Thursday, October 8, 2009
16 Cuttlefish: Sepia Pharaonis
They’re more bizarre than cuddly and more squid than fish, with tentacles tapering to a beak under bulging eyes and podlike bodies propelled by what look like undulating dust ruffles. Thanks to the cuttlefish’s many talents – the so-called “chameleons of the sea” can easily change their coloring patterns according to their moods, and eject protein-based ink when they feel threatened – their tank is a popular draw in the Splash Zone, a children’s museum within the Aquarium, featuring clownfish, zebra eels, and lots of interactive entertainment for pint-sized peeps. The zone is consciously clear of conservation messaging, Peterson explains, because developing brains are more likely to form attachments to things they aren’t afraid to lose; the sea-saving contributions come later. The kids’ domain can inspire grown-ups, too: A recent evening found a senior lady fixed to the tank of juvenile pharoah cuttles, a look of utter peace on her face.
17 Red Abalone: Haliotis rufescens
You can have your abalone in brown butter with smoked sea salt… and eat it, too. That’s the beauty of the Seafood Watch card, according to 20-year Aquarium employee Jim Covel. “Instead of gloom and doom, we make sure we celebrate oceans and our connection so people feel hopeful about conservation,” he says. “That’s why Seafood Watch is such a huge hit: It’s not saying, ‘Don’t eat seafood,’ it’s saying ‘Make a good choice when eating fish.’” (In this case, it’s for fine-farmed abalone from Monterey Abalone Company under Wharf No. 2.) The beauty of Cooking for Solutions, the ambitious outgrowth of Seafood Watch that educates journalists and policy-makers and feeds hundreds of attendees a weekend’s wealth of consciously cultivated fare, is that it encompasses more and more sustainable issues and draws more hungry eyeballs all the time. “It has both the science and the celebrity,” says Fedele Bauccio, head of Portola Restaurant’s parent company Bon Appetit, a charter sponsor of CFS. “If you really want to understand how to make change, CFS has the experts you can listen to and the fabulous chefs [like Alton Brown]. People can say, ‘I have a hero here. If they understand it, I better understand it.’”
18 California sea otter: Enhydra lutris
“Can I have one?” is one of the endless questions veteran curator-otter ambassador Chris DeAngelo fields. She concedes she tires of such predictables – the answer is “no, they’re wild, and you probably can’t afford the $12,000 a year in food” – but seems amused by the bizarre, non-otter call-ins (“My pet fish is sick. Can you help?”) and weirder walk-ins (“I found this animal in a tide pool – what do I do?”), but ultimately prefers the more sensitive (“How can we help?”). One easy way: Report any distressed otters to the Aquarium (648-4840) 24 hours a day, and recognize, as staff veterinarian Dr. Mike Murray says, “Otters are more than an icon for a plush toy.” To wit: Because of their loyal locavore diet, they’re the best indicator species for our off-shore ecosystem – the perfect canaries for our Central Coast coal mine. A more involved way to help: Join the volunteers at the Sea Otter Rescue and Conservation program, who rehab injured or illing wild otters (in costume) and monitor local populations.
19 Cowcod rockfish: Sebastes levis
The cowcod’s perma-mean mug may not evoke the aesthetics of Carmel’s pampered pugs, but its treatment might. That’s because, like the doggies-by-the-sea, this rockfish gets treatment normally reserved for humans – only instead of strollers and sweaters, the cowcod are plopped in a customized decompression chamber just like scuba divers with the bends. The chamber allows them to adjust to less pressurized life after being lifted from neighborhoods some 300 to 1,600 feet deep. Their first public appearance in Monterey Bay Habitats, part of a partnership with Hubbs-Sea World Research Institute, lets the so-called “roosterfish” play ambassador for an effort to rebuild their very vulnerable wild populations.
20 Broadnose sevengill shark: Notorynchus cepedianus
As three sevengills patrol the Monterey Bay Habitats exhibit in the Near Shore wing, their relatives cruise the bay waters churning just outside the building. Among the state’s largest coastal sharks, sevengills have been part of the Aquarium’s display since its 1984 opening. Staying local is a foundation of the Aquarium’s identity; spokesman Ken Peterson estimates more than 80 percent of the animals on display can be found in nearby waters. The sevengills’ comrades include white sturgeon, rockfishes, cow cod, skates and salmon – Monterey Bay’s own diverse marine community. And like the conscious seafoodies among us, these predators eat off Seafood Watch’s green list: Morsels of mackerel, salmon and sardines keep the sevengills so well-fed they’re seldom tempted to snack on other fish in the tank.