Monterey Jellyfish

A couple of weeks ago, I went to the Monterey Bay Aquarium with my girlfriend. It’s one of those places I’ve wanted visit for years but could never find time to make a special trip or justify the expense. (Admission is pretty steep; it’s about $35 per person.)

It takes about an hour and a half to drive from Berkeley to Monterey. However, we hit traffic on the way down due to the Gilroy Garlic Festival and a motorcycle expo. The aquarium itself was pretty standard: lots of big tanks with colorful fish. However, there were a few exhibits that really blew me away.

Here’s the first one. It’s a massive school of fish surrounding a shark, forming a protective shield. The fish somehow knew to always keep a distance from the shark so that if the shark moved even an inch, the fish would instantly adjust. It kind of reminded me of those tentacled robots from The Matrix, clustering together to find strength in numbers. Of course, it would have been infinitely cool if the fish formed shapes of increasingly larger fish.

In the future, if Google has its way, perhaps driverless robot cars will demonstrate similar movement patterns around hazards on the freeway. Millions of such cars will navigate our roads, all communicating with each other with perfect efficiency.

I was also blown away by the jellyfish exhibit. The aquarium does a good job to set the mood, dimming the light, cranking up the air conditioner, and pumping trippy new age music through the speakers.

Jellyfish are such delicate and ethereal creatures. Their structures are astonishing. There is truly an alien world beneath our oceans.

Some of the jellyfish species I saw could run currents of color through their bodies like little Christmas lights.One of the jellyfish exhibits (there were two) really amped up the psychedelic factor by playing groovy 60s music in the background.

Here’s a tank filled with jellyfish. Unfortunately, it was difficult for me to capture the true beauty of these creatures with my phone. You’ll just have to trust me when I say they look even better in motion.

As I watched the jellyfish swarm and float and crash, I felt a strong and sudden sense of deja vu. I pondered for several minutes before finally figuring it out. Video games! It always goes back to video games. Specifically, the titular creatures from Nintendo’s Metroid series are essentially big space jellyfish!

Yes, I am probably the last person to finally make this connection. It’s even more embarrassing that Super Metroid is one of my favorite adventure games of all time. However, I’m happy to know that I still have a leg up on my friend who took 20 years to figure out that Cruella De Vil from Disney’s 101 Dalmations is a play on the words “cruel devil.”

All in all, I had a great time at the aquarium. Although over 50% of the museum was catered toward kids (touch tanks and kelp forests?) it was a surprisingly nice place for a weekend date.

The oceans sure are filled with wonderful creatures.

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