Since its opening in 1984, the Monterey Bay Aquarium was always a pioneer in the aquarium field. It was the first large public aquarium, which concentrate in its exhibition only on one theme, the local marine fauna of the Californian Pacific. Besides in that time it was the first aquarium with a huge kelp tank.
In 1992 the Monterey Bay Aquarium opened a large jellyfish exhibition “The Planet of Jellies”. The dimension of this exhibition, the diversity of the jellyfish species, their presentation and the edutainment about jellyfish was more impressive than all other jellyfish exhibitions before. This jellyfish exhibition became the main attraction of the aquarium and the Monterey Bay Aquarium became famous worldwide because of this attraction. The jellyfish became almost the trademark for the MBA and the exhibition gained a tremendous increase of visitor numbers in the Monterey Bay Aquarium. But probably it initiated also the jellyfish boom in other aquariums worldwide.
An inquiry between the visitors of the MBA resulted that the visitors are fascinated by the beauty of jellyfish, but are not interested to learn more about these animals. Therefore the next large jellyfish exhibition, which was opened in 2002, wanted to show only the beauty of the jellyfish like a piece of art. Therefore the title of the new jellyfish exhibition was “Jellies: Living Art”.
With an investment of 2.85 Million US, the MBA created five connected galleries. Four of them showed jellyfish in connection with art and the last gallery was limited to art only. Except the jellyfish, this exhibition consists of the art pieces of 12 artists. Under others the glass sculptures of Dale Chihuly, which are inspired by polyps and medusas, and also Pegan Brooke’s painting “Duxbury Reef I” could be seen in this exhibition. It was also an interesting comparison to see the living jellies side by side to the scientific jellyfish glass models, created by the Germans Leopold and Rudolf Blaschka at the end of the 19th century, and the modern jellyfish sculptures by Rick Satava, who created these sculptures especially for this exhibition in the MBA.
However, the real jewels and stars of the whole exhibition were the live jellyfish itself, like the mangrove jellies living in an medusa-shaped aquarium on black glass balls or a 8 m long and 4 m high gangway in front of a moon jellyfish tank with mirrors on all the walls, where the visitor could sit down and chill out, whereas he is surrounded everywhere by moon jellies. Because in this exhibition the jellyfish could be seen as a piece of living art, all the tanks were framed like a painting.
After the visit of this exhibition we asked ourselves, if it would be the task of a modern aquarium just to please the visitors or if exactly such an exhibition will stimulate the visitor’s interest in biological questions. But in any case, because of this exhibition the Monterey Bay Aquarium became famous worldwide.