Third Grade Field Trip: Aquarium of the Pacific

Jennifer Stern September 1, 2011 1 Comment

Aquarium of the Pacific

Aquarium of the Pacific

Let me say right up front: I am a seasoned veteran of the elementary school field trip. Since I am the mom of three, and I have been going on approximately three to four field trips a year since my 15-year-old was in preschool…well, you do the math.

Some of these school excursions have been educational, pleasant, and even fun. Plays and museum trips rank up there among my favorite memories. Others–like the time I chaperoned fifteen hyper second-grade boys on a three-hour hike around a hot, humid, mosquito-ridden swamp–not so much.

Fortunately, my son Will’s recent field trip to the Aquarium of the Pacific, located in beautiful coastal Long Beach, falls into the former category. With the exception of a little glitch at the tail end of the trip involving one broken-down school bus (we’ll get to that a little later), the experience was definitely enjoyable, certainly educational, and–I can’t believe I’m actually writing this–even RELAXING. How often can you say THAT about a trip anywhere with nearly 100 eight-year-olds??

3rd Grade Class Aquarium of the Pacific

Will’s 3rd grade class at the Aquarium of the Pacific

Long Beach is less than an hour’s drive from my son’s school in Burbank. But, let’s face it, an hour can seem an awful lot longer when you’re bouncing around inside an uncomfortable school bus with hordes of screaming school children and you can barely hear yourself think. Which is why my friend Elvia and I had the GENIUS idea to follow the school bus to its destination in the relative quiet and luxury of my own SUV (since we weren’t “official” chaperones, we were able to do this). Elvia’s son Chandler and my son, who are buddies, sat together in the back of the bus and kept turning around and waving to us during the drive down. So, we could keep an eye on them without having to deal with all the stress and madness of actually being on the bus itself–the perfect solution!

We arrived at the aquarium shortly after 10 a.m. on a sunny, mild, perfect Southern California day. There were many busloads of students from other schools waiting to get in, so we ended up milling about outside for about half an hour, which was a great opportunity to take group class photos and burn off a little extra energy running around on the well-manicured lawns.

Once we were finally ushered inside, we were directed straight into the Honda Theater, where we were treated to an educational presentation in the form of a bingo game/mystery adventure which taught Will and his classmates how to identify different fish. It was led by a perky and enthusiastic young woman who definitely knew how to keep the kids entertained!

Following the presentation, we were free to roam about the aquarium as we wished. Will and I decided to take off on our own, and we headed straight for the shark lagoon, where we marveled at the size and power of these intimidating creatures of the deep. And we were more than a bit relieved at the thick wall of glass which separated us from them!

Tropical Pacific Gallery, Aquarium of the Pacific

Tropical Pacific Gallery

The Tropical Pacific Gallery houses an enormous 350,000-gallon tank that is home to amazingly colorful fish and a coral reef. We were able to watch divers feeding the animals and cleaning the tank, and the kids got a big kick out of the divers swimming right up to the glass and waving to them!

One of Will’s favorite exhibits was the sea otter habitat, where we laughed at the antics of these furry aquatic clowns, as they floated about on their backs, grooming their thick fur, and shelling food with their amazingly humanlike hands while using their bellies for tray tables! We were astounded to find out that an adult male sea otter eats as much as fifteen pounds of food in a single day. (That’s nearly as much as my fifteen-year-old son.)

I personally enjoyed most the incredible sea jelly and seahorse exhibits located in the Tropical Pacific Gallery. The jellyfish tanks were full of a nearly infinite variety of species, from huge Man O’ Wars to tiny luminous jellys barely the size of a quarter. Their unearthly, translucent beauty absolutely captivated Will and me as we watched them slowly floating up and down in ephemeral masses. The tanks are backlit so that the groups of sea jellies actually seem to be giving off their own glowing, pulsing light. The fragile, exotic Sea Dragons fascinated us with their leafy, weedy-looking appendages that allow them to camouflage themselves in seaweed.

West Coast Nettles Aquarium of the Pacific

West Coast Nettles, a species of sea jelly

Children will get a big thrill out of actually getting to touch sea creatures at the Stingray Touchpool, located outside in the Southern California/Baja Gallery. The exhibit contains Bat Rays, Shovelnose Guitarfish, and California Halibut. We were instructed to touch the creatures very gently with only two fingers and not to grab or scratch them. We learned that the rays’ diet consists of shrimp, squid, sardines and clams, and that they are only fed one percent of their body weights each day. Though they look scary, the rays are actually docile creatures and pose little danger to humans. Following this close-up encounter, we were made to scrub our hands thoroughly at the outdoor washing station.

They are not ocean-dwellers like the rest of the amazing creatures we were able to observe, but the brightly-colored birds of the Aquarium’s Lorikeet Forest were another big highlight to this fun and informative day. This aviary is home to approximately 140 beautiful lorikeets sporting vivid gold, red, yellow, orange, purple and green feathers. Will and I learned that lorikeets do not eat solid food and drink only nectar, and that if we purchased a cup of their favorite drink upon entry, the birds would come and perch on our arms to enjoy a little sip. This is a huge hit with the kids and also makes for a terrific photo opportunity!


A brightly-colored Lorikeet waiting for its cup of nectar

Following an outdoor lunch and some more running about on the lawn (it’s tough to tire out a bunch of third-graders), we had a little extra time to revisit any parts of the Aquarium that we had missed or wished to see again. Then it was time to load the rugrats back up onto the three schoolbuses and head home.

Except there was just one little problem.

One of the school buses decided it wasn’t going to start. The “Wheels On The Bus” were definitely NOT going round and round.

That left two operating buses for three buses worth of students, teachers and chaperones. After much chaos and shuffling around, somehow the teachers managed to cram the extra students into the two buses left. However, that left a lot of displaced chaperones. Suffice it to say that it was a good idea that my friend and I had driven ourselves, since I ended up taking four other parents besides ourselves home. Some other parents also volunteered their cars, and between the lot of us, everyone managed to make it home to Burbank safely.

And we didn’t even have to listen to endless rounds of “Ninety-Nine Bottles of Beer on the Wall…”

Aquarium of the Pacific is located at 100 Aquarium Way in Long Beach, CA and is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily:

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Aquarium of the Pacific Long Beach, CA

avatarAbout the Author:

Jennifer Stern is a mom of three teen boys, who provide her with constant inspiration to write. She is also a fitness professional/junkie who teaches everything from Spinning to Zumba. A New Jersey native, this is her second time living in Southern California. She loves the L.A. lifestyle, but does miss eating decent pizza and bagels--so she consoles herself with excellent Mexican food. She and her family live in Burbank.

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One Comments to “Third Grade Field Trip: Aquarium of the Pacific”
  1. avatar T. Dombroski says:

    Jennifer Stern is simply the “best”, period. Love her articles!