"BATW Enters the Age of Aquarium at the July 2010 meeting" — by Elisa Southard

[fusion_builder_container hundred_percent=”yes” overflow=”visible”][fusion_builder_row][fusion_builder_column type=”1_1″ background_position=”left top” background_color=”” border_size=”” border_color=”” border_style=”solid” spacing=”yes” background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” padding=”” margin_top=”0px” margin_bottom=”0px” class=”” id=”” animation_type=”” animation_speed=”0.3″ animation_direction=”left” hide_on_mobile=”no” center_content=”no” min_height=”none”][Many thanks to Eliza Southard, who wrote this detailed piece about the July BATW meeting at the Aquarium of the Bay.]

A motion behind the seaweed caught my eye. What an odd fish, I thought, such human eyes, just like ours. I looked closer, and, under the misty bubble, the head turned, the eyes scanned and, oh, the eyes, they look familiar. I step closer and oh, look at that. Those eyes belong to BATW’s own Laurie McAndish King.  Laurie slipped under the viewing bubble for a spirited look around the fish tank.

Such play embodied the spirit of our July meeting hosted by the Aquarium of the Bay, an affiliate of The Bay Institute. The brief walk through the colorful and inviting gift shop en route to the meeting room set the stage. The sense of wonder heightened as we heard strains of exhibit music during the presentations, expertly kicked off by Kati Schmidt, Public Relations Manager, Aquarium of the Bay and the Bay Institute.  After her enlightening talk, Kati introduced Christina Slager, Acting Director of Exhibits and Director of Husbandry. Following Christina, Doug McConnell, environmentalist, ambassador to The Bay Institute and Aquarium of the Bay, founder of the global online travel community OpenRoad.TV, and a friend of us all as former host of the television series Bay Area Backroads, offered story ideas with his five top favorite road trips.

Aquarium of the Bay Mission

Accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), the Aquarium creates experiences that inspire conservation of San Francisco Bay and its watershed. It originally opened in 1996 as the only aquarium devoted to showcasing the marine life of San Francisco Bay. With a dedicated focus of engaging Bay Area residents and visitors with 20,000 aquatic animals from the Bay and nearby waters, the Aquarium became certified as a Green Business by the city of San Francisco in 2005. In June 2009, the Bay Institute acquired the Aquarium. Together, these organizations protect, restore and promote watershed conservation “from the Sierra to the sea.” Today, over 600,000 people visit the Aquarium annually. The Education Department has provided free, hands-on classes and tours to over 100,000 K-12 students and teachers from all nine Bay Area counties.  Each year over 15,000 students get up close and personal with “what’s going on beneath the bay.”

Want to Adopt a Sevengill Shark?

As the Bay’s environmental stewards, the Aquarium and Bay Institute have launched a $3million campaign for Watershed Literacy. Katie classified the four vital areas of the campaign:  Watershed education to restore healthy water flows, rivers and Delta to protect animals and environs, Bay Restoration to bring back the salmon population, and the Aquarium to inspire conservation of Bay waters.  Doug McConnell discussed these areas in his favorite road trips; we will cover them further along in this article.

When you adopt a sevengill shark, you contribute to groundbreaking tagging and tracking research with Christina Slager at the helm, conserving the shark population of the San Francisco Bay.  When the tagged sevengill sharks glide in under the bay and glide out, they ping. Tagging and tracking make it possible for naturalists to expand knowledge and enrich the survival of these breathtaking animals.

The Aquarium has named the week of August 7 Shark Week, with a Family Sleepover. Families can sleep in the same clear tunnels we viewed during our tour, with species including the sevengill, leopard, soupfin and spiny dogfish sharks swimming overhead. The sleepover includes shark-related activities, evening snacks, paid overnight parking and a continental breakfast.

The Aquarium named September Salmon Aid Month; October turns into Sharktober and focuses on sharks in the Bay.  Katie emphasized the importance of these events to “dispel myths of these majestic animals.” The Aquarium’s exhibit Finning Isn’t Funny, features the cartoon art work of shark advocate and Sherman’s Lagoon cartoon creator Jim Toomey. The exhibit, abundant with Toomey’s familiar faces, features both education and humor to drive home the reality that through the barbaric practice of shark finning.  As Christina Slater said, “The sharks have more to fear from us than we do from them.”

A Family-Centric Nature Center

As we toured the Aquarium, evidence of their outreach abounded; the tunnels got more and more crowded as we moved through the collection of nearly 200 different species of sharks, skates, rays, octopus, jellies, rockfish, eel, and sea stars.  In the same tunnel as the popular octopus, you will find Dungeness Crabs, Spot Prawns and a Deep Sea Isopod (not to be confused with a playful BATW member under bubble!).

Additional family offerings include tidepool feeding, catwalks, bat ray feeding, and sevengill-shark feeding in the tunnels pool.  Behind-the-scenes tours take place at 1 o’clock and 3 o’clock.

Behavioral Enrichment a Priority

Christina Slager, whose career Doug McConnell, “has been following since she was twelve at the Steinhart Aquarium,” briefly mentioned living in Antarctica, and a penguin biting her (sounds like story ideas abound in her vicinity). Christina named water quality and behavioral enrichment as major priorities. Water quality includes the maintenance of the tanks and extends to acquisition of glass and acrylic.

Regarding behavioral enrichment, she discussed the popularity and intelligence of the Giant Pacific Octopus and she shared a story after our visit. She said, “One of the great things about my job is the opportunity to interact with live animals.  I especially enjoy working with Giant Pacific Octopus – they’re beautiful and smart.  Occasionally, when I’m working around the octopus exhibit, an octopus will gently reach an arm out of the water and curl it around my arm.  I feel the pressure of its suction disks and then the octopus releases my arm and disappears back into the tank.  I know the octopus is using the chemoreceptors in its arm to “taste” me, but it’s almost like a friendly squeeze before returning to important underwater octopus business.”

During our meeting, Christina smiled as she described the octopus’ problem-solving talents, and its favorite toy — a Rubik’s cube. The naturalists serve it to the octopus in a bucket of blood. “They love it!” she said.

Behavioral enrichment adheres to providing as “close to a natural environment” as possible for the animals. This includes collecting and breeding animals, and releasing them as necessary. Listening to Christina and journeying through the tunnels allowed us to witness evolution. In 1948, aquariums were “stamp collections,” tanks of animals with no environments. Today the Aquarium of the Bay has as one of its proud residents an infant angel shark. It serves as the only organization to have them breed in captivity.

Christina’s Story Ideas

Christina advanced several story ideas, including:

  • Jelly fish — two species grace their tanks
  • Giant deep sea Isopod – looks like a crab
  • Adorable Exotics — such as the blue-tongued snake and the pygmy hedgehog

Beyond Backroads: Doug McConnell’s Top Five Watershed Road Trips

As a fifth-generation Westerner, and a second-time presenter to BATW, Doug McConnell’s prediction about the Bay Institute/Aquarium of the Bay’s future reassures even the most casual traveler passing through our region: “When I look ahead, I see a Grand Central Station for information, knowledge and stories of watershed.”

His presentation balanced our excursion of water and land with his five favorite road trips. (Thank you Kati Schmidt for graciously providing Doug’s highlight list.)

1. A walking or trolley trip to explore the San Francisco waterfront

The Loma Prieta earthquake shocks brought the sea lions to the docks of the Bay in 1989, and they have stayed ever since. Those sea lions attract tourists and have contributed to the return of tourism to the waterfront.

So grab your comfortable shoes along with your reporter pad for a waterfront walk or walk/trolley combo.  Here come the highlights of Doug’s first road trip:

Focus on San Francisco’s connection to the Golden Gate and the wide Pacific. Starting at the ballpark, up into the Presidio, highlights include:

  • Ferry Plaza
  • Aquarium of the Bay (bring along your complimentary membership card!)
  • The Maritime National Park
  • Chrissy Field
  • Warming Hut

2. San Francisco Bay Trail

Many of us have flown kites on, strolled along or hiked part of the Bay Trail. When fully fledged, it will provide a 500-mile network of bicycling and hiking trails that circle San Francisco and San Pablo Bays.  With 300 miles complete, Doug considers this trail one of the greatest Bay Area gifts in the last 20 years.

Highlights abound:

•             Wetlands of Alviso, a hidden community with history seemingly untouched by booming San Jose

•             Coyote Hills Regional Park (and interpretive center)

•             Hayward Shoreline Park (and interpretive center)

•             Wetlands in Palo Alto, Redwood City and Coyote Point (also the Coyote Point museum)

•             Martinez, along the river to John Muir’s home

•             Blackie’s Pasture in Tiburon

•             China Camp near San Rafael

3. Islands of the Bay

Regarding the islands in the Bay, Doug brings abundance to our imaginations with his comment, “There are many stories left to be told.” One celebrity tidbit is that the pals of Bing Crosby owned Brooks Island in the 1930’s. The East Bay Regional Park District currently owns the island and offers guided kayak tours and “views of the bay you might otherwise not get.”  Three islands comprise this trip:

•             Brooks Island — off the Richmond shore.

•             Angel Island — packed with a diverse history

•             Alcatraz — an exotic natural kingdom since the prison closed in 1963

4. Sacramento River

“To know the watershed, follow the rivers — all the ways they connect, follow them from the source to the sea,” advises Doug.

•              Start at the river headwaters, bubbling out of the ground in Mt. Shasta City Park

•             Head downstream through Dunsmuir, an old railroad town

•             Shasta Dam and lake for flat-water recreation

•             Redding – Riverside Park, museum education center and Sundial Bridge

•             Head downstream to check out riparian groves with lots of nearby wildlife refuges

•             Colusa – Riverside State Park

•             Port Costa – located on the river, providing a slice of the old Bay Area, with a rich artist community

5. San Joaquin River

One hundred years ago, the San Joaquin hailed as the second longest river in our region. The Bay Institute has helped lead a 20-year effort to restore the San Joaquin, considered the most degraded river in the watershed. Take this road trip and you trace its rebirth.  Doug said, “The river died in 1950 and along with it, the salmon.” In 2005, the Bay Institute efforts paid off when a Federal judge ruled that when the Friant Dam is built it needs to “leave some water in the river for fish to survive.” The trickle began, as Doug colorfully recounted, and “finally, for the first time in sixty years, the Sierra is connected to the sea.” The river is reborn.  Pack your travel assignment and head off to these highlights:

•             Get into the high country and see the headwaters by hiking the San Joaquin River Trail

•             Drive to Mammoth, on the east side of the Sierras

•             Go down Devil’s Postpile National Monument

•             Millerton Lake, behind Friant Dam

•             San Joaquin River Center – nature center, plus a starting point for many biking/walking/hiking trail

Road Trip for Tykes

In addition to his top five, Doug suggested a “sixth grade” road trip: From Bel Marin Keys in Novato around Highway 37 to Vallejo. A land trust secured protected status for this area, regarded as a “giant artifact of San Francisco Bay history.” Without this protection, casinos could have lined its shores. Instead, today it is affectionately called the “Flyway Highway,” the route to see overhead wild life. Though some folks consider children wild life, I suggest you take them to see the “real thing.”

Doug included the Schellville Airport in Sonoma, six miles north of the intersection of Highway 37 and 121.  Here children (and travel writers too!) can enjoy antique planes and even fly in several owned by Vintage Aircraft Company.

Finally, you can experience wetlands restoration and wildlife resurgence on the Tomales Bay coast. The Giacomini Wetland Restoration Project returns this former diary ranch back to tidal wetlands.  Doug called our attention back to the global contribution watershed and wetland restoration provides: “Marshlands are the cheapest way to protect against global warming.”

In closing, the next time I am with friends “sitting by the dock of the bay,” our viewpoints and appreciations will extend far beyond a travel story.

— Eliza Southard


Aquarium of the Bay:

The Bay Institute:

Kati Schmidt, kati@bay.org
Public Relations Manager
Aquarium of the Bay and The Bay Institute

Kati can provide you with a digital press kit

Aquarium Visit Planning:

Campaign for Watershed Literacy:

The Bay Trail:

Brooks Island:

Angel Island State Park:

Alcatraz Island:

Sacramento River:

Tomales Bay Wetlands:

Schellville Airport:

San Joaquin River:
Doug McConnell as well as members of The Bay Institute’s Rivers and Delta team can speak to the work being completed and how it will create new recreational opportunities for travelers, as well as restore animal populations including salmon, to the San Joaquin.

Additional information is also available at:

Open Road TV:



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