Birds and Fishes - A Visit to Monterey Bay Aquarium

Monika with Karoo, an Afriacan  Blackfooted penguin
Monika with Karoo, an Afriacan Blackfooted penguin

On July 25th, we here at Pandemonium Aviaries packed into cars and made the drive down to the Monterey Bay Aquarium. The Monterey Bay Aquarium Aviculture staff had graciously invited us for an enlightening behind-the-scenes tour of the aviculture department at the aquarium. We were greeted and shown around by Monika, one of the aviculturists at the Aquarium. She led us first to their food preparation and storage area, which was meticulously organized. They didn’t have much room to spare, but what they had was optimized for maximum efficiency. Plastic drawers- like you’d see in a college dorm room- acted as temporary homes for mealworms, fly larvae, and black worms. Shelving units lined the walls up to the ceiling with various enrichment toys, like colored tiles and shells to hide food in.

We were then brought to the roof of the building, which overlooks the picturesque Monterey Bay shore. We watched the local cormorants bustling about their nests in the nooks and crannies of the Aquarium’s foundation supports, flying out to survey the waters occasionally for food. We also had a spectacular view the kelp forest exhibit, with its huge hydraulic system continuously pumping to mimic the currents in natural waters.

On our way from the roof down to the shorebird exhibit, we passed by the temporary holding areas for birds that need to be isolated. In one of these areas, we got a quick glance at three Snowy Plover chicks, which are tiny, threatened shorebirds. They were part of a larger clutch, where the rest of the chicks were successfully reintroduced into the wild. We also got to meet Makana, a Laysan albatross from the Northwestern Hawaiian Island of Midway. She came to the Aquarium after injuring her wing and being unable to survive by herself in the wild; now she helps teach visitors about the threats that albatross are facing.

The shorebird exhibit itself was quite impressive. It was on the top floor of the aquarium with a skylight above and netting acting as a wall; this design allows the birds to experience the natural weather patterns of the bay. Many different shorebird species were kept in the same open exhibit, on meticulously cleaned sand dunes re-formed by the staff every morning before opening.

Our tour was interrupted when Monika had to leave for penguin feeding time, and of course we went to watch. Once the penguins were happy and full, we were invited to go into the back area behind the penguin exhibit and meet one of the little guys! He was a little nervous around all the new people, but seemed completely trusting of Monika and reassured by her presence. He would playfully nip at Monika’s clothes, perhaps looking for suitable nesting material for his mate.

These were just a few of the sights we saw, and it was truly a great experience. Our timing couldn’t have been better either; as we were leaving a wild pigeon found his way into the aquarium, and we got to watch as the staff pulled out their long nets to try and get the stubborn bird out. By the time we left the pigeon had flown to a high off perch indoors, unreachable by the staff.  There’s no doubt the pigeon wanted to join the fun, after all the Monterey Bay Aquarium is an amazing place.

By Joanne Tang