The number of tugboats, cargo ships and other vessels drifting in and out of Los Angeles Harbor could never equal the number of creatures lurking beneath the ocean surface. Soon, the warm waters will turn frigid with the first winter storm. Already squid are turning up in fishermen's nets, although mating season doesn't normally start until winter, and Pacific gray whales are just beginning their migration from Alaskan seas to the milder waters of Baja California.
On Sunday, the Cabrillo Marine Aquarium will celebrate Southern California's wondrous ocean environment with its 15th annual Autumn Sea Fair.
The aquarium, a City of Los Angeles Recreation and Parks facility and a fixture in San Pedro for 65 years, is more about research and education than its bigger, glossier neighbor, the Aquarium of the Pacific, across the harbor in Long Beach. So the focus of the fair will be educational exhibits, hands-on activities and entertainment, from taiko drummers to the wacky but popular Queen of the Sea contest.
One of the main purposes of the event and the aquarium, says program director Larry Fukuhara, is to educate visitors, especially youngsters, who may not know about the ocean or the effect humans have on it.
For some kids who visit the aquarium, "It's their first time ever to see the ocean," Fukuhara says. "They go, 'Oh, that's cool.' When we start teaching them a little bit about it, then the next time they know it's more than just water."
Adding that a little knowledge about what causes pollution in the ocean can go a long way with kids, Fukuhara says: "Kids have a lot of power. They can even change the way adults think."
Festival activities will be divided among three areas of the coastal park. Organizations such as Friends of the Sea Lions, the Port of Los Angeles (a fair sponsor) and the City of L.A. Storm Water Program will have booths in the courtyard. Carnival games will challenge kids in front of the aquarium, and a treasure hunt, sand sculpture contest and a fireboat demo will take place at Cabrillo Beach.
Kids will have two chances to dig into the beach sand for buried treasure (boxes stuffed with gift certificates), from 11 a.m. to noon and from 3 to 4 p.m.
The sand sculpture teams will begin constructing their marine-related masterpieces at 10 a.m., each confined to a 15-by-15-foot patch of sand. About a dozen teams competed last year, sculpting everything from dolphins to mermaids. To enter, families pay $10; clubs or organizations, $25; corporate teams, $50. Winners will take home dolphin plaques.
All ages are welcome to dress up in their best queen-of-the-sea bangles and barnacles for that contest. No pressure, says Fukuhara, because "beauty is not a requirement." Queen hopefuls are instead judged on humor and creativity.
The No. 10 Tin Can Band will be among the performers in the outdoor courtyard. The band consists of about 20 percussionists and a bass player, all students from North High School in Torrance, who play every kind of music from pop to classical.
Inside the aquarium itself, sea life exhibits range from seabirds to sea lions. Any kid who watches Nickelodeon's "SpongeBob SquarePants" won't be able to resist poking a live starfish in the touch tank, where sea urchins, sea anemones and other rocky shore dwellers are all within easy reach. Live eels, sharks and other sea creatures inhabit the dozens of saltwater aquariums.
Displays also explore the offshore oil development and its positive and negative effects on the ocean.
Cabrillo Beach was once a popular stop on the old L.A.-to-San Pedro Red Car line. The Mediterranean-style bathhouse next door to the aquarium was the last one built by the city (in 1932) and is being refurbished.
Autumn Sea Fair, Sunday, 10 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Cabrillo Marine Aquarium, 3720 Stephen White Drive, San Pedro. Parking is $6 at the aquarium or free at 22nd and Miner streets. Admission free. (562) 548-7562; http://www.cabrilloaq.org.