Smile, You’re on Candid Camera!

The “Face” on the Underside of a Manta Ray

The “Face” on the Underside of a Ray

There are so many strange forms of life under the sea, and the rays are one of the strangest. At the Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach, I ran my fingers across the velvety back of one of them. Then, in one of the large mixed tanks, I saw what looked like a smile on the underside of another one (illustrated above). In the tanks, they tended to glide over the sandy bottom, making me wonder whether they are scavengers.

In all, the Aquarium has only a few hundred different species of sea and shore life, but few of them are anywhere near familiar to me. There are odd staring moray eels, fish that look like floating vegetation, birds with tongues shaped like short straws, and giant daddy-longleg-like spidery crabs. While Martine were there in the morning—before the strollers and their glazed-eyed pushers arrived in force—we had a good chance to see the exhibits are marvel at their strangeness.

If I had another life to live, I would consider being a marine biologist. One of the most underrated American travel books I have ever read is John Steinbeck’s expedition with a marine biologist friend from Monterey to Mexico. It is called The Log from the Sea of Cortez.