WATER WORLD; NEW AQUARIUM SHOWCASES WONDERS OF THE SEA FOR ALL TO SEE.
It's quite a trip.
From start to finish, the Aquarium of the Pacific will take you on a tour that includes extensive insights into the ecosystems of the Southern California/Baja coast, the frigid waters of the Northern Pacific and Bering Sea, and the teeming coral reefs of the tropics.
After securing a slot in the 1,500-space parking structure (save your ticket and some cash, you'll pay $6 on the way out), you'll head across a landscaped plaza and toward an entrance that looks like the prow of a ship.
Ticket windows and the general admission entrance are to your left. If you're one of the aquarium's 20,000 charter members, bear to the right and to your own line-free entrance (membership has its privileges).
Your first stop will be the massive Great Hall of the Pacific. Pick up a brochure at the information desk or get details on the day's special events and programs. If you're geographically challenged, consult the giant globe that pinpoints areas included in the aquarium's display.
The Great Hall also features a trio of preview tanks that include species from the aquarium's three major exhibits: Southern California/Baja, Tropical Pacific and Northern Pacific.
Suspended in the air above your head is a fiberglass replica of a blue whale that is accurate to scale. The beast is 88 feet long and weighs 8,000 pounds.
For further orientation, slip into an easy chair in the 190-seat Honda Theater and view a short film on the aquarium's mission, exhibits and construction.
Tanks - a lot
You'll start your actual tour at the 142,000-gallon, three-story, predator tank, which previews the Southern California/Baja collection. More than 400 creatures, including leopard sharks and barracudas, cavort behind 9 inches of see-through acrylic.
Then it's off to the Southern California kelp beds, home to a wide variety of creatures. As you enter, take one of the free plastic-coated cards that contain the names and color photos of all the creatures. You can drop it off on your way out of the exhibit area.
Check every nook and cranny of the many focus tanks. Hiding in the crevices of artfully designed fake rocks, you'll spot spiny lobsters, octopuses and crabs. Another tank features 300 schooling sardines who apparently never tire of swimming in silvery circles. Keep an eye on the sandy bottoms of the tanks, too. That's where the batrays and round stingrays dwell.
While taking in the tanks, be sure to stop by the Discovery Zone, where docents will answer your questions, give demonstrations and offer you a chance to reach out and touch selected creatures. There is a Discovery Zone in each of the three major exhibit areas.
The big show in the Southern California/Baja section is the 206,000-gallon sea lion and harbor seal tank. Your first view will be in an underwater tunnel that lets you see four of each species showing off their swimming skills.
Don't be surprised to find a human mixed in with the seals and sea lions. Staff and volunteer scuba divers regularly descend into all major exhibit tanks for feedings and cleanings. In several exhibit areas, divers are equipped with two-way communications devices that allow them to converse with visitors.
You'll next head outside and topside for more views of the sea lions and harbor seals, who take swimming breaks by sunning themselves on sand and rocks. The same area includes a tank with black and green sea turtles. You're also encouraged to touch an array of rays (they feel like velvet) in the outdoor tank.
Back inside, you'll take a quick tour of the Sea of Cortez and the eastern coast of Mexico's Baja California. The creatures are decidedly more tropical than the Southern California coast dwellers, including angelfish, garden eels and bluespotted jawfish.
From Baja, it's just a few steps to the Northern Pacific exhibit and the frigid waters of Siberia and Alaska. As a reminder of your change of venue, you'll be chilled by a combination of artificial fog and cooler room temperatures.
Grab another guide card and check out the sea stars, urchins and rock dwellers. You'll also get to marvel at the horned puffins, expert diving birds that descend from rocky shores to delve the depths for food.
The Northern Pacific also shows off scary stuff, including giant Japanese spider crabs. Another giant is fascinating but fails to live up to his fearsome advanced billing. The giant Pacific octopus, made infamous by Jules Verne in his ``20,000 Leagues Under the Sea,'' is actually the shy type. The octopuses spend most of their time cowering in rocky crevices.
The stars of the Northern Pacific are a trio of juvenile sea otters that cavort in their own 42,000-gallon tank. Mindful that sea otters always draw a crowd, aquarium officials have created a two-tiered viewing area. The kiddies can get an underwater glimpse of the critters while adults can ogle the antics from an upper viewing area.
A few more steps, and you're transported to the Tropical Pacific and the coral-filled lagoons that have made the island of Palau a must-swim for divers.
A guide card is mandatory in this section, which teems with colorful marine life.
Your introduction to the tropics is the coral lagoon, where blue-spotted stingrays, golden trevallies, cardinal fish and other species inhabit the shallow, warm water.
Next comes your first view of the tropical reef, the 350,000-gallon mother of all tanks at the Aquarium of the Pacific. Your tour will take you through a tunnel and then give you three more views of more than 1,000 fish, including black tip and gray reef sharks, giant groupers and clown triggerfish.
Feeding time at the tropical reef tank is worth the price of admission. Divers start from the bottom up, feeding tiny morsels to equally dainty bottom-feeders and then working their way up to the big-appetite sharks that prowl the top of the giant tank.
Most of the coral in the exhibits consists of carefully crafted fakes. But, using new advances in marine science, aquarium staffers are working to grow their own, a feat rarely achieved outside of the wild. You can check out their progress at the live coral tank.
Speaking of progress, you can check out the current sexual orientations of two-spotted wrasses, sunset wrasses and yellowtail coris in the sex-reversal tank. All three species transform from female to male as they age.
And you'll be glad there are several inches of acrylic separating you from the Tropical Pacific's resident bad actors. Spotfin lionfish, palette surgeonfish, foxface rabbitfish and red firefish are sequestered in their own venomous creatures tank. All four critters can put a severe or permanent hurt on any person or creature that comes into contact with their poisons.
As you near the end of your tour, you'll be treated to an array of sea snakes, sea horses, giant clams and groupers.
At tour's end, you'll re-emerge into the Great Hall of the Pacific. You're free to return to any area that catches your fancy (until closing time at 6 p.m.).
What: The Aquarium of the Pacific.
Address: 200 Aquarium Way, Long Beach.
Admission: Adults $13.95, seniors $11.95, children 3-11 $6.95, children under 3 free.
Hours: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily. Full tour of the facilities takes about four hours.
Parking: $6 in aquarium parking structure, but you can park for less downtown and take a free shuttle to the aquarium.
Restaurant: Cafe Scuba features an extensive menu and views of Rainbow Harbor and the seal and sea lion exhibit.
Gifts: The Pacific Collections gift shop has a large selection of souvenirs and educational materials.
Telephones: General information, (562) 590-3100; educational programs, (562) 590-3100; membership, (562) 437-3474; volunteer hotline, (562) 951-1659.
Web site: www.aquariumofpacific.org.
Photo: (1--Cover--Color) AGE OF AQUARIUMS
Long Beach's newest gem stars more than 10,000 sea creatures
(2--3--Color) Above, The Southern California/Baja section of the Long Beach aquarium features a 206,000-gallon sea lion and harbor seal tank that allows visitors to see the playful animals from above and below. At left, Sylvia Earle and aquarium curator Sandy Brick (that's her in the scuba suit) answer questions about the Aquarium of the Pacific's tropical reef exhibit.
(4--Color) In the Northern Pacific Gallery, the giant Pacific octupus makes an appearance.
(5--Color) Giant spider crabs can have a claw span of up to 12 feet.
(6) The Tropical Fish Gallery surrounds aquarium visitors with life.
Jeff Gritchen/Long Beach Press-Telegram
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|Title Annotation:||L.A. LIFE|
|Publication:||Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)|
|Date:||Jun 20, 1998|
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