Marine Life Identification

San Clemente’s Mystery Critter

When you’ve been diving as long as I have (31 years) you may think you’ve seen it all. Then something happens that proves you’ve just begun to unravel the sea’s mysteries. On an August trip to San Clemente Island, that happened to me. Indeed, it happened to an entire boatload of divers. It was a beautiful, sunny weekend with flat calm, wonderfully warm (67 degrees) water and visibility of about 40 feet. I’d been in the Encore’s galley, when I came out on deck Guillaume […]

Squid Invasion!

There’s an invasion brewing. They are lurking offshore, waiting for the right time to come closer. And when the time is right, they strike with a vengeance. If you’re an FBI agent reading this, calm down. I’m not talking about “scuba terrorists.” This invasion happens every year at this time. It’s the annual mating ritual of the common (or market) squid. Each year from mid-December through March, squid migrate into shallower waters at night to reproduce. This also marks the end of their life cycle. […]

Water Bears

Imagine creatures which can survive years of freezing, days of ultra-high temperatures, living in a vacuum or extremely high pressure, and even exposure to radiation thousands of times the amount that which would instantly kill a human. Why, these would seem to be abilities only conceivable in some science fiction extraterrestrial. But all around the world, from the bottom of the sea to the highest mountains, from the Poles to the Equator— and even reportedly experimentally in outer space— hundreds of types of such extreme […]

Salt Sac – A Seashore Succulent

The Salt Sac is a remarkable example of an intertidal succulent. “Succulent?” you might wonder. “Aren’t succulents desert plants, like cactus, that live in the hot, dry desert?” Well, yes. But actually a succulent can be any plant that has thick flesh to enable it to resist desiccation. And in that sense, the Salt Sac (Halosaccion glandiforme) is an outstanding succulent. As both its common and its generic name imply (“halo” meaning “salt” and “saccion” “a sac” “bag” or “strainer”) this seaweed is basically a […]

Fish Eating Anemones

One of the most conspicuous inhabitants of California’s middle and deep reefs is the fish-eating anemone. This striking anemone has a bright red column with long white (although sometimes red) tentacles, and a yellow to off-white, to golden oral disk with red striations. These colorful invertebrates are very photogenic and can be easily identified. They are found from Alaska to San Diego, on rocky outcroppings or walls from the low intertidal down to about 160 feet. Fish-eating anemones are rather large and can be over […]

Diver’s Guide to Abalone Biology – With Hints for Better Hunting

Each April abalone season reopens and divers flock to the sea to satisfy their craving for this tasty treat. Abalones are complex creatures, and this complexity has spawned a set of complex regulations. What follows is a short description of abalone biology with emphasis on what divers need to know to better understand their quarry, be better hunters, and to better understand the rules they must follow. Abalones are mollusks—non-segmented invertebrates with a mantle, gills, a rasping tongue, and a muscular foot. Abalones are further […]

Stay Away Sponges Getting Attention

Sponges, although so often unattractive and unassuming to look at, have a rich and glorious history. In ancient times, it was discovered that the flexible remains of certain sponges were both tough and absorbent. These sponges proved to be quite practical in cleaning and scrubbing of people, of objects, and for use in certain types of art. While some of these wonder-sponges potentially could have been washed ashore after storm activity, demand for the product prompted active collecting under the sea. Early predecessors of today’s […]

How to get better Shark images

Sharks have an image problem. On one hand those who do not know them very well think of them as indiscriminate, savage killers; while those who have spent time with them in the water think of them quite differently. Silent, curious, graceful, sleek…. The words used are descriptive of their beauty not our fear of them. Fact is sharks are one of the most fascinating, beautiful subjects a photographer will ever encounter. They are, however, not the easiest animals to photograph. Believe it or not, […]

Spanish Shawl, Living Jewel of the Rocky Reef

One of the most exciting underwater encounters for a Pacific coast scuba diver is to see the brilliantly colored and bizarrely shaped Spanish shawl sea slug. The Spanish shawl is an aeolid nudibranch. These nudibranchs were named after Aeolis, the Greek god of the wind. With its purple, elongated body topped with rows of spiky, orange cerata and two bright red, antennae-like, rhinophores, the spectacular Spanish Shawl could easily have been conceived upon Mt. Olympus. Its scientific name is Flabellina iodinea. The Spanish shawl was […]

California’s Best “Big Animal” Dives

There has been a lot of emphasis lately with scuba marketeers for experiences with “big animals.” This generally refers to swimming with whale sharks, gliding with giant manta rays, or thrilling to an underwater encounter with a whale. These are experiences not to be missed, for sure but, unfortunately, California never seems to rank high on the list of destinations for these kinds of encounters. California does, however, most definitely have its fair shark of “Big Animal” encounters for an underwater thrill experience never to […]

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