Milpitas Camera Club Field Trip
Field Trip: Monterey Bay Aquarium/Pacific Grove Monarch Butterflies
Trip Date: January 30, 2010
Report Author:Scott Hinrichs
Report Date: February 3, 2010

This last weekend's field trip was a real great time!

The Saturday, January 30 field trip to Monterey, originally to see the Monarchs in Pacific Grove, and the Monterey Bay Aquarium as a backup evloved into a trip to the aquarium with the butterflies as a backup plan. Nine club members and associates arrived on-time and ready for some fun, and fun they had!

As things transpired over the past few weeks, the aquarium trip transformed itself into a special tour given by one of my former co-workers, Jack Day, a volunteer maintenance diver at the aquarium.

Eight of us showed up at the Black Bear Diner in Gilroy for the standard excessive breakfast and then met the sole non-foodie at the entrance to the aquarium at the appointed time. Precision prevailed!

The aquarium was designed by San Francisco architect Charles Davis of Esherick Homsey Dodge and Davis of San Francisco. The facility was a conversion of a former cannery, the Hovden Cannery. The original cost of the aquarium was $55 million and was a gift to the community by David and Lucile Packard. It opened October 20, 1984 and set the standard for all large aquariums thereafter.

Jack took our group of nine and introduced us to some of the main features of the facility, including the Kelp Forest, shorline exhibits and the Outer Bay exhibit before he opened the usually-locked doors to reveal some of the labyrinthine passages behind the public displays.

The aquarium is home to approximately 550 different species of marine animals and plants. If you ve ever taken one of his tours before, Jack's quotes are predictable as the hands on the clock he's probably given hundreds of tours over the years.

Do you remember this quote? This is the only kelp exhibit in the world where the kelp is actually growing. Or what about this one? More than 2,000 gallons of raw sea water is pumped into this facility per minute. It comes from an intake pipe a few hundred yards out in the bay.

He probably also reminded you (as will all docents) to pick up the Seafood Watch seafood ordering guide, published by the aquarium, so you can go to restaurants and not order endangered species of fish. When it comes to the ocean, Jack is a real conservationist.

Our special tour began on the roof of the complex, where the volunteer diver who was doing today's twice-daily fish-feeding show in the Kelp Forest tank, was preparing for his performance. Just before he splashed into the big tank, we went back down to see his performance in front of a packed auditorium.

The Kelp Forest holds a third of a million gallons of water (one-and-a-quarter million liters). This aquarium was the first aquarium in the world to exhibit a living kelp forest.

Next, we walked across the facility to the Outer Bay exhibit, which holds the deep ocean fishes, including sharks, hammerhead sharks, baracuda, tuna, mahi-mahi, rays, sardines and others. The Outer Bay tank is impressive. It holds about 1.2 million gallons of water, and the tank window is 56 feet long and 17 feet high being the world's largest at the time of its construction. The water is held back by a 13-inch-thick wall of acrylic basically a transparent dam.

Jack had timed our visit so we could witness the feeding frenzy that ensued when pieces of squid were dropped into the tank from above. It was truly a memorable show with the tuna rocketing back and forth with amazing speed and agility and the mahi-mahi actually turning color while they were being fed. (I was too busy at lunchtime that day to actually look up and see if any of our foodies turned color while we experienced our own feeding frenzy but I think some of us actually do change color in the presence of Cioppino!) The Outer Bay feeding show was a kick! If you go to the aquarium, I recommend that you go see it.

After all the fish were fed it was time for the human feeding show and we were ushered into the Portola Cafe and Restaurant, the aquarium's on-site, sit-down restaurant, for a really great lunch. Jack made reservations for the ten of us in a beautiful dining room with a million-dollar view of Monterey Bay. The suddeness of lunchtime took us all by surprise, but we all stepped forward to meet the challenge. (The effects of Black Bear had not completely worn off by that time and there were some nervous looks from the foodies before we entered.) Our foodies re-seated themselves with brave faces, lest they embarrass our gracious host, and with eating tools in hand, dispatched lunch. According to Jack, The Restaurant is the best restaurant on Cannery Row. And that lunch proved it in my mind I had a delicious chunk of flounder with polenta presented very elegantly. I believe all of our foodies were duly impressed with their lunches, too.

With our lunch now resting atop that pile of Black Bear breakfast in our bellies, we returned to the traffic paths for the final leg of the behind-the-scenes tour, which ocurred back near the Kelp Forest exhibit, where Jack let us back into the facility to take a look at the fish-food preparation area and the top of another one of the large tanks. Several large sharks and rays cruised in endless circles as we gazed down into the huge aquarium.

A couple of our tourists were members of the aquarium, but this tour turned out to be a treat for them, because they had never been allowed back into the bowels of this wonderful facility.

As Jack bid us a fond adieu, we were admitted back into the public area of the aquarium to go finish our own self-guided tours. I went back to see the ever-popular jellyfish exhibit and the new seahorse exhibit. You can't beat those jellys! They're truly beautiful. We ended up on the outside deck, overlooking Monterey Bay, breathed the world's freshest air and then decided to check in at Pacific Grove.

Driving past the grove of eucalyptus trees where the butterflies were supposed to gather, I saw nothing that resembled a butterfly. Perhaps they haven't gathered there yet, or maybe their numbers are low this year. It was certainly the best policy to make the aquarium the main event.

Thanks to those who came for this excellent look at the Monterey Bay Aquarium and to Jack and all the others who made our special tour so wonderful! (Every now and then one of these field trips turns into a true gem of an experience and this was one of the first gems of 2010. If you missed it, I'm sorry you did.)

© 2010 S.R. Hinrichs