Marine Life Identification

Bunny Love: The California Brown Sea Hare

Although the California brown sea hare bears a faint resemblance to a rabbit, it is actually a very large sea slug. A member of the phylum mollusca and class gastropoda, it is a cousin of both nudibranchs and octopuses. Like nudibranchs, brown sea hares are hermaphrodites. Like octopuses, they can produce ink.  The brown sea hare has a reticulated color pattern that resembles that of the two-spot octopus, also found in SoCal waters. And despite the name, these animals aren’t always brown; sometimes they are […]

The Sequential Life of the California Sheephead

Many marine animals are hermaphrodites. Nudibranchs, for instance. It is thought that being able to mate with any same species creature encountered on the reef gives hermaphrodites a better chance of reproducing.  Many fish, gastropods and plants are sequential hermaphrodites. Instead of having both sexes mature in their bodies at the same time, they start life as one sex and become another later. Protandrous creatures change from male to female. Protogynous creatures change from female to male. According to Wikipedia: “About 75 percent of all […]

Tunicates: The Surprisingly Complex Sea Squirts

Of all the marine animals in the world, tunicates are vetebrates’ closest relatives and that includes the class Mammalia (us). Both tunicates and mammals are members of the phylum Chordata. Both have a notochord (a cartilaginous skeletal rod) when they are embryos. The notochord is lost as most tunicates grow older but it segments and turns into a backbone in mammals and other vertebrates. Tunicates further belong to the subphylum Tunicata and the class Ascidiacea. The latter includes 2,500 to 3,000 species, about 90 of […]

A Committed Commuter: The California Gray Whale

It is early fall in the northern hemisphere as I write this. By now a significant number of California gray whales (Eschrichtius robustus) have reached the coastal waters of the Pacific Northwest on their southward journey from their feeding grounds in the Bering and Chukchi Seas to a series of coastal lagoons off the west coast of Mexico’s Baja peninsula — about a 5,000-mile commute, each way‚– where they will mate, calve and spend the winter.  By late fall and early winter many of these […]

California’s Undersea Flower Animals: The Stony Corals

It’s a fact stranger than fiction: there are underwater creatures commonly found in the Pacific Ocean off the California coast that are biologically classified as “flower animals.” The class is Anthozoa, formed from two Greek words, anthos, meaning “flower” and zoa, meaning “animals,” and it contains the stony corals. Anthozoa is a class within the photogenic phylum Cnidaria (the “C” is silent), which means “nettle” in Greek. Besides corals, phylum members include sea anemones, sea pens, gorgonians, jellyfishes and hydroids. Cnidarians have two forms, polyps […]

Bryozoans: Mother Nature’s Look-Alikes

Ever look at a horse and wonder if it was a pig or a cat? Me neither. I have however, looked at dozens of my photos and wondered if they were actually bryozoans and not the hydroids, corals or seaweeds they resembled.  Mother Nature turned trickster when she created bryozoans. She gave them many different forms and colors. On land, an animal that looks like a horse is very probably a horse. Underwater, an animal that looks like a hydroid, coral or seaweed may just […]

A California Icon — The Garibaldi

One of the first things I learned when I moved to California in 1975 was that the garibaldi (Hypsypops rubicundus) was California’s official state fish. It was something I heard over and over again. The problem was that although widely believed, this information was not true. And to some degree there has been and still is some confusion about the status of this iconic fish.  Today, the garibaldi is indeed officially recognized as California’s state marine fish. The golden trout (Salmo aguabonita, also written as […]

Soft Bodies, Striking Beauty: Uncommon Opisthobranchs

Some of the prettiest creatures in the sea belong to the phylum Mollusca, most specifically the subclass Opisthobranchia, which includes sea slugs, sea butterflies, sea angels and sea hares, along with sacoglossans. Though they may have shells when they are embryos, most have lost them by the time they are adults. Never heard of sea butterflies or sea angels or know what sacoglossans are? Me, either! So pardon a short digression. While you may be envisioning ethereal creatures, sea angels and sea butterflies don’t look […]

Very Large, Indeed: In Praise of Giant Kelp

Taxonomists got it right when they assigned giant kelp its Latin name, Macrocystis pyrifera. It is indeed very large in scale, scope and capability. We are lucky, you and I, that giant kelp — the largest kelp in the world — grows off our coast. With sunlight sparkling down through the canopy, swimming through a kelp forest can be summed up as an awesome, magical underwater experience. Giant kelp is a type of brown algae (yes, algae) that can grow up to 24 inches a […]

Rocks, Rainbows, Scorpions: A Playful Look at the Scorpaenidae Family

Paper covers rock. Scissors cut paper. Rock dulls scissors. You know the game, right? In the California fish version, called “Rocks, Rainbows, Scorpions” the rainbow scorpionfish beats its California scorpionfish cousin, but the rockfish beats ’em both with its “magnificence.” Read on to learn why — and to decide if you agree with the rules of this made-up game. The Scorpaenidae family is represented by no less than 56 genera and 421 species, 85 of which can be found off the Pacific Coast. The latter […]

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