Copyright 2001-2012, California Science Center

Chuck Kopczak

Kelp Forest

Find yourself immersed in the majestic grandeur of a giant kelp forest, where algae called kelp grow as large as trees and support a tremendous variety of life. You may be amazed to discover that examples of this spectacular ecosystem, which in the wild can support over 800 species, exist right off the coast of Southern California. Peer into our 188,000-gallon tank and get a glimpse of what life is like in these special underwater forests.

Download a fish ID sheet showing many of the species in our kelp tank.

Solve the mystery behind why kelp is found in some spots along the coast and not others. Meet some of the animals that live in the kelp forest—and divers that like to visit! Find out how choices you make daily can affect the kelp forest and the ocean in ways you may not even imagine. Also, discover why and how we need to protect this important ecosystem for generations to come. This exhibit features live animals such as leopard sharks, horn sharks, moray eels, a giant seabass, rays, rockfish, spiny lobsters, anemones and more!

Exhibit Events

Polar Zone exhibit gallery, Extreme Zone, Ecosystems, California Science Center, photo by Laurel Bartels

Students interact with divers and an educator during one of our dive shows.

Dive show!

Find out what it's like to experience our kelp forest from inside the tank as you get the chance to talk first-hand with a diver! Don't miss our Science Spectacular dive show, which happens twice daily at 11am and 2:30pm. Divers interact with animals in the tank, and also take questions from guests in the audience—like you!

If your visit to the kelp forest doesn't overlap with a dive show time, you may still get a chance to see a diver. We have divers working in our tank daily, feeding and examining animals, maintaining the tank...and often waving at guests!

Are you a diver? Find out how you can volunteer in our exhibit!

Exhibit Highlights

Arctic vs. AntarcticDiversity on display

Examine a huge variety of living organisms up close in our tabletop aquariums, featuring animals like a giant anemone, sea stars, lobsters and more. The animals you'll find in this area are a fascinating sample of the amazing diversity found in a kelp forest.

Surviving the polesWhat is kelp?

Though it looks like a plant, kelp is an algae, and the giant kelp we have in our exhibit is only found in a few places in the entire worldincluding in Southern California! Find out what makes giant kelp special, and discover the ingredients it needs to survivechilly, nutrient-rich water, sunlight and water motion. You can even help us grow kelp in our nursery.

Reflecting light exhibitLook for kelp forest homes

One of the biggest reasons for all the diversity in a kelp forest is the variety of homes animals can find there. From the kelp forest canopy to the rocky ocean floor, search for the right homes for some kelp forest tenants, like urchins, bat stars, kelp crabs, kelp bass and two-spot octopuses.

Climate Puzzle exhibitWho eats whom?

In our kelp forest food web aquariums, see different kinds of kelp forest animals and what they eat. You'll find scavengers that eat dead animals, drifters like moon jellies that eat microscopic organisms called plankton, scrapers that scour algae off rocks and eat loose pieces of algae from the water, and algae that turn sunlight into sugars.

Ice wallCurator's Lab

See real people doing sciencegrowing moon jellies, collecting and tracking data and more. Experiments available for guest participation may include examining brine shrimp we grow here at the Science Center to feed our fish, dissecting kelp and more. The Curator's Lab is open Monday-Friday 10am-1:30pm and weekends and holidays from 10am-5pm.

Kelp Tank News

Polar Zone exhibit gallery, Extreme Zone, Ecosystems, California Science Center, photo by Laurel Bartels

Our first baby feather boa kelp

Baby Kelp

We have some new residents in the kelp tankbaby feather boa kelp! This kelp is special to us at the Science Center because divers didn't bring it in from the ocean. It appeared naturally, through reproduction that happened right here in our kelp tank. One of our big goals in Ecosystems is for some of the big species of kelp to grow and reproduce in our tank, and it has finally happened.

Smaller algae species have been reproducing in the tank for a while, but big algae species like feather boas and giant kelp have been much more challenging. Algae don't have seedsthey have spores that can swim. When they settle, they grow into microscopic forms that are male or female. For reproduction to occur, a male has to settle close to a female so its sperm can reach the eggs, and conditions have to be just right. For a kelp frond the size of our new ones, the reproductive process must have taken place months ago, so we know that it's doing well in its new home. If you visit the Science Center, you can see this new kelp growing up in the Rocky Shore area, in the water on the side of the bridge next to the diver entry area. Hopefully we'll see even more growing soon!

Kelp Tank News Archive

Fishy Success Story
Find out about the first kelp tank residents that came from eggs laid right in our tank!

Baby Surfperches
Meet the baby surfperches that were recently born in the kelp tank, and find some surfperch facts.

Garibaldi Mating Season
Learn about the unusual mating rituals of the bright-orange state marine fish of California, and watch a video of the male guarding its nest in the kelp tank.

The Science Center and Kelp Restoration

Polar Zone exhibit gallery, Extreme Zone, Ecosystems, California Science Center, photo by Laurel Bartels

A diver collects urchins off a barren rock in an effort to give kelp the chance to return and support hundreds of animal species.

©Laurel Bartels

The Science Center's focus on kelp spreads far beyond our walls and out into the ocean itself. Through a partnership with Santa Monica Bay Restoration Foundation and Los Angeles Waterkeeper, Science Center staff and volunteers work to protect and restore the kelp forests off the coast of Los Angeles County.

One of the biggest threats to kelp forests is devastation from sea urchins, who will eat kelp uncontrollably if left unchecked. Because urchin predators, like lobsters, sea otters and sheephead, are on the decline in our area, urchins have been left to grow and reproduce with almost no limits to their numbers. As a consequence, many kelp forests have been turned into barren underwater landscapes by ravenous urchins. Through the Palos Verdes Kelp Restoration Project, hundreds of thousands of urchins have been removed from these barrens, giving kelp the opportunity to come back, thrive and support over 800 species in each restored kelp forest.

For more information, visit Los Angeles Waterkeeper's website, or check out this article from the Palos Verdes Peninsula News.

Kelp Forest Links

Ecosystems: Kelp Forests
This webpage from the National Marine Sactuaries of the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration gives a good overview about what kelp forests are, what they need to survive, and why they are important.

The Ocean Basket Kelp Forest Exhibit
This page from Two Oceans Aquarium in South Africa highlights kelp forests that exist around the tip of Africa, but lot of the information you'll find here also applies to our kelp forests. Don't miss the "Uses for Kelp" section that outlines what products contain kelp. You might be surprised by what you find!