Whether you blame it on the malevolent giant squid in Jules Verne’s classic fantasy novel Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, especially its memorable 1954 Disney movie adaptation, or another source, “everyone thinks about deep sea creatures being scary and that they’re going to attack you,” says Beth Redmond-Jones, Monterey Bay Aquarium’s vice president of exhibitions.
But thanks to the aquarium’s latest exhibition, “Into the Deep: Exploring Our Undiscovered Ocean,” Redmond-Jones says visitors are learning to share her perspective on these denizens of the depths. “They’re beautiful, they’re exquisite, and they just have this whole sense of calm, when I walk through the gallery looking at these animals,” she notes.
Featured Photo: Lumpfish image courtesy of Monterey Bay Aquarium
A collaboration with Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute, the aquarium’s research and technology partner, the 10,000-square-foot exhibition includes creatures so little known that some have yet to be named and many that have never been exhibited before, in part due to the technical difficulties in doing so.
“Trying to figure out how to care for deep sea animals in and of itself is a feat that our aquarists have done an amazing job with,” Redmond-Jones explains. “You’re pulling animals up from the deep sea that are at different depth levels in water with different PH, different pressure, different oxygen levels.”
Among the unusual species recently on view are the “adorable” porcupine crab from Japan, the size of a pomelo and pinkish in color; the siphonophore, a “breathtaking” long floating chain of specialized parts that form one organism; and the bloody-belly comb jelly, a luminously crimson creature that “no one else in the world is seeing,” according to Redmond-Jones.
Another rarity, the predatory tunicate, is one of her personal favorites. “They’re Dr. Seuss-like animals that have a stalk that grows out of the sea floor and then they have this head that droops over and forms a mouth,” Redmond-Jones says.
The exhibition will also change continually over its planned eight-year run. “At any point in time we have over 50 species on exhibit, but we have written labels for 257. What you can see today can be completely different two weeks from now or two years from now,” Redmond-Jones says. “We’re always making new discoveries.”
Monterey Bay Aquarium, 886 Cannery Row, Monterey. 831.648.4800, montereybayaquarium.org. Weekdays 10am to 5pm, weekends 10am to 6pm. Tickets by advance reservation only, $50 adults, $40 ages 13 to 17 or 65-plus, $35 ages 5 to 12.
An earlier version of this article appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle.