Marine Life Identification

Octopus Encounter

I’ve always found the octopus to be a great subject to videotape. They can be quite charming and elusive. I’ve been guilty, as many divers are, of just plan harassing the poor cephalopod instead of the gentle approach. When I’ve seen them in the open, I would rush to get a shot, just to have them scurry away. Sometimes this is a great ‘action shot’ as they change colors and textures. But the encounter was fleeting and left me feeling a bit empty. Many times […]

Wolf-Eels: When is an eel, not an eel?

I descended down a sheer granite wall, following a narrow, but ever widening crack. The crack was full of life and the critters I discovered became increasing larger as I neared the bottom. At the widest point I flashed my light back into the darkness, and one of the most hideous faces in the ocean stared back at me, a wolf-eel. I’m not sure which one of us was more startled. Wolf-eels are a particularly shy fish and spend most of the day back in […]

Big Squirts That Swim the Sea

Imagine one day that you are casually diving, just snooping around to see what sort of interesting critters are down there. But then you sense that there is something else down there that you were not expecting at all. And that “something else” is cylindrically shaped and BIG! Really big, over twice as big as you are! Don’t panic. While what you just encountered may be the shape and size of a great white shark, it doesn’t have a gaping, hungry mouth full of teeth. […]

A Nudibranch In The Pink

California has such a rich variety of bright, colorful nudibranchs, and as a consequence, many divers have a pretty good grasp of the major groupings of these sea creatures. The basic “seat-of-the-[wetsuit]-pants” generalization is that there are two forms of nudibranchs (or “suborders” in more scientific jargon)—the dorids, which are the sluggy-looking sea slugs, flattened from top to bottom, and the aeolids, the more showy species with all the frilly protrusions down their backs. (There are, in actuality, a few other suborders that aren’t so […]

High Adventure at the High Spot ? Chance Encounter with a Great White Shark

My wife doesn’t want me to dive anymore just because I had the good(?) fortune of bumping into a creature with the capacity to devour me. I then made the mistake of telling her the story. I should learn to keep my mouth shut. I had been invited by my dive buddies Rick and Rich to accompany them on Rick’s boat to Catalina for a Labor Day dive. We left Huntington Harbor early September 4th and made a fast run to the Isthmus. They wanted […]

Cul-de-Sac Snails

Snails, as a rule, grow up in a rather predictable pattern. As soon as they form their shells, they spend the rest of their development growing bigger and expanding these shells—but these shells just go round and round in circles. There are a few notable exceptions, such as cowries and tube snails, but in general, even these retain some sort of souvenir of their spiral stage. There is one family of snails, however, that follow an entirely different course of life. When still quite young, […]

Sex on the Beach – Experiencing a Grunion Run, First Hand

To the uninitiated, a grunion run can be considered the marine equivalent of a snipe hunt. Send some sucker out to a deserted beach in the middle of the night and tell him to wait for high tide when thousands of fish will magically appear on the beach. Yeah, right! Except that, in the case of the grunion, it’s true! Every year from March through August, the California grunion (Leuresthes tenuis) completes what has to be one of nature’s most remarkable life cycles. By the […]

One of the Cutest Fishes Found All Around the World

Almost everybody would call snipefishes cute. Perhaps a major reason for this is that the approximately one dozen species of this family Macrorhamphosidae all have big noses. Technically called “snouts,” these protruberances can be as much as a third of the fishes’ entire body lengths and are usually tube shaped. And way at the far end of these snouts are the small toothless jaws. Snipefishes are also so cute in the way they move. They are not powerful swimmers and often just end up sort […]

Those Remarkable Bladder Chain Kelps

All California divers know and greatly admire giant bladder kelp (Macrocystis pyrifera). There is nothing like being 30 feet beneath the surface of the water and looking up in awe at the rays of light filtering down from above, glistening through the golden leaf-like blades of the giant kelp in a kelp forest. Yet the kelp forest is home to other delightful species of kelp as well. Some of the prettiest are the remarkable bladder chain kelps, (Cystoseira spp.) The generic name for these plants […]

California’s Phabulous Phoronids

Phoronids are a group of exclusively marine animals that most people have never heard of, let alone seen. They are classified, logically, in the Phylum Phoronida. All are long and skinny, small (usually less than a foot long), and live in tubes of their own making. They superficially resemble annelid worms, particularly feather duster worms, but they don’t have the true tentacles or the segmented of worms. Rather, their mouths are surrounded by a structure called a “lophophore.” Thus they are allied with brachiopods (which […]

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