Yesterday I took the kids to the Monterey Bay Aquarium. The last time we were there was for an overnight six months ago (which I *highly* recommend. It is super cool to fall asleep next to a huge tank full of fish slowly swimming by). The kids always love going, and I find it amazing that we always seem to notice something new or unique each time we go.

We have our favorites. My son loves the “Open Sea” exhibit, which is essentially a ginormous tank with lots of big fish and a couple of turtles. But there’s something about the glow from the tank in the darkness of the room, accompanied by the soothing soundtrack piped over the exhibit’s speakers that creates a very relaxing, calm experience. I like that the turtles appear to be flying:

My daughter’s favorite was the new Jellies Experience, which is a fun and groovy look at jellyfish. The aquarium already has a jelly exhibit, but they added a wonderful layer of fun by pulling together an additional exhibit that is done with black lights and funky colors, to the sounds of groovy, 60’s pipe organ music. Plus, they created some quirky lighting in the style of jellyfish that she now wants to create for her own room:

I have two favorites: the Giant Pacific Octopus and the Seahorses. I have had a long fascination with octopuses and have incorporated that into my artwork. The octopus at the aquarium is kept in a smaller tank that unfortunately is almost covered by people, likewise curious about these amazing animals. My daughter is great at creeping in to small spaces and found a spot right up front to take a picture. It’s not the best photo (it’s in a very dark corner), but you can get a sense of its majesty:

(btw, I always thought octopuses were cool, but after seeing this video, now I know they are the BADASSES of the ocean)

Then, there are the seahorses. Seahorses “court” each other for days and then dance while having sex and the male carries the babies…how awesome is that? Plus, they’re so cute how they propel themselves through the water using little fins rapidly like a hummingbird’s wings. Not surprisingly, my daughter and I loved the seahorse exhibit while my son made his way quickly to the gift shop.

We watched a couple of films at the aquarium theater, but the one that really made an impression on me was a short film about the TOPP project. Tagging of Pacific Predators (TOPP) is one of several projects that make up the Census of Marine Life, a 10-year, international effort to understand more about the ocean and the marine life that calls it home. I was really excited to learn about this. Just a few days ago, the United States landed a rover on Mars, millions of miles away (which is a phenomenal and necessary accomplishment for humankind), and yet we really don’t know much about the vast, ocean-covered portions of our own planet. It’s heartening to hear that there are scientists devoted to discovering more about our oceanic world.

We had such a wonderful time that I forked over $195 for a family membership. It’s tax deductible, the kids were thrilled that they got their own membership cards with their names on them, and the money goes towards a great cause. It really is a wonderful day trip for families with kids of any ages…and adults, too. Last summer, when I spent a few days in Pacific Grove for a mini-vacation, I went to the Aquarium on my own so I could experience it without the ever-nagging feeling of “where are my children?” I enjoyed that time of non-interrupted exhibit viewing and look forward to another solo visit, since I’m now a card-carrying member.