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Attendance is Booming at

The Long Beach Aquarium of the Pacific

by Nick Anis

The steady flow of visitors to The Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach California is apparently driven more by well-deserved word-of-mouth recommendations, than by marketing hype. By many accounts, Aquarium of the Pacific is one of the most creative, diverse, and comprehensive marine themed exhibitions ever conceived.

The City of Long Beach’s investment of $117 million* for the new behemoth 156,735 square foot aquarium has been wisely made. The Long Beach Aquarium of the Pacific’s excellent attendance stats, about ¼ million for the first 30 days of operation, are enough to make any theme park operator grin. During the first year of operation it’s projected that approximately 1.6 million people will visit the aquarium which is located in Long Beach.

The Aquarium of the Pacific is located on a five-acre site on Rainbow Harbor, anchoring the Long Beach, California Queensway Bay master plan – across the harbor from both the Long Beach Convention Center and the Queen Mary and the area’s other new attraction, the Russian flat-bottomed stealth submarine, the Scorpion. The aquarium is one of the stops on the City of Long Beach’s free Passport Shuttle bus. For visitors who come by car parking at the adjacent new multilevel parking structure is $6 day or $1 an hour. There are also some private parking lots that offer all day parking for about $4. General admission is $13.95 for adults, $11.95 for seniors (60 and older), and $6.95 for children (ages 3-1).

A joint effort of architects, Hellumth, Obata & Kassabum of Los Angeles and Eserick Homsey Dodge and Davis of San Francisco, The Long Beach Aquarium of the Pacific’s unique design and architecture is inspired by the towering, breaking waves of the Pacific. The aquarium has more than 10,000 ocean animals representing over 550 species reside in 17 major habitats and 30 smaller exhibits.

Quite a bit is involved in outfitting and maintaining the aquarium. It takes from 30 to 90 minutes for the aquarium’s approximately 1 million gallons of seawater to pass though the massive filtering system. The Catalina Water Company barges in the seawater from 2 to 4 miles offshore. The water in each tank is replaced once a month in living exhibits to help insure the best possible living environment for the marine life. The smaller creatures were placed first so that they could become accustomed to their new surroundings and find places where they will be safe from the larger animals. Hundreds of varieties of highly realistic-looking coral was fabricated and installed in the exhibits. This coral has to be cleaned about every 30 days by staff wearing scuba gear and toting scrub brushes.

Visitors are guided though the Pacific Ocean’s three major regions: Southern California/Baja, Northern Pacific, and the Tropical Pacific. A double-sided 8 ½ x 11" laminated full-color glossary of marine life is available for visitors to take along as they walk through the galleries.

As you enter the "Great Hall of the Pacific" on the main level you will be greeted by full-scale realistic models of a pair of the largest animals in the Pacific and world, an 88-foot long blue whale and her 21-foot long calf, which float high above your head.

As we entered the aquarium, The Great Hall made a "great" impression with my kids who each let go a big "wow!" My 9 and 11 eleven year-old boys where genuinely thrilled to be there as they set out to see the leopard sharks, barracuda, and other predatory fish. Having just returned from a two week snorkeling trip to the Caribbean I think the boys were pleased to see close up all those predatory fish without the worry of being in the water with them.

In the Southern California and Baja gallery on the second level seals and sea lions of Santa Catalina Island, bread in captivity or under rehabilitation, can been seen up close and personal in an indoor and outdoor exhibit. Kids’ Cove is a wonderful "please touch" experience for younger children with a kelp forest, endangered sea turtles from the Sea of Cortez, and other fascinating marine life.

Moon Jelly exhibit has an assortment of beautifully graceful jellyfish that can be found off the coast of California accented by special blue lighting. There is also an exhibit featuring the very small jelly eggs. The next exhibit over has live shark egg casings, which are also known as mermaid purses.

The large 206,000 gallon habitat for four California sea lions and three harbor seals is divided by a large six inch thick acrylic tunnel visitors pass through similar to the shark encounter at Sea World in San Diego. During our visit, the sea lions and harbor seals, which gracefully dart about, spent the bulk of their time in the larger half of the tank that leads to an indoor and outdoor viewing area. This exhibit has an underwater surge system to simulate the waves of the Southern California Waters. One of the seals and one of the sea lions have come to the aquarium from marine mammal rehabilitation centers and because of injuries and other aliments, cannot be released into the wild, the others were born in captivity. The aquarium has plans to accept several more animals from marine rescue centers in the future.

I pointed out to Joey and David the Garibaldi, fish in the Amber Forest Exhibit, a 38,000-gallon habitat. These colorful fish, which look like an oversized goldfish, can frequently be seen while snorkeling or from one of the glass bottom sightseeing boats off the coast of Catalina island. The adults, (which the aquarium have), are light orange. The juveniles, (which the aquarium doesn’t have), are darker read with blue spots. We’ve seen a lot of juvenile Garibaldi fish with their distinctive little blue spots, off the coast of Catalina. Joey seemed to prefer the strange looking Leafy sea dragons in the Tropical gallery, which looks more like a piece of seaweed than a fish. David spotted the Bat ray, Round stingray, and Shovelnose gitarfish in the touch tank, just as he did when we were diving together last month, only this time being on land and seeing the other children petting them, he was more at ease. There are actually quite a few docile animals in the touch tank, including several resting just below the surface of the tank’s sandy bottom. Another colorful Southern California fish that is quite striking is the male California sheephead, which would make a great logo for a tropical drink, in spite of the fact, it is not a tropical fish. The female is not quite as colorful, but is equally beautiful. The Spiny kelp crab, Sheep crab, Fragile star, bat star, and Giant spined sea star also looked familiar. My sons will pick up and release starfish, and pet a crab if I hold its claws, but the only crabs they will pick up themselves are toy ones.

Visitors are introduced to ice cold waters of Russia and Northern Japan in the North Pacific gallery, which is also on the second level. The puffins and other diving birds in this gallery, come right up to the glass to greet and play with visitors. They also gleefully submerge and fly underwater with the same bird-like agility as when in the air.

Being true to their well-deserved reputation for playfulness and curiosity, a pair of sea otters in a 42,000-gallon tank seemed to be still getting used to their habitat. One darted out that was playing hide-and-seek with another barely visible critter that apparently was playing with a toy.

This gallery has a 1,330 tank with Giant Pacific octopus, and giant sea stars. These creatures and the videotape about them being shown in a kiosk beside the tank make quite an impression with children. A 9,030 tank also in this gallery, has the largest crustacean known to man, Giant Japanese spider crabs which can grow up to 13 feet wide in the ocean. The five juvenile spider crabs in the exhibit are expected to grow over 6 feet wide. As spider crabs grow they go through a process called molting, where they shed their protective exoskeleton, and grow back an even larger shell, other sea animals may use this exoskeleton as a temporary domicile.

These arachnid-looking guys can be found roaming the ocean floor at depths of 600 to 1000 feet in the Northern Pacific near Japan. This tank also has king crab, helmet crab, tanner crab, and snow crab. (Shellfish lovers, If I’m getting you hungry, that wasn’t my intention.)

This gallery also has quite an assortment of unusual looking diving birds, crustaceans, starfish, and fish. For example, the Crested auklet bird, with it hairlick plume, looks like the Little Rascal character, Alfalfa, the Red Irish lord fish looks like it was shot by one of those war-game paint pellets, and the Slimy snailfish looks like its name.

The Tropical Pacific gallery on the second level features the sun-drenched paradise of Micronesia from coral lagoons to deep reefs teaming with colorful exotic fish. Visitors are treated to a rare glimpse of the islands of Palau Archipelago which are considered to be among the earth’s most beautiful spots. Here in the aquarium’s largest exhibit, Tropical Reef Habitat, as colorful sea life swirls around you in a massive 350,000 gallon tank, divers equipped with microphones swim around and talk to you answering your and other visitors’ questions.

All of the fish in this gallery are very colorful. The coloring for the naturally camouflaged sharks is not quite as vibrant. We noticed Whitetip reef sharks in the tank, which are the same species we have snorkeled beside while in Australia. The exhibit also has Blacktop reef sharks, Gray reef sharks, and Zebra sharks none of which pose a threat to humans unless antagonized.

The Café Scuba on the second level is a nice indoor/outdoor restaurant, offering meals and snacks you can enjoy while viewing the Long Beach Shoreline, or the Queen Mary (across the bay). You can take your children and their refreshments around back and downstairs to a nice grassy picnic area. (There are also snack stands outside on the patio on the first level). On the first floor, around back is where you will find, Kids’ Cove, a playground modeled after the Pacific Ocean. At Kids’ Cove children learn about family structure and feeding habits of ocean animals in a fun-filled play area. Your kids can experience life in the Pacific Ocean environment as they walk through a giant whale skeleton, nest on a giant sea bird egg, and burrow in the sand as a hermit crab would. An elevator and staircase leads to the outdoor sea lion and sea otter viewing areas, tide pools, skate and ray touch pools, sea turtle habitat, and Southern California Discovery Lab.

My boys also liked the 4,000 square foot gift shop near the entrance and exit, which has hundreds of marine-related gifts, games, educational toys, souvenirs, and surprises. The boys got two toy octopuses, two toy eels, and one toy lionfish. (You know, as I write this, I have just now realized why Joey and David immediately took a both when we returned home; to stage the battle of their octopuses, eels, and lionfish!)

The Long Beach Aquarium of the Pacific is open every day from 10:00am to 6:00pm except December 25.

  • Parking $1 per hour, maximum $6 per day.
  • General Adult Admission $13.95
  • Seniors (60 and older) $11.95
  • Children (ages 3-11) $6.95

The Long Beach Aquarium of the Pacific
100 Aquarium Way
Long Beach, CA 90802

Phone: 562-590-3100

Directions: Take the 710 Freeway South. Follow signs for downtown Long Beach. Go past 6th and Broadway exits. The 710 Freeway becomes Shoreline Drive. Go Past Queen Mary Road and turn right onto Aquarium Way.

*Construction and start-up funds for the Aquarium came from private revenue bonds that were sold in 1995. While Long Beach’s hotel/motel tax and Port fees provide a guarantee, no tax funds are involved and the bonds will be retired out of operating revenue in seven, 20, and thirty year terms.


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