• Happy 25th Anniversary, Monterey Bay Aquarium!

    A strange idea can accrue from a scuba dive among the forest of waving kelp off-shore near the abandoned Hovden Cannery.  At least it can if the year is 1977-78, if your group is from John Hopkins Marine Research Institute, and if the divers include the likes of Julie Packard, Nancy Packard Burnet (Julie’s sister), and Dr. Steve Webster.

    After the dive, the group was discussing the ethereal beauty of the sea around the Monterey Canyon, the plight of Cannery Row (not so beautiful, having not recovered economically from the canning crash), and the puzzling absence of sardines.

    One said: “What can be done to develop an appreciation for our ocean?”  Another replied: “I know!  Let’s build an aquarium!”

    And so the aquarium began-with the support of David Packard (co-founder of the Hewlett Packard Corporation) and his spouse.  The amazing edifice was designed to resemble the old wooden-beamed, bricks and mortar, tin-chimneys structure of the Hovden Cannery (packers of Portola sardine products).  The institution, with Julie Packard as executive director, opened its doors and windows-on-the-sea in 1984, and was destined to quickly become one of the world’s top aquariums.  The numbers are astounding.  During 2007 (figures stated as units of 1,000), 1,179,263 enthusiasts trekked in to visit with fish and turtles and urchins and birds.  $29,265 were taken in for admissions, and another $1,611 appeared as grants.  For exceptional care in spending its money, Charity Navigator (an independent charity evaluator) awarded the aquarium four out of four stars, an unheard of accomplishment.

    Major publications got the word and trekked toward the peninsula.  The aquarium appeared in major magazines such as National Geographic, Sunset, and now-drum roll, please-the Cedar Street Times.

    Ed Ricketts, who once conducted business in Pacific Grove before moving to Monterey’s Cannery Row (then Ocean View Avenue), would have enjoyed aquarium visits.  Ricketts, who worked as a marine biologist, sold samples of sea life to schools and aquariums(before his fatal, 1948 run-in with a train).  Much of Ed’s merchandise was dipped from Pacific Grove tidepools into jars and bottles and shoulder bags.

    [Favorite son or not, Ricketts might have been turned away from such practices today.  At least, if Pacific Grove has its way.

    The Pacific Grove City Council wants all “dipping” stopped.  The council wants the Pacific Grove sea front, including its tide pools, to be designated a “collection-free” zone.  Some council members united with a few guests to classify plans to permit some gathering currently as “attempts” to assume control of the shoreline, allegedly in the likeness of pirates of centuries gone by.]

    The ocean, which-along with Monterey Bay-forms the western meeting of land and sea, has long been the heart and soul of Pacific Grove.  Known as the Pacific Grove Retreat after David Jacks made a piece of land available to the retreat association, the name was changed to the simpler Pacific Grove at the time of incorporation on July 16, 1889.  Originally a 100-acres portion of the Rancho de Pínos, the retreat gradually gained thousands of additional acres and transformed itself into a tent village, then a town, and finally a modestly-sized city.  It’s ocean-side beauty was described by Robert Louis Stevenson as “dreamlike” and a travel piece by Jon Guthrie (your writer) portrayed Pacific Grove as “…a Victorian village by the sea.”  The presence of the Monterey Bay Aquarium does nothing but enhance Pacific Grove as well as Monterey and all of Monterey County.

    Kasie Deuel, employed by the aquarium’s publicity department, worked her way to California from the east coast and fell in love with the aquatic displays.  The exhibit that most catches her attention features an indoor kelp forest, three-stories tall, and is called “Outer Bay”.  Artificial currents flow through the specially designed area to permit occupants to act just as they do out there in the wild.  The most important event, Deuel thinks, was the introduction of a white shark.  Other exhibitions include Jellies Gallery, Wild about Seahorses, Discovery Lab, Great Tide Pool, Splash Zone, Touch Pools, Kelp Forest, Monterey Bay Habitats, Octopus, and Mission to the Deep.  Seeing everything requires at least a half day, and a full day (with a delicious lunch at the Portola Café) is so much better.

    Sally Davidson, a tourist from Florida, likes the aquarium because so many of its exhibits are interactive.  “It’s a hands-on thing and that’s perfect for my kids, but everyone can learn … like what seafood to fix for dinner without harming the earth.”  Ms. Davidson was referring to the fact that not only does the aquarium feature its own eatery (Portola Café), it offers a pseudo-fifties diner offering customers who are perched on counter stools games that are certain to inform.  While there, be sure to pick up a copy of Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch, a guide to sustainable seafood.

    Just around the corner from the Portola Café, an earth-bound exhibit waits to describe the eco-society that produced canned sardines.  Hovden cannery made a fortune marketing tins of steamed sardines for 15¢, sardines packed in wine for 20¢, and canned hearts of Salinas Valley celery (prices varied).  Many scientists believe, however, that Hovden (and other canneries) may have killed the fish that laid the golden eggs when the company discovered the effortless nature of cooking sardines whole, grinding the fish into paste, and packing the results not for human consumption but for such purposes as pet food and fertilizer.  The demand for netted sardines multiplied.

    Recently opened, the aquarium’s newest theme features the seahorse (actually seahorses; there are more that 15 species) as revealed in a show titled “The Secret Lives of Seahorses.”  Sometimes it requires some diligence to spot the show’s stars.  Seahorses are masters of disguise.  Species such as the leafy varieties look like exactly that: leafs adrift in the sea.  Seahorses called shrimpfish swim about up-side-down, hiding out between sea urchin spines.  Among seahorses, dads take care of maternal duty.  However, masculine efforts aside, many species of seahorse have ridden themselves onto the race track toward extinction.  Not to worry too much, however.  The aquarium provides access to a computer-device that will send a letter to Governor Schwarzenegger begging seahorse support.

    What’s in store for the future?  Kasie Deuel shook her head.  “I don’t think a decision has been made.  If I were to guess, I’d say that it would have something to do with the oceanic impact of a changing climate.”

    Whatever the decision, it’ll be dynamic.  As Julie Packard wrote for the 2007 annual report: “…our long-term progress still depends on reaching people, one by one, to create an ethic of caring about, and caring for, the oceans.”



    posted to Cedar Street Times on May 20, 2009

    Topics: Current Edition, Features

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