Tag Archives: Aquarium of the Bay

The North Windmill of Golden Gate Park

IMG_8973After seeing a post on Facebook about the Dutch Windmill located at Golden Gate Park I knew I had to check it out next time I went to San Francisco. One afternoon while Katie and I were and headed to the Sutro Baths we drove right past it. I mentioned that later if we had nothing to do we should go back and take a look. The last morning we were there while we were waiting for the Aquarium of the Bay to open at Pier 39 we headed over to the north end of the park and took a few minutes to see the majestic windmill.

After a little research I learned that the Dutch Windmill was constructed in 1902. The interior holds amazing paintings, but over the years insect and water damage has made this gallery unvisitable for the public. The windmill was also originally used to pump water but today, even after all the restoration, it can no longer do this. It’s not a complete loss. The blades still move and there is the Queen Wilhelmina Tulip Garden, which is quite beautiful, right next to it so you’ll want to explore the area for sure.

The Dutch Windmill is right next to Beach Chalet and is about 75 feet high. With the tree cover growing around it, it’s easy to see the top with the blades from the beach but difficult to see as you get closer. We walked into the beautiful garden around the base and all the way up close super where we could read the plaques cemented to the walls. We looked up to the windmill’s top and could truly see how immense it is. Standing right next to the base it is huge and the long blades that swirl around in the wind are magnificent.

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If you’re planning on going you might want to check out the Beach Chalet Visitor Center as well. Unfortunately when we went it was closed, but I’m sure that they much information about the history of the beach and park. Next time I’m exploring the Golden Gate Park I will be sure to stop in there and the South Windmill to learn even more.

Behind-the-Scenes at Aquarium of the Bay

IMG_8973Early one morning while in San Francisco Katie and I headed to the Aquarium of the Bay at Pier 39. We purchased two tickets and to make our experience even better we decided to take a behind the scenes tour for an extra $9.00. It was worth every penny.

Aquarium of the Bay has been around for over 15 years. It works to protect, restore and inspire the conservation of San Francisco Bay and its watershed. It is a nonprofit marine nature center affiliated with The Bay Institute. With it’s “Conservation Impact Programs” it reaches out to the local community working with partners to provide research on local shark populations, bring back native salmon, assist chefs, restaurants and consumers in selecting “Sustainable Seafood,” remove invasive species from marine and estuary environments, support endangered species, combat climate-induced sea level rise, enact policies that will create healthy fresh water flows back to San Francisco Bay, and create a series of original and ready-made temporary exhibitions that explore local and global environmental challenges.

Excitement filled my body as we walked into the aquarium and explored the first part of the top level looking at fish in small tanks and learning a little bit about those fish and the water in the bay. The bay is part salt and part fresh water and all kinds of fish can be found there including sharks. We took a moment to stop for a picture and then headed down under the ground to their aquarium tunnels, the real draw of the aquarium.

Arriving at the lower level it was very dark. Immediately after stepping out of the elevator we could see jellyfish in front of us. We took a right into the room and saw even more including the most popular, moon jellies. They flowed with the currents sent through their private tanks and gently glided around and around. We then headed to the huge tank with two long tunnels where 300 feet of crystal clear acrylic allow you to watch the fish swim around the tunnels above and to the sides. This tank holds 700,000 gallons of carefully maintained bay water. Light from above the tanks peers down through the water and on you in the tunnels allowing you to see where you are going and view all different kinds of fish. Approximately 30,000 animals live here including bass, white sturgeon, sevengill sharks, and California sheephead.

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At the end between the two tunnels there was even an octopus in its own tank. Suctioned toward the top it sat waiting or resting. I took a moment to peek my head inside the dome cut out to get a better look. Then we headed through the second tunnel.

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We got back to the elevator and went up to the “Splash Pools” also known as the touch pools. We took a few minutes to pet the starfish, sea cucumbers, anemones, and baby bat rays and baby skates as they swam around the pool. Then there was a short feeding where the employee asked everyone to keep their hands out of the pool for the next 30 minutes. She told us about the sharks in the pool which were resting on the far edge toward the center of the pool because they are nocturnal and were sleeping the afternoon away. She also spoke a little about the different animal’s feeding techniques. She eventually tossed food in so the bat rays and skates could eat. The bat rays vacuumed the food up while the skates swam over it and ground it up with their teeth. It was fun to watch. The school of fish in the center of the pool often reached the pieces first being attracted to the splash while the skates and rays took a little longer to find the pieces as they were attracted by the smells and waited for the food to settle on the ground.

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It was finally time for our Behind-the-Scenes tour and this is where things started to get even more interesting. We headed to the front desk to meet up with our tour guide. It was just us, a family of three and about 4 people about to become employees. We walked through some doors that read “Employees Only” and made our way to our first stop, the main water filtration machines.

Our guide told us about how most of the water in the aquarium is from the Bay. She showed us a sample of the water before it’s sent through the filtration center. The murky water is actually very healthy. They really only filter it because if they didn’t no one that visits the aquarium would be able to see the animals. The water is filtered through their system constantly for some of their tanks while others it’s filtered less frequently.

Next on our stop was the kitchen where they prepare all the food for the animals. They have two big refrigerators and a walk in freezer containing fish, mice, squid, shrimp and more. Everything they need to feed the animals that live there. On a wall above the sinks is a big feeding chart that divides the animals by sections as to when they should be fed and how much. Some animals have special needs, such as Lenny one of their five white sturgeon who is missing his whiskers. Since whiskers are vital in food finding for a sturgeon they have taught him to target a big stick. Using that stick they are able to help him locate his food through a hole in the target. Later we were able to see the tank and stick that they use during his feeding process. Too bad we weren’t there on the day Lenny gets fed. I would have loved to see that.

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We went upstairs to the holding pools where they hold animals before they put them into the big tank. Sometimes baby shark or skates live there until they are big enough to join the rest of the animals. The day we went there were some wolf eels which rarely come out of their hiding places so it was lucky that we were able to seem their full body in the holding tank. Also some herring were in another tank that one employee was doing some studies on. He was trying to find out if fish can smell plastic in the water. He told us that this would be very helpful to know because there is so much plastic in the water and often the fish have bits in their stomachs that it makes its way up the food chain to us.

We moved onto the huge 700,000 gallon tank, but just before getting to see it we stopped at a smaller holding tank attached to it near the front of the room. This is where they would place fish in to acclimate them to the water before releasing them into the bigger tanks. This is also the same tank that they taught Lenny and the sharks to swim into to be fed. There was a school of herring in there the day we went.

We finally got a full look at the main pool from above. It was huge and quite breath-taking. The water was bright blue and crystal clear. You could see all the way to the bottom without a problem. The fish looked even bigger than they did from down below as we could see them occasionally cut through the surface of the water in the pool. Water was constantly being fed into the pool in what looked like mini waterfalls all along the edges. There was even a section I would like to call starfish island where multiple starfish had made their home just at the water’s edge. We walked over the metal track that ran through the center of the tank taking it all in, careful not to drop anything in. With the slits in the ground under our feet and the open railings, our tour guide told us that if we drop anything in we won’t be getting it back until the scuba divers went in the following day. I held my camera tight every time I pulled it out of my pocket.

As we reached the other side our tour guide showed us some more holding tanks. These were filled with baby sharks and bat rays. She also showed us the pods that the sharks and rays lay to make more babies. These can often be found empty along the beaches. As we held them up to the light we could see that there was definitely something in there. We headed back across the huge tank again and back to the holding tank attached to it.

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As our tour ended we made our way to our last stop, the medical room. There wasn’t much to see here as there was no vet on site that day because all the animals were doing well. Our tour guide told us a little about the lice and other parasites that live on the animals in the bay and how they try to make sure none of their animals catch them by isolating the new animals before they introduce them to the full population. She brought us back up the stairs and out to the main entrance of the aquarium, reminding us that in about 10 minutes the otters would have having their two year Anniversary Celebration.

We waited patiently for the event to start as the three otters rested in a high perch at the back of the exhibit. As the commotion around them grew it peeked two of their interest. They started to move around the exhibit in anticipation of the big occasion. The employees and volunteers finally made their way over to the otter exhibit with a ton of interactive toys from kongs and buckets of dirt to frozen fruit and fish layered cakes. The trainer stepped inside and kept the otters focused on her as the volunteers moved the toys into their exhibit. While one of the otters loves food and was completely focused on the trainer, the other two were very interested in what was going on behind her. They were able to get the stuff in and them out without incidents or loose otters. The trainer spoke about what they were doing and each of their personalities as we all watched them explore, play and eat their new way through a huge cake and all their new toys.

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Aquarium of the Bay is a great place to spend a few hours or a whole day. It’s great for all ages and for anyone that wants to learn about marine wildlife. There’s a ton to experience and explore throughout the whole place. And if you’re lucky and you go on just the right day you can have an entire experience full of surprise anniversaries too!

The 25th Anniversary of the “Sea Lebrities” of Pier 39

IMG_8973One of my favorite things to do while I am in San Francisco is to see the sea lions at Pier 39. Since Katie and I were at Fisherman’s Wharf for lunch we took the short walk to check them out. We walked over to the end of the pier or K dock where the sea lions can be seen.

The sea lions, now often called the “Sea Lebrities” of Pier 39, started arriving in January of 1990 after the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake. At first there were only 10-50, but quickly their numbers grew to over 300 within a few months. Today, the numbers reach over 900 in the winters, many of which are male.

Early on San Francisco became aware that their “Sea Lebrities” could be a problem for Pier 39. The sea lions were overtaking the dock space and making it too dangerous for the boaters to dock their boats safely. San Francisco decided to make and dedicated docks specifically for the sea lions. Once they did the sea lions quickly realized this space was for them and there hasn’t been an issue since.

The marina’s protected environment with its plentiful dock space and it’s bountiful supply of herring is the main draw to the sea lions. When Katie and I arrived we could immediately see that it was their 25th Anniversary. As we got closer we read signs posted by the Sea Lion Center that the males migrate south during the summer months. There were 4 on the day we were there. These four had decided not to take the trek south to mate for one reason or another. Two of them were slightly skinny, but very active males and the other two were even younger, still fuzzy, less alert males. One of younger ones looked as though he had been bitten by a shark.

We headed up to the Sea Lion Center to ask about the poor little guy that had been bitten. Of course they knew about him and were watching him and monitoring his recovery. The rescue team had been contacted, but only intervene when it is a man-made issue. Everyone was hoping and praying he would make it and while it sucked and he was definitely having a bad day I was told that his wound looked like it was healing nicely and they all thought he would make it. The Sea Lion Center’s employees were a little happy though to see his wound. To them it meant the Bay was healthy and there were sharks in the area.

We took a few more minutes exploring the center. Feeling the different seal and sea lions’ fur, looking a pictures, learning where different seals and sea lions live, and a little about sharks their main predator. They even have a life-sized skeleton right when you walk in the door and sea lions and a shark hanging from the ceiling. And the best part is that it is all free. Free to see the sea lions at the end of the pier and free to take a few minutes to walk through the Sea Lion Center. But don’t forget to donate a few dollars to them so they can continue to do amazing work helping to save our marine life.

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