Cannery Row and the Monterey Aquarium

Friday Sept 25

I last visited Cannery Row and the Monterey Aquarium in 1975, and it is like seeing the Mona Lisa or hiking Grand Canyon. It’s just one of those not-to-be missed experiences and if you can do it twice in a lifetime so much the better.

As you stroll the town and observe its monuments you can determine what the culture worships. Coos Bay, Oregon worships the fisherman who have given their lives to the sea. Santa Cruz, CA worships the surfers who love to play like dolphins. Monterey? I’m not too sure. Here is one of their centerpiece sculptures. You tell me what it is. I give up. The sculptor will have to tell us. Maybe the rich history of canning boom and bust has only confused it. Or maybe it’s stuck between its canning heritage and its new life as a tourist center.

Montery is more than the subdued unbroken horizon of a Santa Cruz. In the foreground you see paddle boarders and kayakers, sea lions sunning themselves on rocks watching kayakers, who are watching them, swimmers, a profusion of power and sailboats, a long wharf hung from their pilings, and dinghy traffic buzzing about the harbor. Coos Bay and Santa Cruz have their singular core identities; San Francisco and Monterey are more abstract, more confused and less identifiable.  If there is any place along the Pacific Coast most given to sitting for long periods watching the vibrant seascape it is Monterey.  This coastal town deserves a statue of a person sitting on a quay.

The tourist industry has overwhelmed the earmarks of a fishing town. The big draw for 10 million visitors each year in the world-class Monterey Aquarium, backed by its commitment to scientific research of the seas.   When I was there 25 years ago it was a great aquarium, In recent years it has added an emphasis on environmental change and pollution of the oceans… in a quiet way. It is not banging the drum of dire predictions and painting oil drilling or net fishing as evil. But it quietly promotes respect and sustainability of this resource, the foundation for life on earth. Their mission is to inspire conservation of the oceans. And they do their mission well! They promote respect and understanding of the seas and leave the issues of oil drilling or over-fishing to the citizens.

Display after display puts you in the water world. You will see kelp, and sharks, and surreal fish and jelly fish that any life form you could have imagined. You surely will come away with a heightened respect for the sea. They don’t lecture you about the need to protect the oceans, they just show you. Visit the Monterey Aquarium and you will never throw a plastic bottle into the ocean again.


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