Known for its mesmerizing walk-through tunnel-tanks that show off elegant swirls of sardines, lazing rockfish, giant sea bass and a dizzying variety of rays and sharks, the Aquarium of the Bay has long appealed to young oceanographers-in-training. Dedicated to educating the public about conservation issues, the Aquarium is now expanding its sights to include land-dwellers such as the Pacific tree frog and the western toad, which kids can see up close during a special preview on Sunday.
Frogs and toads, long considered barometers of the planet's ecological health, are among the creatures most sensitive to changes in climate patterns. The aquarium's Invasion of the Land Animals programs, which take place each weekend in March, lead up to the opening on April 4 of the PG&E Bay Lab, an interactive exhibition on climate change as well as exhibits on the giant Pacific octopus and moon jellies. Aquarium organizers hope that the new lab will help introduce kids to conservation issues and put a face on the victims of global warming.
Although Sunday's guest amphibians will be too sensitive for people to touch, says aquarium spokeswoman Kati Schmidt, the kids will have a great time meeting the frogs and toads, warts and all, and they can learn how to fold their own origami jumping frog. They can even enter their creation in a jumping contest during the afternoon. Other - more stroke-able - land animals in the series are the western pond turtle and cherry-headed red-legged tortoise on March 14; and the chinchilla and African pygmy hedgehog on March 21.
If you want to check out the aquarium's permanent exhibits, leave yourself at least an hour to marvel at the 6-foot sea bass, examine the tiny feet of the sea stars, watch the cruising shoals of mackerel or pet the rays and sharks. Or, get your hand stamped at the front desk so you can grab lunch at Pier 39 and check out the sea lions and then come back into the aquarium later. The museum posts feeding times for the sevengill sharks and the bat rays.
If you live in one of the nine Bay Area counties, take advantage of half-price admission during March, with proof of Bay Area residence.
1-3 p.m. Sun. Also March 14 and 21. Aquarium of the Bay, the Embarcadero and Beach St., S.F. $15.95 adults, $8 for children and seniors. For the month of March, 50 percent off admission for Bay Area residents with ID. (415) 623-5300. www.aquariumofthebay.com.
This article appeared on page F - 21 of the San Francisco Chronicle