Marine Life

“My, What Long Pecs You Have”

Humpback Whale

Identifying California’s Humpback Whales   This is the third of three articles on how to identify whales commonly seen off the California coast. In this article series we’ve featured blue whales and gray whales. This time we’ll spotlight humpbacks (Megaptera novaengliae). All three of these are baleen whales — Mysticeti. Their cousins the toothed whales, which include sperm whales and orcas, are known as Odontoceti. Humpbacks are among the easiest whales to identify. This can often be done even before the whale surfaces. That’s because […]

Getting to Know Our Neighbors –The Blue Shark and Shortfin Mako Shark

CDN 716 Shark

Marine researchers estimate that at least 34 species of sharks have been recorded off the Pacific Coast of North America. Some of them are rarely seen, and some species that were once commonly seen have, in recent years, become scarce due to overfishing. Thankfully, with proper resource management, shark numbers, at least in some species, appear to be increasing. This is good for the marine environment because sharks are important apex predators. It’s also good for us divers who are lucky enough to call California […]

Cleverly Designed: About the Bat Ray, Pacific Electric Ray and Thornback Ray

CDN 716 Rays

My success at photographing rays has hinged on chance. The ray(s) and I have been surprised to see each other and I somehow managed to take one or more photos before it (or they) departed. With the exception of Pacific electric rays, most of those departures were rather hasty. The electric rays, however, seem to be curious about divers and tend to stick around a bit. Sometimes, it is the divers who make a hasty retreat.   The Bat Ray Bat rays are not fond […]

Way Cooler Than a Weasel: California’s Southern Sea Otter

Sea Otter

Since sea otters rarely spend any time on land most people will never see the lower part of them, which is usually underwater. The body resembles that of the otter’s close cousin the weasel and there is a substantial 10- to 12-inch long tail. Unlike most marine mammals, sea otters swim on their backs, not their stomachs, using their webbed and flattened hind feet like paddles. Their unusual forefeet can function like hands or paws. They are small and round with little fingers and partially […]

The Curious Reproduction Strategies of California Grunion

CDN 516 Grunions

That a fish would leave the water and fling itself onto a beach at night in order to produce future generations seems preposterous. That it would need to factor in high tides and full/new moons when determining the right time to do so, stretches the limits of credibility. Yet California grunion do all these things. Reaching a maximum length of eight inches but usually only six, California grunion (Leuresthes tenuis) range from northern California to southern Baja. Leuresthes comes from the Greek for smooth and […]

Fear and Fascination: Encountering the Great White Shark

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There is no fish in the sea more feared — or more fascinating — than the great white shark. In 1971, Peter Gimbel’s movie, Blue Water, White Death, focused public attention on this large animal. In 1974, Peter Benchley’s book, Jaws, and the movie of the same name released in 1975 caused general hysteria. People stayed out of the ocean. A photo of a great white that ran on the cover of Skin Diver magazine in July of the following year was said to have […]

Have You Seen a Sea Elephant? All About the Northern Elephant Seal

CDN 316 MARINElife

This column is a departure from those I’ve done in the past because it features creatures I have never seen underwater. There are two species of elephant seals, northern and southern. Those found off the West Coast of North America are northern elephant seals (Mirounga angustirostris). The three populations of southern elephant seals (Mirounga leonine) are found in the south Atlantic Ocean, the south Indian Ocean and among the sub-Antarctic islands of the Pacific Ocean. The ranges of the two species do not overlap and […]

On Ocean Stewardship

CDN 316 Edit

In early January, California got hit with a series of storms. With no dive lined up on a Saturday morning I needed an “ocean fix” so I drove to the beach at Casa Cove in La Jolla to check out the colony of harbor seals that inhabits the controversial area known as the Children’s Pool. Their pupping season begins in mid-December, and I wanted to see if I might be able to see and photograph a newborn pup or two. I knew I would have […]

Simple, But Complicated: All About Aggregating Anemones

Anemones

They’re carnivores. And their harpoon-like tentacles are filled with powerful venom. If aggregating anemones grew bigger, divers would have reason to be very afraid. But thankfully, the anemones remain relatively small and their tiny harpoons (nematocysts) cannot penetrate our skin deep enough to deliver toxin to our bodies’ pain receptors. I learned these facts, and a few others, while researching this article. For instance, did you know that their tentacles can fire venomous miniature harpoons that repel predators and anemones unlike themselves? That a “demilitarized […]

Those Tricky Treefish

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Of the some 102 rockfish species worldwide, about 60 live in the ocean off the SoCal coast. Some are closely related and look very much alike. Colors of the same species can vary and at least some of the fish are chameleon-like, changing color to match their surroundings. Additionally, rockfishes are evolving and forming new species at what Dr. Milton Love calls “a frightening rate.” Given all that, is it any wonder many of them are a challenge to identify? Rockfishes are members of the […]

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