then back in for the afternoon, and at that point the crowds were starting to wig me out.

I didn’t spend much time in the deep ocean area—also because I have a hard time processing what I call the “fake” exhibits: they’re set up like aquariums but have photos or videos or automatons of deep water animals, since, of course, they can’t keep the real ones at the aquarium.

If I hadn’t already been feeling weird about being inside for so long and wearing a mask and dealing with crowds, I might have given these lifeless exhibits more attention; they certainly provide tons of info and are scattered throughout the aquarium, not just in the deep ocean section. That’s one of the whole purposes here, to teach about things you cannot see (of course).

Not pictured: two marine bird exhibits Tracy enjoyed especially, otters, penguins, plastic life-sized whales hanging from the ceiling, exhibits about plastic in the ocean, movies showing in several auditoriums.

And tourists.

Standing in front of exhibits without thought to anyone else (okay, maybe that was me sometimes). Getting up really close to the glass to take photos (okay, again me sometimes). Also, groups of students, crying children, strollers, the maskless, the stumbling, the awestruck (here’s me again). Some folks clearly were amazed at the exhibits, but most folks got up close to take a photo then went on to the next one immediately, tank after tank.

Again, this is one of the least-informative posts I’ve written about one of the most-significant places I’ve visited. I spent my time that day saying things like, “Look at that!” to no one (Tracy was nearby.) “My God, that’s incredible.” “I can’t believe that’s real.” “My heart is racing.”

And it was true: after a day, my heart couldn’t take any more beauty in tanks, my brain couldn’t take any more maneuvering around crowds, and my soul couldn’t take any more time indoors. What a banner day though—for me and for the Bay that receives needed attention.

4 thoughts to “Heart-palpitating Monterey Bay Aquarium”

  1. I remember seeing the special jellyfish exhibit at the Baltimore Aquarium during and evening social by Trimble for ACSM and thinking “perfect screen saver!” That’s how long ago that was!

  2. It all looks amazing! Sydney has a great aquarium but this one looks like it tops it for sure. The help forest tank is 🤯

    1. I may have gotten my photos mixed up of the kelp forest tank and the open ocean tank. Yeah, two huge tanks like that in one place – it blew my mind, too!