Although not many people would want to dive into the Bay without a wet suit, it is possible to do a warm and cozy virtual dive inside the corridors of the Aquarium of the Bay.
"The focus here is on the animals of the San Francisco Bay and nearby waters," explains public relations manager Kati Schmidt. So you'll see what is swimming around under the Bay's surface and even be able to touch sharks, rays and sea stars.
Now accredited by the American Zoological Association and certified green, the aquarium near Pier 39 opened in 1996 as Underwater World. It transitioned into a nonprofit organization when purchased in 2009 by The Bay Institute, which works to restore habitats. The institute has operated for about
The aquarium's once-moving sidewalks move no more, allowing you to take your time watching the constantly changing show through two acrylic tunnel tanks on the main floor. It is always exciting to see one of the three huge black sea bass (they each weigh more than 300 pounds), wolf eels or sevengill sharks -- the largest predators found in San Francisco Bay. In August, the aquarium added a 9.5-foot-long, 319-pound female sevengill shark, the largest it has exhibited.
Other favorites among the 20,000 aquatic animals displayed
The shark-friendly aquarium is the only one in the United States to successfully breed Pacific angel sharks in captivity.
The "Sherman's Lagoon: Finning Isn't Funny" exhibit features thought-provoking cartoons created by shark advocate Jim Toomey. Through the eyes of Sherman the Shark and his underwater friends, the cartoons educate visitors about the practice of shark finning, in which fins are removed and the shark's carcass is discarded at sea. Daily naturalist-led presentations and a Sherman photo op are part of the exhibit, and visitors are encouraged to write letters urging international bans on shark finning, which the Aquarium will mail to the head of the National Marine Fisheries Service.
October will be known as SHARKtober around the aquarium, with more shark events designed to dispel myths and relay the importance of these animals.
Among the natives you'll see in the PG&E Bay Lab on the floor above the aquarium are the blue-tongued skink, California Kingsnake, Pacific tree frog, western pond turtle and cherry-headed red-legged tortoise.
I was tickled to see a darling sleeping African Pygmy hedgehog rolled up into a ball. Although not a native, it was selected to illustrate that many animal species may be affected by the effects of climate change on their habitats and habits. These hedgehogs cannot go into hibernation without appropriate seasonal changes, so climate change affects their breeding and overall longevity. Christina Slager, director of animal care, notes, "Animals in aquariums live longer than those out in the wild."
And now that the sea lions are back at adjacent Pier 39 -- after their mysterious winter disappearance -- a visitor outreach program was launched in July with Pier 39 and Sausalito's Marine Mammal Center. A staff naturalist on the dock provides insight daily into the world of these pinnipeds, including the important role they play in the Northern California Coast ecosystem.
IF YOU GO
AQUARIUM OF THE BAY: Next to Pier 39 at the Embarcardero and Beach Street. 415-623-5300 or 888-732-3483; www.aquariumofthebay.org. Open 10 a.m.-6 p.m. weekdays, 10 a.m.-7 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays and 9 a.m.-8 p.m. daily during the summer. Tickets cost $16.95 for general and $8 for ages 3-11 and 65 or older; the Behind the Scenes Tour costs $21.95/$14. Ticket booths are on Piers 39 and 41.
PARKING TIP: Pier 39 parking is expensive and the aquarium does not validate. Take BART and then the historical F-Line trolley right to the door (www.sfmta.com/cms/mfleet/histcars.php).
WHERE TO EAT: Scoma's -- Pier 47, on Al Scoma Way at Jones and Jefferson Streets. 415-771-4383 or 800-644-5852; www.scomas.com. The fish here is delish and the valet parking is free.