Hello Friends and Family,

Monterey Bay Aquarium, Part 2

Link to this year's index by clicking here.

There is an area inside the Monterey Bay Aquarium where a small collection of shorebirds live — an area they call the Sandy Shore and Aviary. Here we see an interesting resident — an American avocet (Recurvirostra americana). I was taken by the curved bill which he uses to forage in shallow water and on mudflats, sweeping his bill side to side to capture and devour insects and small crustaceans.

The American avocet is found in southern Canada, the western United States and much of Mexico. Note his ability to stand on one long leg — wish I could do that.

This handsome fellow is a Black oystercatcher (Haematopus bachmani). The contrast between his brightly colored bill and his black plumage is visually dramatic (the orange spot near his tail is actually a California poppy flower in the foreground, not part of the bird's plumage). He even sports pink legs. His diet consists of mussels, limpets, and chitons as well as crabs, isopods and barnacles. These birds are found in coastal areas of Alaska, Canada, the Pacific US and Mexico.

In the area that the Aquarium calls "The Splash Zone", we find a colony of African penguins (Spheniscus demersus). They are native to coastal South Africa and are considered an endangered species. Like most penguins they dive for their food — primarily fish and squid. Wikipedia states, "It is a charismatic species and is popular with tourists."

This outside area is called the Great Tide Pool. It has served multiple purposes over the years. Early on, two different pregnant sea otters gave birth on these rocks. It was once home to two humpback whales named George and Gracie (thanks to a little Hollywood magic) in Star Trek IV. Staff members have taught sea otter pups how to dive and crack open clams — although surrogate sea otter moms perform that task now. In the tide pool's waters and on its rocks staff have also rehabilitated and/or released other injured ocean wildlife — including brown pelicans, harbor seals, giant Pacific octopuses — and young leopard sharks were held here as evidence for a federal investigation into fish poaching and smuggling.

Inside, hanging from the ceiling is a replica of a Gray whale (Eschrichtius robustus) which inhabits the ocean areas of Alaska, western Canada, western USA, Mexico, and North-East Asia. It is a baleen whale that feeds mainly on benthic crustaceans, which it eats by turning on its side and scooping up sediments from the seafloor. According to Wikipedia, "Calf gray whales drink 190–300 US gal (720–1,140 l) of their mothers' 53% fat milk per day." They are considered endangered.

Here we see a Moon jellyfish (Aurelia labiata). It appears to be upside-down — I was tempted to invert the photo but I resisted since there were others in the tank with the same upside-down orientation. Unlike many jellyfish, these do not have the long tentacles but instead have a short, fine fringe (cilia) that sweeps food (plankton) toward the mucous layer on the edges of the bells. Prey is stored in pouches until the oral arms pick it up and begin to digest it. They are found in most of the world's oceans. They are eaten by a wide variety of predators but, unfortunately for the predators, they resemble a plastic bag. Many predators have mistakenly eaten discarded plastic bags which ultimately killed them.

Another tank held a creature so unusual that my jaw dropped when I saw it. It is a Comb jelly AKA ctenophore or Beroe (Beroe spp) which I have seen on nature programs on PBS. They have eight rows of tiny comb-like plates that they beat to move through the water. As they swim, the comb rows diffract light to produce a shimmering, rainbow effect. It is almost hypnotic to watch the pulsating colors as they swim slowly by. They eat other jellies, including their own species, and can enlarge their bodies considerably to consume their prey.

The next tank was full of Sea nettles (Chrysaora fuscescens), with reddish-orange bells that can grow up to a meter (three feet) in diameter. According to Wikipedia, "The long, spiraling, white oral arms and the 24 undulating maroon tentacles may trail behind as far as 15 feet. For humans, its sting is often irritating, but rarely dangerous." Because sea nettles cannot swim after their prey, they must eat on the run (or on the float, if you prefer). When a prey animal brushes up against the tentacles, the nettle launches barbed stingers which release a paralyzing toxin into the victim. The arm begins the process of digestion as they slowly move the food to the mouth. This creature lives in the eastern Pacific Ocean from Canada to Mexico.

Squid or cuttlefish? I didn't note a sign next to the tank holding this specimen. They are so similar that it is hard to tell. The deciding factor may be in the eyes. Squid eyes are round but cuttlefish have W-shaped eyes. Although this angle does not provide the full view, it looks more like a W than an O — so I'll guess it's a cuttlefish.

There's no question about these creatures — the Chambered nautilus (Nautilus sp). They are native to the tropical Pacific Ocean and have changed little in the past 150 million years. They live a relatively long time — some 20 years or so. A nautilus swims using jet propulsion — it expels water from its mantle cavity through a siphon located near its head. By adjusting the direction of the siphon, a nautilus can swim forward, backward or sideways.

Unfortunately, the photographic conditions were less than ideal for the interior tanks at the Aquarium. Many of the creatures live at a depth where there is less light and the tanks attempt to provide them the light level they experience in the wild. Tripods and monopods are not allowed — plus the number of student visitors prevented access to good camera positions. Therefore I decided to just enjoy the exhibits on my own, unable to share with my "Life After HP" friends. I hope you can visit the Monterey Bay Aquarium someday (if you haven't been there already) and enjoy it in person.

Life is good.

B. David

P. S., All photos and text © B. David Cathell Photography, Inc. — www.bdavidcathell.com