Marine Life Identification


Fish have basically two personality types—those that flit around the reef in a nervous, almost psychotic fashion; and those who are calm, relaxed, and confident. In California waters one of the most relaxed and approachable fish you will encounter is the lingcod. Biologists place lingcod into the Class Actinopterygii, the ray-finned fishes. These are called ray-finned because their fins are webs of skin supported by bony spines (“rays”), as opposed to the fleshy, lobed fins that characterize the class Sarcopterygii. They are further classified into […]

Gentle Encounters with Octopus

The octopus is the most intelligent of all the invertebrates. It is said that the octopus has the intelligence of a house cat—but I wouldn’t want to insult the octopus. Octopus are fascinating creatures with which to interact underwater. Although close, intimate observation is an experience not to be missed, these are delicate creatures that can be easily damaged even to the point of death. Although shy, they are quite curious, almost bold if they do not feel threatened. Octopus normally move about at night […]

Arrow Gobies – Little Fishes That Dart All Around

One of the harshest environments anywhere is the intertidal zone. Practically nowhere else on earth is so regularly exposed to such a variety of extreme conditions within such a short period of time. Just think of how it must be for tiny animals to be comfortably basking in cool, clean sea water, then just a few hours later, be stuck practically high and dry in a small tidepool. If it is a bright, sunny day, the water will begin to evaporate, raising both the temperature […]

Tiger Shark: A Shark Worthy of Its Reputation

If there is one thing about the ocean that everybody knows, it is that there are sharks out there—lots of sharks. A person need not even have had put a big toe into the sea to know this. In many ways, this is true. Within the cartilaginous fish orders Lamniformes and Squaliformes, there are over a dozen families and altogether about 350 species. And some of these species can be abundant. But so often the thought which accompanies the feeling “that there are lots of […]

Searching for the Scythe

One of the things that I love doing is looking for unusual creatures in our local waters. And perhaps none is more elusive than the scythe butterfly. When anyone first starts diving, the sights can be visually overwhelming. There are simply SO many fish it’s difficult, at first, to see who’s who. But as you dive more (and take a fish ID class and get a couple of fish books) you start to get on a first-name basis with our fish buddies. Eventually, what happens […]

Interacting with Sharks, Part 1

For most divers, no other marine animal elicits more excitement than an encounter with a shark. Furthermore, this excitement is such that many divers spend a great deal of time, effort and money to intentionally seek out such encounters. Sharks are beautiful creatures and well worth the meeting. A few tips will help you maximize your interaction, be it a chance encounter or intentional. Interactions vary considerably with each particular species. In this article I will address species that you’re likely to encounter in California, […]

Interacting with Sharks, Part 2

In part two we’ll look at how to properly interact with nearshore sharks— sharks divers are more likely to encounter during a casual kelp forest dive. LEOPARD SHARKS Leopard sharks are the most exciting of the nearshore sharks. While a bottom feeder, they have classic shark shape with a wonderful pattern of spots across their back. Furthermore, they can get to be quite large, up to six feet in length. Unknowing swimmers that encounter these beautiful large fish in shallow water can be frightened by […]

A Splattering of Barnacles

One of the interesting trivialities that has infiltrated the English language is the wide assortment of words that refer to multiple groupings of animals and other things. Some of these—schools of fishes, flocks of birds, pods of whales, prides of lions—are well known, and we tend to take them for granted. Others, however—smack of jellyfishes, squadron of pelicans and rumpus of apes—are rather obscure and almost seem unnecessary. Sometimes, although not always, there is a logical history behind these terms. For instance, since the lion […]

Dancing with Sheep Crabs

One of our more comical California underwater creatures is the Sheep Crab. It is closely related to the spider crabs you see in the marketplace or in restaurants but its shell is so thick that the sheep crab is not commercially desirable. Sheep crabs are frequently seen by divers and often very large specimens are observed—as much as 30 inches across! While they are big and powerful, they are very slow. They do not hide well and do not scurry off quickly. As a result, […]

California’s Purples

Along the coast of California, there is a group of snails, members of the Subfamily Thaidinae, with a variety of names. Sometimes they are called “rock snails.” Others refer to them as “dogwinkles.” But some shell guide books will call them “purples.” If one opts for the latter term, then there is the Channeled Purple (Nucella canaliculate), which has a shell that is a yellowish-brown color, the Frilled Purple (N. lamellosa) that comes in white, yellow or orange, the white or gray File Purple (N. […]

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