Thursday, October 8, 2009
11 Pacific bluefin tuna: Thunnus orientalis
Behold the mighty bluefin. Weighing as much as a cow. Capable of muscle-bound bursts that hit 50mph. Able to roam 18,000 nautical miles in a year. “They’re the Lance Armstrong of the ocean,” says Hopkins Marine Station tuna expert Barbara Block. “One of the most robust athletes in the sea.” That helps make tuna an icon at the Aquarium, the first in the country to exhibit a fish everyone already knew – only never like the million-gallon Outer Bay allowed. Other qualities qualify big blue as an Aquarium flag-bearer. It’s a proud symbol of collaborations (the Aquarium teams with Hopkins’ Tuna Research and Conservation Center to lead research on the powerful predators). And the lucrative tuna – not to mention the fisheries, fishermen and communities that depend on it – is gravely threatened by the overfishing that Seafood Watch is designed to prevent.
12 Trash Monster: Litterus amongus
Betty Basura, a loathsome creature dripping with trash bags and litter, implores the little girl to throw her water bottle into the sea. An otter persuades the girl to consider the impacts on sea life – and the girl, forever changed, vanquishes the trash monster. The 15-minute, bilingual play is “Basta Basura,” a live act that premiered at the Aquarium’s 2006 Fiesta del Mar celebration. The next summer the Aquarium’s theater troupe brought the play to the deck as a regular act. Its popularity inspired Simone Mortan, manager of the Aquarium’s guide programs, to add a second conservation play to the summer programming: “Watt a Waste,” aimed at reducing electricity consumption. Next summer, she envisions a new play about climate change. Meanwhile, visitors can ham it up at Aquarium’s Real Cost Café, an exhibit rigged like a 1950s diner. “Customers” order seafood off computerized menus, and actors on the screen – or, on occasion, hammy volunteers – react to the sustainability of their choices. Shrimp cocktails come with side orders of bycatch; farmed salmon entrées earn a pole to catch all the little fishies needed to feed them. The theatrical flourishes aim to provoke giggles while encouraging families to do their part for ocean health.
13 African black-footed penguin:
The 21 waddlers in this permanent exhibit need their beauty sleep. Around sunset, automatic timers incrementally turn off the penguins’ artificial lights, mimicking dusk. The mating pairs scoot together while security officers pull curtains over the windows, and waterfalls provide white noise behind soundproofed walls. As the birds’ sleek heads droop, tuxedoed humans start to party: The Aquarium hosts 150 to 300 evening events every year, according to Sales Manager Dana Deminna. Only a few – Cooking for Solutions, member sleepovers and the upcoming anniversary celebration – are house enterprises; the rest are private parties like birthday bashes, wedding receptions and wine festivals. The rates start at $3,700 per wing for corporate events and $5,900 for social fetes, with additional charges for weekend rentals, groups of more than 80, strolling buffets and bars. The events only generate about 2 percent of the operating budget, but Deminna says the payoff is more than monetary: “We’re attracting a crowd that might not otherwise visit the Aquarium.”
14 Weedy Sea Dragon: Phyllopteryx taeniolatus
It looks like a Dr. Seuss character, drifting spotted-snout-first into a fantasy animation. Its leafy cousins are equally cartoony characters in the Aquarium’s newest special exhibit, The Secret Lives of Seahorses. Assistant Curator Jonelle Verdugo wanted this exhibit to break out of the square-in-the-wall formula other aquariums have applied, so she corralled members of the hippocampus genus into big tanks of whimsical shapes, filling the watery spaces with corals and other habitat-appropriate creatures. The exhibit has only been open since April, but already the horses and dragons of the sea (along with their comrade pipefish) are confirming the visitor-luring power of the special exhibits in the Outer Bay wing. But the rotating exhibits (Jellies Living Art and Wild About Otters among them) do more than draw eager guests with their intentionally artistic layouts – they challenge curators and aquarists alike, and keep everyone from PR pros to part-time student volunteers engaged and excited.
15 Ventana ROV: Rtwo deeptooius
Introducing the world champ. “Without question the most successful remotely operated vehicle in the world,” charter Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute marine biologist Bruce Roberson says of Ventana. “With its capabilities, success record, number of dives, and scientific publications it has led to, it has fundamentally advanced the field in very significant way. Places all over the world are following our lead.” While Ventana is the property of the independent MBARI, as Roberson puts it, “We are children of the same parent, so we play together nicely.” That means MBA’s top aquarists can occasionally use $12,000-a-day Ventana and the new Ed Ricketts ROV to dip into the plummeting 12,000-foot depths of the canyon just off the coast, cruising through bioluminescent bacteria to better understand the habitat MBA’s mission depends upon, and to seek out new species for exhibits. (Aquarist Chad Widmer just found a jelly he’s naming after his nieces; his last species’ name nodded to Henry Rollins). Guests can follow along, at times live, at the recently added Mission to the Deep exhibit. Inside it feels a little like Star Trek – fittingly enough, part of Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home was filmed at the Aquarium – but these sunken whale investigations and undersea mountain mapping missions are no futuristic fantasies.