I may not be able to get my son a backstage pass to the Diary of a Wimpy Kid movie set, but I have been able to pull a few strings to get him a behind-the-scenes look at some of his favorite aquariums. No, I don’t know some very important aquarists, but I do possess a very powerful credit card. I’m here to tell you that participating in the special programs offered at many aquariums is well worth the cost, so save your pennies and get ready to handle some squid.
Morning Rounds at the Monterey Bay Aquarium
You have to be eight years old to participate in the Morning Rounds tour of the Monterey Bay Aquarium, so my son waited patiently for years to get a very special look at one of his favorite places on earth. He wasn’t disappointed. As soon as the tour was over, he wanted to know when we would be back to do it again.
In this program, you arrive at the aquarium about an hour before it opens to the general public, put on an apron with a special eau de fish, and get a a very memorable tour of a very quiet aquarium. Our group of 12 wannabe aquarists was led by an education specialist and an aquarium volunteer to take a look at some of the exhibits before the general public came in. We saw the aquarium’s newest rescued sea otter pup-a.k.a. as 502, for its number as the five hundred and second sea otter rehabilitated at the aquarium-playing with it’s adoptive mother. You don’t get to feed the otters, and on the morning we went, the sea otter pup was getting a check-up from the vet.
Then we got right to work feeding the anchovies, the bat rays, the rainbow trout, the sardines in the Kelp Forest exhibit, and the fish in the Monterey Bay Habitats tank. Feeding the bat rays in the touch pool, was the most interactive of all the feedings, since we held shrimp and squid under the water and waited for the rays to come slurp them up out of our hands. The whole experience was a bit squishy, but we were soon petting the rays like they were a family pet (move over Hermie the hermit crab). Feeding the fishes in the bigger tanks involved throwing handfuls of juicy krill and squid, so we were thankful for our aprons and good aim.
Inside the aquarium’s food-prep area, we slipped the penguin’s vitamins inside some fishes. I know that most mom’s will have no trouble relating to the old hide-the-vitamins-inside-the-food trick. We didn’t get to feed the penguins ourselves, but that’s alright with me, since I don’t think it smells all that great inside those penguin tanks anyway.
We were only aquarists for a couple of hours, but we managed to get a glimpse about what it takes to keep this world-renowned aquarium ticking and learn at thing or two about some of the animals. For more information about the Morning Rounds program, or other behind-the-scenes tours, click over to the Monterey Bay Aquarium website.
Sea Turtle Mania at the Maui Ocean Center
Most families make a stop at the Maui Ocean Center while on their Maui vacation, but a few lucky ones may get to visit when the aquarium offers some of their behind-the-scenes programs. We visited the Maui Ocean Center in August, when the aquarium has special activities and tours that focus on the sea turtles. The programs have a changed a bit since the year we went (they actually got cheaper), but the main activities of their Sea Turtle Package are similar to the one we participated in a few years ago.
On our tour, we learned all about how the aquarium’s sea turtles are cared for, and also got to prepare the food that we fed to the turtles in the lagoon exhibit. Feeding the sea turtles was a much less smellier experience than our fish feedings at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, since the sea turtles like to eat their veggies. He was only five years old, when we did that tour at the Maui Ocean Center (there is no age limit for the Sea Turtle Package tour) but he was captivated by his visit to the aquarium kitchens and those hungry sea turtles.
Looking over the Maui Ocean Center website, I noticed that they now offer the Amazing Aquarist Tour on some months, as well as other package tours that take guests behind the scenes. Check their calendar section and click on the month you will be making your visit on, for more information.