Be amazed by the beauty of the sea Photo: Lillie Grossman
Discover our sea anemones Photo: Heal the Bay
Can you find the spiny lobster? Photo: Nick Fash
All of our exhibit animals and plants call the Santa Monica Bay home
Meet locals including Pacific seahorses, swell sharks, a two-spot octopus and moray eels
Help with the feeding and care of our animals by making an Aquadoption
Get to know your neigHbors in the santa monica Bay
Explore the wide variety of local marine animals on display at the Santa Monica Aquarium, from the touchable invertebrates like sea stars, to our gregarious two-spot octopus, local sharks and other fishes plus a host of other Santa Monica Bay organisms. When you visit, you can see each of these animals in special exhibits designed to mimic their natural underwater environments, one of the four habitats specific to our Santa Monica Bay.
Plan your visit today, to meet the locals.
Topping out at 12 inches, the Pacific seahorse is one the largest of the 35 known species and the only one found along the California coast. Swimming gracefully and vertically through the water column, tiny fins fluttering at a rate of 35 times per second, prehensile tail majestically curled, this animal always attracts attention. Spines around the eyes accentuate its face and cheeks and its eyes move independently of one another; spines on the top of a seahorse’s head resemble a crown, which is why it’s referred to as a coronet. Each individual has a distinct coronet, much like a human fingerprint. Bony plates cover the seahorse’s body – no scales on this fish!
The male seahorse has a heavier burden than most fathers: their female counterparts deposit eggs in the male’s pouch, where the eggs are fertilized and carried until the “fry” – sometimes hundreds of tiny replicas of the adults - hatch a few weeks later.
Ochre Star (Pisaster ochraceus)
The ochre star is one of about 1,800 species of sea stars, an animal with the amazing capability of regeneration, which means re-growing their body parts. If an arm is torn off by a hungry sea gull, a sea star will simply grow a new arm over the course of about a year.
Ochre stars are more tolerant of air exposure than most – withstanding up to six to eight hours during a low tide in their intertidal and rocky reef habitats where they’re found from Alaska to Baja California. Growing to anywhere from six to 14 inches across, ochre stars use their sticky tube feet to pry open a meal of mussels, barnacles, snails, chitons or limpets.
Relatives: Sand dollars, sea urchins, and sea cucumbers
Swell sharks are so named because they can inflate their bodies to twice their normal size by swallowing water – a defense strategy to ward off predators like elephant seals and larger sharks. The swell shark grows to about three feet and makes its home at varying depths from Central California to Mexico.
This shark is oviparous, meaning it gives birth by laying eggs. The egg casing, made of keratin - just like human nails and hair - is attached to long tendrils that act as an anchor for the egg. And then the mother’s job is complete – she swims off and the egg is on its own. At the Aquarium, these developing eggs are on display in our shark nursery. What begins looking like a tiny tadpole grows in the egg casing for eight to 10 months and becomes a fully developed juvenile shark – about six inches long and known as a pup – that breaks out, often first swimming upside down as it gets its bearing in its first hours
About 60 pups have been born at the Aquarium in the past few years.
Relatives: Rays, chimeras, and guitarfish
Considered the most “intelligent” of all invertebrates, the two-spotted octopus lives in the rocky intertidal zone, in rocky reefs and in kelp forests from Point Conception to Mexico. A two-spotted grows to about three feet long and is named for the two blue spots that look a bit like eyes and are positioned on either side of its mantle.
Actually seeing these creatures in the ocean can be tricky – this cephalopod is a master of disguise. Covered in tiny cells called chromatophores, the octopus can change colors or texture in an instant to blend in with its surroundings. But if a predator still gets too close, the octopus can also send out a blast of ink to ward off moray eels, sea lions or large fish.
Lacking an exoskeleton or internal skeleton, the octopus is among the most flexible of the invertebrates, able to fit through extremely tight spaces to feed on crustaceans, mollusks and fish. Like all species of octopus, the two-spotted has a short life span, generally living less than two years and dying soon after reproducing.
Relatives: Clams, sea hares, squid, and nudibranchs
For fun facts on other animals at our Aquarium, read more.