Monterey Bay Aquarium; Pinball Machines

By Xah Lee. Date:

I went to Monterey Bay Aquarium today. [Monterey Bay Aquarium][ ] I saw fantastically beautiful red octopuses, with sizes whose head is like a soccer ball. (octopuses is one of the most intelligent animal) I also touched playful stingray the size about 80 cm in wingspan, in a shallow pool.

Stingray are amazingly friendly. In the pool, they would actually swim toward your hand for your touch. As noticed in wikipedia, it is common to find stingray touch-pools around aquariums.

sea jelly
Sea Jellies at the Monterey Bay Aquarium.
sea jelly

I saw amazingly beautiful sea jellies (aka jellyfish) And, also seen about 5 extremely cute sea otters . It seems like all they do all day is play. They would, for example, put a toy ball in their paws or legs and swim about, or chase the fishes, sometimes holding a toy water pipe, or swim on the surface with their belly up, used like a dining table. These are their natural behaviors, not some trained performances for human amusement.

Check out the mating behavior of sea otters and the map of their distribution, and the mass killing by human animals.

The seeing of the octopus, the beautiful jellyfishes, the sea otter, and the touching of the large stingray, would be the highlights of this aquarium for me.

In their 10 meter high “kelp forrest” tank, there are a lot Leopard sharks, which are beautiful.

They also have a huge tank for holding Outer Bay animals. It has a glass pane that's about some 9 meters wide by 7 meters tall. In this tank, you can see: Great white shark, Hammerhead shark, and other sharks, sea turtle, Ocean Sunfish, tuna, and others.

From wikipedia on sea turtle:

Sea turtles have an extraordinary sense of time and location. They are highly sensitive to the Earth's magnetic field and probably use it to navigate. They live up to 189 years. The fact that most species return to nest at the locations where they were born seems to indicate an imprint of that location's magnetic features. The ridley turtles are especially peculiar because instead of nesting individually like the other species, they come ashore in one mass arrival known as an “arribada” (arrival).

I've seen various sharks and sea turtle at the Mandalay Bay Aquarium in Las Vegas. What's most interesting in this trip is seeing the ocean sunfish and tuna. Tunas are quite large. The largest there are like 1.5 meters in length, and have bottoms in metallic silver, somewhat scary looking. And, the Ocean Sunfish is a huge funny beast. It is like 2 meters in length. It looks like a man-made robotic fake fish, due to its slowness and silly appearance.

Some more wikipedia readings: “Fish anatomy” , for understanding of dorsal fins, pectoral fins, anal fin, caudal fin, and finlets. These are intimately related to Nektology, which is the study of swimming organisms (biofluidynamics, biomechanics, functional morphology of fluid locomotion, locomotor physiology). See “Nekton”.

The design of locomotion systems on or under the sea is of course a fascinating subject, and nothing beats propellers for all practical purposes. However, when a spinning thing is not desirable, or when it comes to biological systems, the various sea animal's ways become fascinating, and distills secrets of design by evolution. It is of interest, that sharks swim side ways, while dolphins up down. In general, air breathing fishes have horizontal caudal fins, so that they swim up and down, which aids in surfacing and diving. This includes whales and sea otters. While sharks, tunas, etc swing side by side, which is probably a more efficient design for forward, horizontal motion. Another, beautiful design is that of stingrays, with its bilateral symmetry. But due to its large surface area, it necessarily cannot achieve speed, nor efficiency in turning left-right or up-down. However, it wins in the elegance department.

See also, the ocean depth classification: Pelagic zone. And, a simple water clarity measuring method: Secchi disk.

The Monterey Bay Aquarium also have very cute penguins, about maybe a dozen of them, very playful. I've seen penguins in San Franciso marine park around 2001. They also have several sea birds of the area, some bone exhibit of whales. Speaking of which, i think it would be interesting to get a general overview of migratory animal's routes, preferably plotted on a map. (See: Bird migration, Fish migration )

They don't have Orcas, which one'd more likely to find in a marine parks. (i.e. entertainment system for human animals) .

By the way, which is the fastest sea creature in swimming speed? Barracuda is at 43 km/h. The Shortfin Mako Shark is at 50 km/h, with burst of 74 km/h. That's 13.8 and 20.5 meters per second. Tuna is at 77 km/h! Will have to lookup on porpoises and whales.

The Pinball Design Fascination

On the way back, i also went to the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. [Santa Cruz Beach][ ]

I played pinball at the arcade, among other games. Had fantastic pizza at down town and coffee.

The pinball design is extremely fascinating. In a modern pinball machine, you have the bumpers, bouncers, targets and drop targets, spinner gates, glides and tracks, hole-in-the-ground, ball-catchers, roll-overs, ramps, chutes, passages, elevated tracks, spinning-disk field, electromagnets …

In the late 1980s i've played one pinball machine that has almost none of the above. It is in the theme of a Mar's surface or something like that, and the playing surface is actually not flat, but randomly curved terrains. In playing, the ball travels wildly unpredictably, but overall the surface is inclined so the ball will eventually move towards the flipper placed near the player. I don't remember if it has any targets or how one scores since there's nothing else… but it was fun. (this machine is the Orbitor 1)

In modern times, there are several video based pinball games. The ultimate would be physics based simulators, which does not seems to have matured yet. This, would be the perfection.

It would be interesting to design a pinball machine without any of the fluff. Instead, all the games, targets, bumpers, holes, ramps, gates etc are plain, with the most simple scoring system, and without all the jumbled flashy confusing functionless lights and graphics and toys.

In such a design, one focuses on the essence of the pinball game itself, of the intricate and fantastic designs of ball-manipulating mechanics, and on the skills of controlling the ball with the flippers.