Nature "Oceans in Glass: Behind the Scenes of the Monterey Bay Aquarium" on WXXI-TV

Nature "Oceans in Glass: Behind the Scenes of the Monterey Bay Aquarium" on WXXI-TV

Sun, 07/25/2010 - 8:00pm
Visitors to the Monterey Bay Aquarium enjoy the million-gallon Outer Bay exhibit, the largest aquatic wildlife community display in the world. The program spotlights the aquarium's extraordinary ability to re-create realistic undersea environments.

Credit: ©Monterey Bay Aquarium/Randy Wilder

A visit to one of the world's most spectacular aquariums.

For more than 20 years, the Monterey Bay Aquarium has entertained, educated and fascinated its nearly two million annual visitors with pioneering displays of realistic undersea environments. Now, for the first time, NATURE reveals to a national audience the secrets of how the professionals keep the show running.

"Oceans in Glass: Behind the Scenes of the Monterey Bay Aquarium, " narrated by Emmy Award-winning actor Peter Coyote, encores Sunday, July 25 at 8 p.m. on WXXI-TV (DT21.1/cable 11/cable 1011). The program includes a number of fascinating features of the aquarium, including a kelp forest, a "jelly farm" and a pipe-cleaning "pig," as well as a hair-raising brush with danger as two divers swim with a deadly great white shark.

"The Monterey Bay Aquarium is more than entertaining; it's also an important center of research in marine conservation," said Fred Kaufman, executive producer of NATURE. "Its creative energy has led to groundbreaking studies, while instilling visitors with new ideas about ocean life, and a greater willingness to protect it."

"Oceans in Glass" tells the intriguing story of how the aquarium successfully exhibited a great white shark for a record-breaking 198 days. Historically, it has been impossible to keep great whites in captivity, primarily because of their notorious refusal to eat. But the aquarium was given the opportunity to put its expertise and years of preparation to the test with a young female caught accidentally in a fishing net. Many of the visitors lucky enough to see the great white during her stay at the aquarium found their instinctive fear of sharks was overcome by awe and appreciation. And her presence was a rare opportunity to put a spotlight on the plight of sharks worldwide.

Viewers are treated to a rare glimpse of the complex operations required to create and maintain the magical exhibits of more than 35,000 animals and plants housed at the aquarium. Deep underground in the aquarium's control room, engineers monitor a near continuous flow of seawater coming into the kelp forest from Monterey Bay. The unique water system pumps 2,000 gallons a minute through pipes kept clean by aquarium staff with the help of a "pig" - a torpedo-like projectile similar to those used in the early days of oil exploration that is shot through the pipes to scrape them clean.

Researchers play a big part in the work at the aquarium. Staff member Chad Widmer unlocks the cryptic secrets of jellyfish reproduction in the aquarium's exclusive "jelly farm." And at the Tuna Research and Conservation Center (a collaboration between the aquarium and Stanford University), Dr. Barbara Block pursues novel experiments to determine how tuna make their epic migrations in both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. 

Using a kind of tuna treadmill, Block studies the efficiency of the fish as an animal machine, helping to explain how tuna survive in the open ocean where food is sometimes scarce. Viewers also learn how wild sea otters are captured and released for tracking studies by aquarium researchers - leading to important discoveries about their behavior and declining population.