In a nondescript early 1980s structure at the end of Cannery Row is a not-so-plain aquarium. For starters, Monterey Bay Aquarium (montereybayaquarium.org) is where the famed Seafood Watch launched, a program on fish sustainability. Second, the deck here is suspended over the Monterey Bay. Within the bay, not far from where a visitor would stand, is a spectacular underwater phenomenon: a geological formation twice the depth of the Grand Canyon. Let that sink in.
In that sense, the Blue Canyon is the aquarium and the region’s secret weapon. Scientists can collect and study what’s rarely seen by others from ocean depths seldom explored. Visitors get a front-row seat, too. Having this canyon so close to shore is a little like having quick access to Mars. It should be no surprise then that Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI), in nearby Moss Landing, encounters some pretty oddball “cases.” Scientist Stephanie Bush of MBARI shares some behind the scenes.
The Annoying Disappearance of the Vampire Squid
The Vampyroteuthis infernalis, which translates literally to “vampire squid from hell,” had not been seen by anyone since 1903.
CRACKING THE CASE
Hundreds of hours of MBARI video footage taken by an underwater remote operating vehicle are reviewed to help pinpoint the mark. In 2014, more than 2,000 feet below sea level, Bush nabs the blood-red cephalopod that exhibits characteristics of a squid and octopus, and may show an evolutionary link between them. That is still a mystery.
In 2014, the aquarium was the first in the world to unveil the vampire. View it in the Tentacles exhibition. It is part of a rotating cast of characters.
The Secret Life of the No-Name Octopus
A pink marine animal, located at a depth of 1,000 feet in the Blue Canyon, was brought ashore, basically without papers. It was a complete mystery.
CRACKING THE CASE
Bush, smitten with its cuteness, coins an equally cute name, Opisthoteuthis adorabilis - the adorable octopus. Although the name is not official, the media loves it; the octopus that resembles a scrubbing bubble makes a splash. Bush is working on the species description - the first ever done on it.
Besides YouTube, the only place to see this cute pink thing is at the aquarium’s Tentacles exhibition, when it is in the tank. (It does take time off .)
The Unexplained Birth, Life, and Death of Jellyfish
Jellyfish are a mystery. Their blooms may indicate the ocean’s health. Despite a lack of a head, heart, brain, bones, cartilage, and real eyes, they are a major predator in the ocean. The complex stinging cells are intriguing, the life cycles an enigma. They must be studied. Yet specimen collection is disruptive to the ecosystem. Is there a better way?
CRACKING THE CASE
Jellyfish farming! Easy? Not even. MBARI, with aquarium help, perfected it and helped write a Jellyfish Care Manual in the process.
Homegrown jellies are sent to other aquariums when possible. The aquarium was one of the first to culture and display live jellyfish in 2003. Today, six varieties are exhibited in Open Sea. Some glow. Others are 3 feet wide and purple and silver.
Montery Bay Aquarium By The Numbers
- 200 - the number of exhibitions
- 35,000 - marine animals and plants
- 550 - species of fishes, invertebrates, mammals, reptiles, birds, and plants
- 28 feet - the height of the undersea kelp forest on display
- 425 - people on staff, both full- and part-time
- 1 million - gallons of seawater in the tank for the Open Sea exhibition
- 12,000 feet - the depth of the Monterey Bay 60 miles off shore
- 36,000 feet - the deepest point of Earth (Marianas Trench)