Summer is here and it’s time to hit the water. But I don’t mean just getting my toes wet; I mean doing some real exploring too. And one of the best places in Southern California to do this is the Aquarium of the Pacific, located next to the Queen Mary in Long Beach.
Showcasing more than 12,500 animals, the aquarium is built around three themed areas of the Pacific Ocean: the sunny Southern California and Baja region; the frigid waters of the North Pacific; and the colorful reefs of the Tropical Pacific. Sprinkled around these main areas are numerous other fun and informative exhibits, including Shark Lagoon and Lorikeet Forest.
One of the Aquarium’s newest and coolest exhibits is called Ocean Exploration and it transports visitors into the pitch black world of the ocean’s deepest depths. Here, in a place few humans have ever traveled, the Aquarium sheds light on mysterious creatures most people have never seen.
“Through this program, the Aquarium hopes to inspire a push to explore our planet’s last physical frontier—the World Ocean,” says Dr. Jerry R. Schubel, Aquarium of the Pacific president and CEO.
A highlight is the new exhibit is the Wonders of the Deep area, which features unique animals that live in the deep sea beyond the reach of light. Through lighting and audio-visual effects, we encountered bioluminescent flashlight fish that produce their own light, as well as charming hagfish that emit slime. The gallery also includes weird-named creatures like the chambered nautiluses, deep-sea isopods that resemble massive pill bugs, deep-water crabs, and other interesting sea animals.
Also in this section I discovered how these animals adapt and survive in extreme temperatures, with scarce food sources, and incredible amounts of water pressure – pressure that could easily crush submarines and humans. One way the deep sea fish survive is by eating the bodies of animals like whales that die and very slowly sink to the bottom.
One of my favorite outdoor exhibits is “Shark Lagoon,” where visitors get up-close and even touchy-feely with more than 150 of the ocean’s ultimate predators. On my recent getaway, I peered through glass and came within inches of the chomping jaws of sand tiger, sandbar, nurse, whitetip and other large sharks. I also watched a staff member empty buckets of fresh flesh into the water and witnessed the power, speed and hunger of these remarkable fish.
I then walked to another part of the exhibit, where docile Zebra, bamboo, and epaulette sharks are available to touch in three shallow pools. I learned to use a delicate, two finger touch technique on the animals, which I think they liked since I still have my fingers. Swimming with the sharks are giant graceful rays, such as the reticulate whipray that can grow to 14 ft in length, the giant shovelnose ray that can grow to 8 ft and the whitespotted guitarfish that can reach 10 ft.
Leaving the shark tanks, I journeyed through “Lorikeet Forest,” a 3,200-sq-ft outdoor aviary where a crashing waterfall and lush trees are home to brilliantly colored lorikeets, which normally live in the coastal lowlands of Australia. In this rainforest, I bought a cup of nectar and hand fed flocks of chirping birds as they landed on my arms and head.
On Sunday, July 21, from 9am – 5pm, the Aquarium will host Explorers Day, where guests will have the opportunity to meet and hear from historical and modern-day ocean explorers, see demonstrations of remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) under water, and watch live video feeds from three deep-sea exploration vessels. NOAA, NASA, and other agencies and organizations engaged in ocean exploration will feature educational booths.
The Aquarium of the Pacific is located at 100 Aquarium Way in Long Beach, CA. For information call (562) 590-3109 or visit www.aquariumofpacific.org.