Chambered nautilus at the Monterey Bay Aquarium


Animal Care Is the Heart of All We Do

Each and every day, a growing diversity of animals at the Aquarium inspires millions of visitors from around the world to protect the global ocean. As we care for them, we also study and protect ocean animals in the wild.

Where the Wild Sharks Are

Thanks to advanced technologies in tagging and tracking white sharks, and rigorous analysis of their behaviors in the wild, we've made some amazing discoveries about where, when and possibly why they travel around the Eastern Pacific.

Our years of research have contributed significantly to an understanding of this top ocean predator. More sophisticated tracking and camera tags now provide new details about the lives of juveniles and adults.

With our colleagues in the United States and Mexico, we identified important nursery areas off southern California and Baja. Pinpointing these elusive areas is a big step for us and our partners, who have worked on this subject for decades. We've begun using electronic tags with activity trackers (think Fitbit for sharks) to understand how frequently adults feed and the energetic demands associated with foraging, migrating and reproducing.

We're also working with Intel on a camera that can do an underwater, full-body scan to precisely and accurately measure an adult white shark's length and girth—a task researchers now perform mostly by guesswork.

We've been tracking some individual adult white sharks for
25 years

White shark illustration

Animal Care Center under construction

Our Animal Care Center Takes Shape

Our new Juli Plant Grainger Animal Care Center was made possible through the generous support received from so many of our members and donors—and will be named in honor of a major leadership gift we received to complete the fundraising program. Thank you for helping us better meet the growing needs of ocean animals we care for at the Aquarium and in the wild.

The $7.3 million behind-the-scenes facility, which will be up and running in fall 2018, nearly triples the existing veterinary space, and includes a new laboratory and two new animal hospital wards. It also offers us opportunities to integrate veterinary care with research studies to help animals living in the wild. This is critical to our animal care and research work and will make a big difference for ocean animals.

The expanded Center also allows us to:

  • Use cutting-edge diagnostic equipment and state-of-the-art veterinary technologies.
  • Address the specific needs of rescued animals like sea otters, as well as sea turtles and other animals that are likely to strand at a time of changing ocean conditions.
  • Provide formal training opportunities for veterinary students and graduates, especially those from underrepresented communities, to expand the field of conservation medicine.

Your support strengthens the heart of our animal care and lets us continue our pioneering work to save ocean animals.

"I see firsthand the impact we have on ocean animals. Our work is making a difference."

- Dr. Mike Murray
Director of Veterinary Services


Selka Raises Her First Pup

Surrogate pup, shark-bite survivor, research sea otter. . .and now, surrogate mother: Selka, our newest exhibit sea otter, is also our newest caregiver for stranded pups—and successfully raised her first pup during the summer of 2017.

Thanks to your support, we're the only facility in the world that rescues, treats and releases stranded southern sea otters—including pups that require specialized care through our unique surrogacy program that pairs our adult female exhibit otters with pups in need of maternal care.

Our main priority is to see the wild population reach a sustainable number by understanding the threats sea otters face and promoting their recovery.

Our decades-long commitment is making a difference. Nearly 60 percent of the otters in Elkhorn Slough are direct descendants of our Sea Otter Program, and are helping to restore this vital coastal wetland. We believe sea otters can have a similar impact in California waters outside their current range.


Ocean Memory Lab

Our new Ocean Memory Lab is a time machine of sorts—and it's already delivering results. Inside, our conservation research scientists use modern tools and a technique called compound-specific stable isotope analysis to study the tissues of long-dead sea creatures, many in the form of 19th century museum specimens.

In the process, researchers are unlocking stored secrets about ocean dynamics dating back 100 years or more. Their data will help inform management decisions designed to maintain and restore the health of ocean ecosystems.

The first results, published in February 2018, conclude that seabirds are eating lower on the food web today than in the past. Results were based on analysis of seabird feathers dating back 130 years.

Soaring with Seabirds Exhibit

Soaring with Seabirds

Soaring with Seabirds is our newest family-oriented exhibit. The successor to Flippers, Flukes and Fun features educational, interactive and engaging opportunities to learn about these remarkable birds.

This latest addition to our Open Sea wing helps young visitors discover how seabirds are uniquely adapted to life at sea, but still must return to land to hatch and raise their chicks.

Three themed areas invite visitors to become acquainted with eight types of seabirds they might see in Monterey Bay. We hope they'll come away with a deeper appreciation for these amazing animals.

Black-bellied plover

New Exhibit Animals

We continued to bring new animals to our living exhibits in 2017, adding several species for visitors to enjoy and staff to study and care for.

We introduced colorful pelagic red crabs as a way to share how periodic El Niño climate cycles warm up northern coastal waters. Behind the scenes, our cunning aquarists are culturing these crimson crustaceans from egg to adult.

A stunning black-bellied plover joined the flock in our Aviary, which is also home to two young American avocets that we hatched and reared at the Aquarium—part of a Species Survival Plan in which we participate with colleagues nationwide through the Association of Zoos and Aquariums.


Culturing Breakthroughs in Two Mysterious Species

For the first time anywhere, our jelly team cultured and put on exhibit Leucothea pulchra—Latin for "beautiful sea goddess"—a creature described as "barely organized water" due to its fragility.

To protect the easily broken beauties, the team had to move like sloths during cultivation and daily maintenance. Just wiping down the inside of their holding tanks required the slowest of motions; a task that would otherwise take only a couple minutes required 20.

This team was also the first ever to decipher the difficult comb jelly lifecycle in 2016, then moved on to culture and exhibit other comb jellies—Mnemiopsis leidyi, Bolinopsis infundibulum and Pleurobrachia bachei.

That experience primed them to culture the star of the phylum when we collected wild spotted comb jellies in Monterey Bay in December. We put them in a six-foot-tall acrylic tube we designed specifically for ctenophore culture, and our jelly wizards worked their magic. In a few months, dozens were jetting about, and ready for their share of the spotlight.

Spotted comb jelly We are the first in the world to culture the spotted comb jelly.
The spotted comb jelly has been described as "barely organized water."

Hatching and raising chambered nautilus is also a rare feat, as only a handful of aquariums in the world have propagated this most primitive of cephalopods. Even fewer have succeeded at raising them beyond a few years.

Our Tentacles team incubates the small leathery eggs behind the scenes, from which emerge blue-eyed hatchlings that otherwise are perfect miniatures of their parents and independent from day one.

In caring for our first-ever chambered nautilus hatchlings, we're trying new approaches that could someday take the rearing of this species beyond the point our colleagues have achieved, and lead to a breakthrough in raising and breeding these mysterious, shelled cephalopods.

The ambition to care for and work with new species is part of our institutional DNA. Your generous support allows us to conduct the research and development necessary to culture and care for many species. Thank you.

Chambered nautilus at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Baby chambered nautilus are miniature replicas of the adults.
Chambered nautilus cultured at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Aquarists incubate the leathery eggs behind the scenes.

Annual Review 2017 (PDF)

  • Credits
  • © Monterey Bay Aquarium Foundation