|Attendance is Booming at
The Long Beach Aquarium of the
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 Beachs investment of $117 million* for the new behemoth 156,735
square foot aquarium has been wisely made. The Long Beach Aquarium of the Pacifics
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 its
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 areas other new
attraction, the Russian flat-bottomed stealth submarine, the Scorpion. The aquarium is one
of the stops on the City of Long Beachs 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 Pacifics
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 aquariums 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
Visitors are guided though the Pacific Oceans 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
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 doesnt have), are darker read with blue spots.
Weve 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 tanks
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 Im getting you hungry,
that wasnt 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 earths most beautiful spots. Here in the aquariums 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
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
- 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
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 Beachs 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.