by Ellen Hall
The Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach is one of the largest aquariums in the country.
More than 12,500 ocean animals are featured in the three main galleries, which represent Southern California/Baja, the Northern Pacific, and the Tropical Pacific.
The Aquarium of the Pacific anchors the Pike at Long Beach's Rainbow Harbor and is similar in some respects to the Monterey Bay Aquarium further north on the California coast.
Visitors enter the Aquarium of the Pacific through the Great Hall which is dominated by an 88-foot-long scale model of a blue whale. Throughout the day, a five-minute multi-sensory presentation transforms this space into the underwater domain of the world's largest animal.
Off the Great Hall is the Open Ocean Gallery.
This gallery includes the Sea Jellies exhibit, with over a dozen varieties of these mysterious creatures, and the Life in Darkness exhibit, displaying the strange animals that thrive in pitch-black water far below the surface.
At the end of the Great Hall, the Southern California/Baja Gallery begins with two kelp forest exhibits.
The two-story Blue Cavern habitat, modeled after the coast of Santa Catalina Island, contains the only breeding pair of Giant Sea Bass in captivity.
The Amber Forest represents the variety of sea life that depends on kelp forests for survival. Next, the Kelp Connection gallery displays lobsters, urchins, and other inhabitants of the kelp beds.
Just beyond, an Underwater Viewing Tunnel allows views of seals and sea lions swimming overhead.
In Explorer's Cove, visitors can touch sharks and rays in the Shark Lagoon, discover unusual Pacific mammals in the Island Animals display, and feed nectar to exotic birds in the Lorikeet Forest.
Five sub-species of Rainbow Lorikeets are featured in the Aquarium of the Pacific's Lorikeet Forest. The birds zoom by you only to return to perch on your hand, arm or head.
The second floor contains the upper levels of the Southern California/Baja Gallery, and the Northern Pacific and Tropical Pacific Galleries.
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In the Southern California/Baja Gallery, the Surf, Seals and Sea Lions display features harbor seals and California sea lions.
Across the way, the Rocky Inter tidal exhibit shows life in a coastal tide pool. Visitors can touch some of these marine residents in the Tidepool Treasures Discovery Lab or stroke a guitarfish in the Ray Touchpool.
The Sea of Cortez exhibit displays unique animals from the Gulf of California.
The Northern Pacific Gallery represents the sea near the Bering Strait, where temperatures are often below 54° Fahrenheit. The Surge Channel exhibit shows how animals have adapted to life amid constantly crashing waves. A Diving Birds display features birds like the Crested Auklet that spend most of their lives on the open ocean.
Fans of the playful sea otter will enjoy the feeding demonstrations that occur several times daily at the center of the gallery.
The Tropical Pacific Gallery represents the archipelago of Palau in Micronesia.
The Tropical Reef Habitat is the Aquarium's largest exhibit, with over 1,000 animals including sharks and sea turtles.
The Coral Lagoon and Camouflage exhibits show how coral reef animals have adapted to their environment, while individual displays feature sea horses and other tropical wonders.
The Aquarium also offers AnimalVision, an animated 3-D presentation, as well as special behind-the-scenes tours, expeditions and animal encounters. Visit the Information Center for pricing and availability.
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Website and all photos copyright © 2001–2013 Lee W. Nelson