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If the idea of scuba diving or snorkeling sets your heart racing a little too quickly, the Monterey Bay Aquarium in California is the next best thing.

Have you ever seen an ocean of fish interacting? Actually ‘keeping mostly separate’ is probably a better way to describe it.

Have you seen sardines and bottom dwellers circling the ocean floor in packs, only to look up at the strata of fish above them?

Free guide to Monterey

It’s mesmerising and a really rare experience, unless you’re willing to strap on all that diving gear.

The live ocean feeding session was probably my favourite part of the Monterey Bay Aquarium, and it’s great for kids and adults alike.

THE SEA OTTERS

They’re like the puppies of the ocean in energy and looks. Well, they do have that shaggy brown fur look about them at the very least.

Our first stop inside the Monterey Bay Aquarium was the Sea Otter feeding.

Monterey Bay Aquarium Sea Otters

We watched them twirl through the water, waddle up the rocks so carers could check their ears and paws, and play with their food.

Did I mention that they are notoriously difficult to photograph? The little blighters are there one minute and gone the next. This was the best we could do.

UNDER THE SEA

How different could Monterey Bay Aquarium be than the others you’ve been to? The answer is hugely different.

They run “live feedings” every day, where visitors get to stand (or sit) in front of two-storeys of aquarium and watch the fish feed as they might in the wild.

Sting Ray at the Monterey Bay Aquarium

With a few changes to make it a little safer for the ones that would usually fall prey to bigger fish.

First the bigger fish are fed till they’re full, and then food for the smaller fish is dropped in. Apparently humans aren’t the only ones who’re lazy when they’re full.

The bigger fish don’t bat an eyelid as the smaller ones come closer to the surface for their feed. They’re already full and can’t be bothered going in for the chase for just another morsel.

COLOURS…

I could easily have wandered the jellyfish area for the day. I’m easily distracted (and some would say amused) by pretty colours and patterns.

White jellyfish at the Monterey Bay Aquarium

The displays are interactive and shows how a brilliantly-coloured jellyfish is stunning when lights are on it, but as soon as those lights go out it disappears in the water completely.

No wonder they’re so great at stinging unsuspecting swimmers.

Also, I couldn’t help but turn these guys into paratroopers. Be honest, you wouldn’t be able to resist either.

Paratrooper jellyfish

…AND TEXTURES

The coral exhibits not only offer a riot of colour and so many different textures but they’re great for playing “find the sea creature”.

Coral at the Monterey Bay Aquarium

I turned out to not be the best at this game. I get distracted by all the pretty colours to be able to spot the camouflaged grab or the slug peeking out of a crevice in the coral.

It’s one thing to be able to look at the coral but it’s another to be able to feel the textures. This is where the Monterey Bay Aquarium excels.

Monterey Bay Aquarium crabs

There are numerous open pools where kids and adults can feel sea urchin, sting rays, different types of seaweed and other bits and pieces found in the ocean.

It was also the first aquarium to create its own kelp farm – something that others said couldn’t be done.

THE LOWDOWN

The Monterey Bay Aquarium is on Cannery Row, Monterey and is open from 10am – 5pm daily. Although hours may vary, so please check the website before planning your day.

Cost: Adults, $49.95, children aged 3-12, $29.95, students and seniors, $39.95.

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