You could call the Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach Oceanography 101. The difference is that the Aquarium offers a mix of education with fun, excitement and recreation. This year the Aquarium is celebrating a 15th anniversary and as usual there are many new activities that will appeal to children and adults alike.
As you enter the Aquarium you are handed a 32 page book entitled "Map and Explorer Guide" which explains in great detail what there is to see and do. For the high tech there is a new Explorer App. Increasingly the Aquarium is focusing on conservation of both species and resources. There is an excellent Watershed display which shows how water moves from the mountains of Southern California to the ocean and its impact on animals and people.
The Blue Cavern, modeled after a kelp forest off Catalina Island, had an entranced audience listening to a diver speaking from inside the pool explaining the actions of two other divers who were feeding giant sea bass, ocean whitefish and sheephead.
Always popular is the Shark Lagoon which allows visitors close up views of sharks of many species. A special shallow pool allows children to actually touch and interact with bamboo, nurse, epauilette and zebra sharks.
We were amazed at how many changes had taken place since we were last there. The exhibits have been created to match the geography and life of separate parts of the Pacific Ocean. First is the Southern California and Baja Coast, then the North Pacific coast Gallery and the Tropical Pacific Gallery which, with its beautiful corals, was new to us. The Tropical Reef exhibit is the largest at the Aquarium and contains some 1,000 species from South Pacific waters. It represents the archipelago of Palau in Micronesia and shows the corals and fish of the region
We started with the Ocean Exploration gallery which provides a history how man's exploration of our water planet has progressed through the centuries.
It was a busy day at the Aquarium with hosts of small children, others in large groups being chaperoned by harried adults. It was most interesting to watch the children and enjoy their wonder and excitement as they studied each exhibit. There was much for them to see with the live seal, penguin and sea otter exhibitions.
The Ocean Theater is a busy place with a full schedule of shows including a film entitled "Descent into the Depths". Several times a day there is the Penguins Multimedia Show. Another on Seals and Sea Lions. There is a special Children's Program twice a day and a special program on the sea otters.
There is the Ray touch pool where one can actually touch the rays or shovelnose guitarfish. These are local residents of Southern California coastal waters. For the exhibit the barbs of the rays have been removed. Then there are the popular Sea Otters with their outlandish behavior and silken fur. This hair, the most unusual of any mammal, was almost their undoing in an earlier era when they were hunted without mercy.
We found the exhibit of jelly fish particularly fascinating with their long graceful lace-like tentacles trailing them in the water in every changing patterns. Beautiful to look at but in some species deadly to the touch. Seals and Sea Lions also take center stage each day at the Aquarium.
We also looked in on the Lorikeet Forest with the decor as a tropical island. Part of Explorers Cove, it is a walk through, hands-on aviary filled with dozens of Australian lorikeets. These are friendly birds that will without hesitation land on your hand, arm or your head if you care for that sort of head wear. Also it is possible to purchase a cup of nectar which will further induce the Lorikeets to become part of your person. With children it is a sure winner.
There is so much to see and do at the Long Beach Aquarium that one visit in not enough to enjoy all the exhibits and programs. We noted new construction which will become a steelhead trout exhibit.
The Aquarium of the Pacific is family education and entertainment at its best. There are ongoing education classes for all age groups and a continuing schedule of special events.
The Aquarium is open 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. every day but December 25. It is located at 100 Aquarium Way in Long Beach. For more information call 562-590 3100 or on the web at www.aquariumofpacific.org. Parking is convenient with a special rate for those purchasing tickets to the Aquarium.
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