The Oceanographic Museum of Monaco has one of the Oldest Aquariums!

One of the things you must do in Monaco is visit the Oceanographic Museum (Musée Océanographique). Luckily, our morning was lovely with plenty of sunshine, considering the Alex storm was bringing flooding and devastationOceanographic-Museum-of-Monaco-Musée-Océanographique- to the area. So we walked from our Airbnb to Port Hercules following the boardwalk.

To get to the museum you need to go uphill and it is a bit strenuous. But the views make up for the exhaustion and there are plenty of places to stop for photographs. There is also an escalator that is harder to find, which leads to a parking lot. The easiest way to reach the museum is simply to take a bus to Le Rocher.

It started raining after lunch so it was the perfect time to head inside. We stood with our umbrellas under the rain waiting in a short line to enter the Oceanographic Museum of Monaco. It is also possible to purchase tickets online and simply show them at the door. On the outside you will see the mini yellow Submarine Anorep 1 that was built in 1966 and used by Jacques Cousteau.

This museum opens daily, except for the weekend of Formula 1 Monaco Grand Prix (end of May) and on Christmas Day. Opening hours vary according to the season, but they range from 9:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. If you plan on visiting other attractions in Monaco, such as the Prince’s Palace, Car Collection, Animal Garden or the Exotic Garden, then it is best to buy combined tickets. Sadly, I visited on my birthday (October 4) during the Covid pandemic and a lot of these attractions were closed. On the rooftop of the museum is a restaurant that offers great panoramic views of Monaco and Monte-Carlo.

History of the Oceanographic Museum

The Oceanographic Museum of Monaco is one of the oldest museums of marine science in Europe. It was founded by Prince Albert I, the great-great grandfather of H.S.H. Prince Albert II of Monaco. Throughout his life, the Prince led 28 scientific expeditions to places that included the Arctic, Azores and the Mediterranean. Oceanography was a new science at the time. Albert I started the Institute of Oceanography in 1906 with two operations: the Oceanographic Museum of Monaco and the Maison des Océans in Paris.

This building is quite big, with 6,500 square meters! Its architectural style can be considered Baroque Revival. Construction took over eleven years, using 100,000 tons of stone from La Turbie. Prince Albert I inscribed 20 oceanographic research vessels (from Monaco and other countries) into the facade of the museum. The official opening date of this “Palace entirely dedicated to Art and Science” was March 29,1910.

When they were developing the space, anthropologists found remains of medieval ramparts and a watch tower. As well as archeological material such as tools, seashells, ceramics and jewelry. 50 human bones of a man in his 30s that lived on the Rock during the 14th century, at the time of the arrival of the Grimaldi, were also found.

An interesting fact about the museum is that Jacques-Yves Cousteau was its director from 1957 to 1988. In 1989, a French marine biologist found a giant patch of tropical seaweed called Caulerpa taxifolia directly under the walls of the museum. It was a huge controversy as it was one of the largest seaweed contaminations and it affected the marine life of the Mediterranean.

Monaco Aquarium

This is one of the oldest aquariums in the world. It has over 100 pools exhibiting over 6,000 specimens. Outside they have a new sea turtle center that was inaugurated in 2019.This home for injured sea turtles is composed of five care basins that make up a total space of 550 square meters. Caretakers prepare daily menus for each species and eventually they are returned to the sea (if possible). When we went it was raining outside, so we spent very little time in this part of the Oceanographic Museum.

When you go down the stairs you will find the shark lagoon. This part of the Oceanographic Museum of Monaco was done to give people a face-to-face experience with sharks that have an unjustified bad reputation. Inside the lagoon there are 450,000 liters of sea water behind walls that are 30 centimeter thick. The aquarium sought to replicate sharks’ natural habitats. There is also an area where you can pet sharks (after washing your hands).

All the sharks they have are harmless reef sharks. I have swam or dived with nurse sharks (they rest on the sand) and blacktip reef sharks (easy to recognize because of the black on their tips). They also have zebra sharks and grey reef sharks (from Australia). There is also a shovelnose ray and a hawksbill turtle that was seized from customs over 20 years ago.

The Mediterranean Sea exhibition explains curious facts about species that live in the area, including that some fish can change sex and explains how octopus are great illusionists. Here you will find moray eels and several species of jellyfish (they come in all sizes).

Another aquarium exhibition is the Tropical Seas where you can find very colorful fishes and corals. Some corals have a surprising luminous phenomena which make them very unique. Seahorses come in different forms (did you know the male is the one that gives birth?). They also have species like clownfish, piranhas and axolotl that are endemic to Xochimilco.

Museum Areas

When you go to the upper floor of the Oceanographic Museum of Monaco you will find a giant squid hanging from the ceiling of the foyer. Enter the next room to reach Oceanomania which is the largest cabinet of marine curiosities in the world. Over 1,000 objects are displayed in a space of 180 square meters. It was created by artist Mark Dion who found some of the rarest objects connected to ocean exploration, including a diving suit that Karl-Heinrich Klingert developed in 1797. There are also books, fossils, chimeras, and even some preserved animals including some fish, a dolphin, a seal and even a polar bear!

The whale room has actual skeletons of whales and other marine mammals hanging from above. This fin whale was found in 1896 stranded in the Ligurian coast of the Mediterranean. It weighs 2.8 tons and is 18 meters long! There are 13 other mammals that come from the expeditions done by Prince Albert I. You can see a sperm whale, dolphins, Cuvier’s whale, false killer whale and a narwhal. In this room they do a light show with sounds that makes it seem like the creatures are alive and you are in the bottom of the ocean.

The exhibit titled “ A Sailor’s Career” showcases the work of Prince Albert I including his laboratory of L’Hirondelle. Research conducted on this vessel led to understanding the phenomenon of anaphylaxis, for which Dr Charles Richet received the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1913.

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