Yet another thing I love about October: it’s breast cancer awareness month, so it is also the national month of pink. One pink thing we can all celebrate is the Hot Pink Flamingos exhibit at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. This is just one of several new works at the Aquarium; others include a sea turtle tank, an informational wing about how global warming affects ocean life, and a small flock of sea birds rescued from an oil spill. These energetic little birds are really enjoying their temporary stay in the kelp forest exhibit, which features hand feedings by divers twice daily.
Flamingos is centered around the idea that even our seemingly small daily choices impact our lives substantially in the long run. Take the example of food: for birds, their diet creates the vivid colors of their feathers, and for us, how we grow our food has substantial impacts on energy consumption and environmental health, among other things. To underscore this fact, opposite the birds is a display on alternative energy resources, such as solar and wind, and a life-sized Holstein cow. Under the cow’s rump is a steel pail containing a rather convincing specimen of—you guessed it—cow poo. More than just an excellent photo opportunity, the cow and its poo represent a very modern approach to energy: methane bioreactors.
The bright, modern exhibits, like Flamingos, are in definitive contrast to the Aquarium’s darker origin. In the early 1900’s, the Monterey Bay human population grew with the local fishing industry. Houses were built to accommodate the influx of fishermen and their families, and huge, warehouse-style cannery operations were built for processing millions of tons of local fish to ship to stores across the country. Of course, as the human population and industry revenues increased, the local fishing populations have suffered, largely due to a lack of our understanding of the ecosystem and how to maintain it.
The Aquarium was originally proposed in 1914 by a cannery owner, Frank Booth, to share the wealth and wonder of the Pacific Ocean marine life with the public. It wasn’t built until decades later, but the modern aquarium facility now sits, curiously, on the precise location of the first major cannery operation ever built in the city of Monterey. Inside, the original boilers have been reconditioned as a historical attraction piece for visitors, paying tribute to the town’s history. This ironic twist is echoed in the Aquarium’s efforts to educate the public on sustainable fishing, with popular programs like Seafood Watch.
Today, Cannery Row is a tourist destination. The smell of fish gutting and processing has given way to a new market: pricey candy stores, knick-knacks, and commercialism. The superficial ambience no doubt has a certain appeal for some, but beyond Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. and The Fish Hopper, the real gem remains the Aquarium.
The Monterey Bay Aquarium is open seven days a week to visitors. Proceeds from all public ticket sales fund the Aquarium’s many non-profit efforts, including the exhibits, injured wildlife rehabilitation projects, Monterey Bay conservation, and a variety of online educational resources for kids and teachers.
Thinking about a visit? You’re in luck—it’s tourist off-season! Early fall is a great time to visit Monterey. The crowds have thinned, the hotel prices have dropped, the beaches are still sunny, and the Monarchs are in the grove! While you’re there, visit the Pacific Grove beaches where you can watch sea lions rest in kelp beds between hunting dives. For real blueberry pancakes, visit Trailside Café in the morning (before 10:30 am to beat the locals rush). If you have a few extra hours on your drive back, stop at Marina State Beach where you can walk the dunes and collect sand dollars at the water’s edge.