Discover an underwater forest—at 28 feet, the Kelp Forest is one of the tallest aquarium exhibits in the world. You'll get a diver's-eye view of sardines, leopard sharks, wolf-eels and a host of other fishes as they weave through swaying fronds of kelp, just like they do in the wild.
In this Exhibit
Leopard sharks are one of the most common sharks along the coast of California. They're beautiful, slender fish with silvery-bronze skin, patterned with dark ovals that stretch in a neat row across their backs. (Look closely at the dark spots—the older a leopard shark is, the paler the interior of the spots.) Sturdy, triangular pectoral fins are matched by two dorsal fins, and a long, tapered tail swishes gracefully back and forth.
There are more than 100 species of rockfish and they come in many different shapes, sizes and color patterns. Colors vary from black and drab green to bright orange and red, and some rockfishes wear stripes or splotches. Their heads feature large eyes and thick, broad mouths that dip downward at the corners. Rockfish are known for the bony plates on their heads and bodies and the heavy spines on their fins.
"Cabezon" means "large head" in Spanish, and this sculpin's big head allows it to gulp some good-sized prey. Cabezon can swallow small, whole abalones, regurgitating the inedible shells.
Male and female sheephead have different color patterns and body shapes. Males are larger, with black tail and head sections; wide, reddish orange midriffs; red eyes and fleshy forehead bumps. Female sheephead are dull pink with white undersides. Both sexes have white chins and large, protruding canine teeth that can pry hard-shelled animals from rocks. After powerful jaws and sharp teeth crush the prey, modified throat bones (a throat plate) grind the shells into small pieces.
Like synchronized swimmers, sardines in a school move together as one—staying together is their way of life. This communal lifestyle is good for these small fish. When predators come near, there's safety in numbers. And when it's time to reproduce, there's no need to seek out mates—plenty are close at hand.
More Kelp Forest Animals
- Our kelp plants grow an average of about four inches a day and require weekly underwater gardening by scuba divers who untangle and trim the fast-growing plants.
- Don't be surprised if you see rockfish hanging motionless or even upside down among the kelp blades. These fish can hover without sinking or floating because they have a gas-filled sac called a swim bladder helps them stay put.
- Pumps push up to 2,000 gallons of sea water a minute through the exhibit and a specially designed surge machine creates the constant water movement that kelp needs to survive.