On rare occasions you are lucky enough to visit an institution that has the power to seamlessly transport you into another world. It is as if a portal opens and you fall unknowingly into a foreign space that wraps itself around you and takes you away. For me, that place has always been the American Museum of Natural History. As a kid the dioramas seemed incredibly real, the artifacts unfathomable and the space all consuming. As an adult the museum still fascinates me, even during the time that I had the good fortune to work behind its scenes. It is forever growing and changing, yet its dioramas become priceless artifacts themselves because they were, at one time, visionary.
The Monterey Aquarium carries the same magic. The aquarium sits right on the bay where the ocean’s rocky edge and wildlife are as much a part of your visit as the animals inside. The water washes its way into several exhibits and you start to lose track of where the exhibits end and the ‘real’ ocean begins.
Its dark and cavernous displays bring you deep under the sea. They calm you and make the blood in your body sway to the water around you. They make you believe that creatures of the sea are alien, designed by an imagination that stymies creative minds. This aquarium has the power to make you feel that the ocean is not of this world. Its inhabitants are cool and you begin to wish that your world could be like this. Wildly calm and exploding with untamed variety.
On our visit today I became speechless when giant octopuses scaled glass walls with creeping tentacles. Like a beach towel flapping in the wind to be cleaned of tiny pieces of sand, the body of the octopus rippled under the water’s gentle sway.
The jellyfish were prehistoric. Together they are works of art moving together to their own symphony. These floating masterpieces caused cameras to be clicked constantly. It was as if the Mona Lisa were in front of us. I would have never called these boneless warriors beautiful until today but I was awestruck. Lethal creatures have never seemed so mesmerizing and gentle. How different they look under the sea than on the sands of Fire Island washed up on shore.
The last exhibit I visited was the Hall of Seahorses where proud papas carried pouches full of hundreds of babies. With their tails wrapped around ocean grass their eyes watch you as you walk by. In small tanks, floating by themselves were those babies, no larger than a safety pin. Can you even call these fish? How unique they are. They deserve a category unto themselves.
It’s been a very long time since I’ve been this impressed by an institution. So thank you Monterey Aquarium for bringing me through your portal and into another world.