Marine Life Identification

Fear and Fascination: Encountering the Great White Shark

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

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 […]

Simple, But Complicated: All About Aggregating 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

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 […]

Diving With Blue Sharks

Blue sharks (Prionace glauca) are among the easiest sharks to identify. With their thin, sleek bodies — metallic blue on the tops and sides, snow white underneath — they are nearly unmistakable. In addition, blues have long pointed snouts, large round eyes and scythe-like tails. Their pectoral fins are exceptionally long. Blues are members of the largest shark family, Carcharhinidae, which has 60 species and 12 genera. Carcharhinidae are also known as requiem sharks. Exactly why, no one seems to know. All have the following […]

Knowing and Catching California Spiny Lobster

Lobster season opens Saturday, October 3, and many California divers are eagerly awaiting it. This article provides information on the life cycle of these savory crustaceans as well as tips and techniques that will help you catch them. First, let’s take a closer look at Panulirus interruptus, aka the California spiny lobster. The most obvious difference between it and the East Coast’s American lobster is that the American lobster has big claws and the spiny lobster has none. While some sea creatures are involved parents […]

Harboring a Soft Spot for The Harbor Seal

Some marine creatures are easier to love than others. Two of my favorites are the little white sea urchins that decorate themselves with shells and pebbles and the proliferating (also called brooding) anemones whose babies live on their bodies until they are old enough to crawl away and fend for themselves. That anemones could have parenting skills is amazing. I also have a soft spot for harbor seals. Their teardrop shaped bodies are adorably plump and those big round eyes make them seem shy and […]

Top Ten Tips to See More Fish

California reefs are full of fascinating critters adorned in living color. Our fish are among the most colorful and interesting and as conspicuous as they may be, many divers see only a fraction of the fish in residence. Here are a few tips to see more fish 10) Stay off the bottom. Divers who swim on or right off the bottom kick up a little silt and break many of the reef creatures they came to see. This ruckus also scares every reef creature with […]

The Horn Sharks, Heterodontus: A “Different” Kind

Back in my early days of diving, a couple of men I knew sported necklaces featuring a single horn shark spine. Luckily, the days of West Coast divers killing harmless sharks for jewelry didn’t last long.  Horn sharks (Heterodontus francisci) are members of the order Heterodontiformes (bullhead sharks) and the family Heterodontidae. The genus name, Heterodontus, comes from two Greek words meaning “different teeth” and the species name, francisci, is derived from San Francisco, though these sharks rarely venture that far north.  Heterodontidae is a […]

Cnidarians Known as Hydroids: Animals Looking Like Plants

Once again we dive into Cnidaria, a large phylum that contains approximately 10,000 species. Phylum members include many animals that attract attention because of their bright colors: sea anemones, corals, sea pens, gorgonians and jellyfish. These creatures can afford to flaunt their beauty because most of them have defensive polyps loaded with nematocysts (also called cnidocytes) that can fire venomous miniature harpoons. Lucky for us, most of these weapons are too tiny to penetrate our skin. Cnidarians currently belong to one of four classes: Anthozoa […]

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