The freakiest sharks you may ever see isn’t jumping out of South African waters or devouring surfers. They’re in the small Santa Monica Pier Aquarium and themselves are smaller than a carnival beta fish. The aquarium, at the base of the famous pier, has shark eggs or pods, illuminated from behind. So, you get to see little shark embryos squirming around in their pods, which are normally attached to the sea floor or rocks.
The embryonic swell sharks (Cephaloscyllium ventriosum) are extremely popular with visitors to the aquarium, says director Vicki Wawerchak. People come by again and again to track the development of the sharks, then get to see the juvenile sharks swim in a nearby tank.
The sharks live right off the coast down to Mexico, where they’re called Pejegato Hinchado. But you’re probably not going to see them on your own–and you’re certainly not going to see their embryonic development. (Though, you might see a mermaid’s purse, the casing, when if it washes ashore. Shell shark egg shells have strings; the more common (at least on the east coast) skate casings are smaller.)
They’ve got all kinds of starfish and sea urchins, which clasp your finger when you stick it in the tank. One aquarium has jellyfish, illustrating how much they look like plastic bags. The idea, of course, is to show why you shouldn’t throw plastic bags around.
With exhibits like this, you can see why the aquarium, which is a project of Heal the Bay, isn’t just for field trips. The vast majority of their 77,000 visitors last year just walked in. That’s pretty amazing for any venue that displays local fauna. Growing up in Illinois, I’d get excited for such field trips, then crushed when all we got to see was another prairie. Yeah, it’s important, it’s native, I get it; it’s just not that much fun. I imagine California kids have the same dread of chaparral. The Santa Monica Pier Aquarium is giving local species a good name. The species here are gorgeous and interesting. And you could spend a summer on the beach and still not see half of what’s here in the aquarium.
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