It was every bit akin to visiting another universe – our experience at the fabulous Monterey Bay Aquarium in Monterey, California. The notion of fanciful space-aliens has nothing over the truly bizarre denizens of the world’s oceans! Evolution’s underwater handiwork with its seemingly endless variety is staggering.
Our granddaughters were visiting from Southern California this past week, and we decided to treat them to their first visit to the world-famous Monterey Bay Aquarium. It had been some years since Linda and I had visited, so we all eagerly anticipated the outing.
At seventy-four years of age, I have seen and done a lot, but I was unexpectedly surprised by the personal impact of this, my most recent visit to the aquarium. There were two overwhelming reactions: First, the verification that fact is, indeed, stranger than fiction; second, that the scope and grandeur of nature easily swamp the significance of us individual humans and our little personal problems.
I have always taken some comfort in the implication that we, as individuals, have little significance in nature’s vast scheme. This may not be welcome news for many who believe in a “personal” creator, but it works for me as the conclusive evidence of a higher power! These emotions were especially stirred by the exhibits featuring swarming schools of seemingly identical silver anchovies and Pacific sardines swimming relentlessly in circles around the perimeters of large cylindrical tanks. Their behaviors seem somehow so symbolic of the human condition whereby we swim for all we are worth, all the while oblivious to the greater ocean of truth which surrounds us.
The smaller, gleaming silver anchovies exhibit the following interesting behavior: At any given moment, ten percent of them have their mouths (very) wide open for several seconds as they siphon up tiny micro-organisms in the water – for food. In human parlance, that is called “eating on the run!”
Compared to the startling diversity in the oceans, our land-based animal life seems rather quaint and limited – even when comparing elephants to leopards. The pictures illustrate the point, but they are no substitute for a visit to the aquarium to see for yourself.
Sea Otters: More Fun than Any Other Creature
We witnessed the sea otter feeding/training demonstration. What fun those animals have in the water, and how agile they are. We humans look positively clumsy on land compared to otters in their natural habitat – water. Using the shellfish food which they crave, the “handlers” put their assigned otter through various exercises – like voluntarily entering a land crate when given a hand signal. That behavior comes very much in handy at times when otters must be moved within the facility. Given the chance to return to this world as an animal in the distant future, the life of a sea otter appears most attractive. I cannot think of any animal who seemingly has more continuous fun in their environment that the ever-playful sea otter.
The Monterey Bay Aquarium is a world-class facility for oceanographic research and wildlife study. For even the most casual visitor, it becomes quickly obvious just how much high-level expertise it takes to staff and operate a facility like this. Thanks to such places, our knowledge of the oceans and the life they contain grows steadily with each passing year.