story and photos by Kayte Deioma
You can’t go wrong on a rainy day in Long Beach taking the kids out for a day at the Aquarium of the Pacific. A real deluge might keep the Lorikeet forest closed, but it won’t bother the sharks and rays in the outdoor touch pools. It will just scare away a bit of the competition for a good position to two-finger touch these creatures of the sea.
Most of the Pacific Ocean animals on display in the Aquarium can be viewed without your umbrella. The Weird, Wild and Wonderful Passport Book that you receive at the entrance helps identify the various underwater residents as you go. It includes a fun quiz at the back for school-age children or anyone who wants to test their memory. Weekdays the schools of fish are visited by schools of little people identified with matching bandanas, hats or T-shirts.
In the main hall you are greeted by a life-size sculpture of a blue whale and her calf suspended from the ceiling. The Aquarium is divided into geographic regions which reproduce the local habitat for the undersea inhabitants of that area. At the end of the hall, the Blue Cavern exhibit, extending two stories high, represents the habitat of the Southern California Coast and Islands. At feeding time, you can see exotic Homo sapiens in scuba gear swimming among the California barracudas, shovelnose guitarfish and leopard sharks. Volunteer divers give underwater presentations several times a day. The two-legged scuba-fish also make appearances in the Tropical Reef Exhibit.
It is easy to become transfixed for long periods of times watching the translucent jellies floating through the blue water of the Open Ocean or waiting to see if the balloonfish are going to balloon in the Sea of Cortez. If it’s too wet to have the Seals and Sea Lion presentation outside, you can still view these sea mammals from inside the Southern California and Baja Gallery. You can also watch the sea otters cavort and play in and out of water in the Northern Pacific Gallery.
In the outdoor section of the Southern California and Baja Exhibit, you can give the two-finger touch to a giant green anemone, purple sea urchin or bat star in the sheltered Rocky Intertidal exhibit or to the nearby stingrays and whiptail rays competing for your attention in the Ray Touchpool. Downstairs you can pet the white-spotted bamboo sharks, zebra sharks and many other small shark varieties in the Shark Lagoon.
Films and presentations are scheduled throughout the day in the Honda Theater near the entrance and in the outdoor Marine Life Theater, weather permitting. Guided hour-long “Behind the Scenes” Tours for visitors seven years old or above are available daily for an additional fee. On weekends, you can make a reservation for Animal Encounters, which will allow you to get up close and personal while you feed the animals with the Aquarium staff. Children have to be at least ten years old to feed the seals and sea lions and 13 to feed the sharks.
The Aquarium of the Pacific has a wonderfully informative web site at www.aquariumofpacific.org including a fun Animal Database. Price and schedule information on the web site may be out of date. For current information call (562) 437-3474.