A Home on the Seaside
There aren’t too many places where, whenever I walk in, I instantly feel at home. Like the bar in Cheers, or a bunch of other TV sitcoms, “you want to go where everybody knows your name”, but even when there is not a single person there that you recognize the place itself seems to welcome you. I’m sure that this is different for everyone, but this place always brings me the instantaneous, welcoming feeling of home.
I firmly believe that home is where the heart is, and as you travel the more places you find, the more places you can love, and the more homes you have. Since I was a small child my favorite home has been Monterey Bay, specifically the Monterey Bay Aquarium.
I love aquariums in general, in fact, every time I visit a new city I try to visit their local aquarium, but the Monterey Bay Aquarium is specifically my favorite, none have measured up. It’s the one I grew up with, and even though it goes through changes and improvements the same spirit of sharing knowledge and helping the ocean environment has remained consistent.
Since I’ve been there so many times I’ve created a system to get in and out quickly while still getting to see my favorite creatures, like visiting old friends.
I feel a connection to the ocean, and the quotes on the walls always warm my black hole of a heart.
First I walk left into the reef section and I quickly become mesmerized by the swaying seaweed in the giant tank. When the divers jump in to feed the creatures a giant crowd full of children gather around, while this is cool to watch a few times, it’s mainly the best time to see the rest of the tanks. It’s easy to schedule your time avoiding all the feeding shows.
Continuing around the circular reef section, I say hello to the octopus, the same clever one that climbed out of its tank at night, snuck across the hallway, climbed into another tank full of fish to fill itself and finally crawled back into its own tank to create the mystery of ‘where did all the fish go?’
Scanning the smaller bubble-shaped tanks, no matter which section I’m in gives me the closest feeling to being in the water without scuba diving. Of course, I would rather be diving if given the choice, but kneeling in front of/putting your face right next to the glass of a giant tank is the next best thing.
While crossing to the other side I always see a crowd around the otters, and it’s no wonder, they are adorable.
Though it is more special, and a bit magical if you see them near you in the wild. Last year, on St. Patrick’s Day my father and I went to the aquarium for the first half of the day and then rented a couple of kayaks to see the bay from a different perspective before grabbing a late lunch/dinner at an Irish Pub. According to the MMPA (marine mammal protection act), people are not allowed within 50 ft of marine mammals, but if you’re in their environment you can’t do much to avoid them if they pop up next to you. In that case, people just need to not move until the animal leaves of its own volition.
On the cold, kelp-filled waters, the ocean waves assisted our south-bound paddling down Cannery Row, around the aquarium building, and down toward a bay full of seals where we couldn’t pass. With the rocking of the waves I got slightly nervous a couple of times when I pulled out my phone to take pictures of otters and seals that popped up nearby, I didn’t want to drop it since it wasn’t waterproof. Nothing bad happened, thank goodness, but in places like that, it feels like nothing could go wrong. It’s that feeling that opens me up. There just aren’t many places I’ve found like that, at least not nearby each other.
On the opposite side of the aquarium is the enormous open water section. Walking into the entrance hall for this area other quote is placed on the far wall underneath a circular tank for everyone to see. Above the quote, forever swimming in the same place, and in the same direction, are the sardines. Some may be adventurous enough to jump out of the line and swim the opposite direction, but it only lasts a short time and they always turn back around with the crowd. It’s hypnotic and a bit depressing, always trying to move forward, but never getting anywhere. Trying to be different, and eventually caving to the will of the crowd.
Time passes and I have to continue to the next hall. Tanks filled with open water fish species and multicolored jellyfish light the dark path to the largest tank. The mystic glow and the gentle pumping of the mindless jellies add to the relaxing vibes leading to the big, blue shark, ray, fish, and turtle filled waters in front of you. Watching the sharks swimming by the schools of fish, creating a whirl of silver around the docile predators, the rays and turtles getting right up to the glass, and the large yellow-finned tuna, dolphinfish (Mahi Mahi), and sharks just swim where ever the f*** they want with no fear makes me want to join them. Time to dive into the wild, cold waters, next time I visit Monterey, and it’ll be even better now because I have a GoPro camera.
But, my point is, that this place gives me a sense of belonging. Even though the animals wouldn’t recognize me or potentially even see me through thick planes of glass, I still feel like I’m joining a family. And if or when I bring anyone to this, my sanctuary, I hope it will come across as meaningful as I want it to.
What’s your favorite marine creature, or favorite animal in general? Share in a comment below.