Marine Life Identification

Spotting the Two-Spot: All About the Two-Spot Octopus 

While two-spot octopuses are not uncommon in Southern California waters, they aren’t always easy to spot. They are usually wedged into a crevice. Thus, when I came across one sitting quietly on top of a ledge, I took a photo. I expected the animal to flee when my strobe flashed but it did not. I took another photo and ventured closer. That’s when I noticed there were two octopuses, so well camouflaged they blended into the substrate. The cephalopods were about eight inches apart, linked […]

Red, Green, Yellow and Brown: The Colorful Lives of California Kelpfish

Kelpfish Stats Kingdom: Animalia Phylum: Chordata Subphylum: Vertebrata Superclass: Gnathostomata Superclass: Pisces Class: Actinopterygii Order: Perciformes Family: Clinidae: Giant kelpfish, crevice kelpfish, striped kelpfish, spotted kelpfish Family: Labrisomidae: Island kelpfish Genus/species: Giant kelpfish (Heterostichus rostratus) Island kelpfish (Alloclinus holderi) Spotted kelpfish (Gibbonsia elegans) Striped Kelpfish (Gibbonsia metzi) Crevice kelpfish (Gibbonsia montereyensis) Giant kelpfish tend to keep their distance. I have many images of them taken from several feet away as they pretend to be part of the scenery. Since they can change colors (red, lime […]

A Pop of Color: Admiring California Hydrocoral

Much prized by underwater photographers for its beautiful colors, California hydrocoral (Stylaster californicus) is one of the 350 species of hydroids in the Phylum Cnidaria. A close cousin of the fire corals found in tropical waters, it is not a true (stony) coral. Cnidaria (the “C” is silent) is not a small, insignificant phylum. It contains approximately 10,000 species, at least 100 of which are dangerous to humans. The phylum name means “nettle” in Greek and its members include some of the most photogenic animals […]

SoCal Rock Star: The Treefish

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.” Is it any wonder many of them are a challenge to identify? Rockfishes are members of the Scorpaenidae family and […]

The Fascinating “Bunny Slug”: The California Brown Sea Hare 

A member of the phylum Mollusca and class Gastropoda, the California brown sea hare is a cousin of both nudibranchs and octopuses. Like nudibranchs, brown sea hares are hermaphrodites. Like octopuses, they can produce ink. And, though some think they bear faint resemblance to a rabbit, they are actually very large sea slugs. Brown sea hares have a reticulated color pattern that resembles that of the two-spot octopus, also found in SoCal waters. These animals aren’t always brown, sometimes they are tan, greenish-brown or red. […]

“My, What Long Pecs You Have”

Humpback Whale
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

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

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
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

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 […]

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