Marine Life

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 […]

Recipe: Seared Halibut

Halibut is a favorite of many seafood lovers because of its mild flavor. The meat has a firm, large flake. I suggest pan searing halibut rather than grilling it. If you decide to grill it, remove filets from the grill when still slightly undercooked and cover with foil for several minutes before serving; the retained heat will allow the fish to finish cooking while keeping it moist and tender. One of my favorite go-to sauces is a fresh sage chiffonade with brown butter and toasted […]

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 […]

Pretty But Poorly Understood Polyps: Sea Anemones

Among the approximately 10,000 species that belong to the phylum Cnidaria (the ‚ “C” is silent), there are at least 100 that are dangerous to humans. The phylum name means “nettle” in Greek and its members include sea anemones, corals, sea pens, gorgonians, jellyfishes and hydroids. Most of them are carnivores and most have nematocysts, which are used for defense and catching food. Fortunately, sea anemones are not dangerous to humans; their tiny harpoons (nematocysts) cannot penetrate deep enough into our skin to deliver toxin […]

A Worm By Any Other Name — Taking a Look at SoCal Tube Worms

“Worm” has numerous meanings, including: a weak or despicable person; a self-replicating, detrimental computer program; or, the coiled pipe of a still in which vapor is cooled and condensed. In this article, however, worm means a creeping or burrowing sedentary invertebrate animal with a long, slender, soft body and no true limbs. That description is unlikely to inspire you to look for marine worms, which would be a shame, because all are interesting and some are beautiful.  The worms of which I speak are the […]

A Squid Snowstorm

“If they only knew.” That was the thought that ran through my mind as I surfaced at 12:40 a.m. on New Year’s morning on a dive that had began in the final hour of the previous year. It was an extremely clear night, and from my vantage point as we hit the surface I could see the bright lights of the ritzy coastal community of La Jolla. I feel certain that the terrestrial party animals thought they were having a wild time ringing in the […]

Gorgonian Corals: Admiring California’s Sea Fans

Gorgonian corals, known as sea fans and also called horny corals, belong to the Phylum Cnidaria (the “C” is silent), which means “nettle” in Greek and includes hydroids, anemones, jellyfish and corals. All cnidarians are carnivores and their tentacles contain tiny harpoons (nematocysts) that can be fired to repel predators and catch food.  There are two cnidarian forms, polyps and medusae. Polyps are attached to a surface on one end by the pedal disk, while the oral disk at the other end is unattached and […]

Blend In or Brawl? Crabs as Misunderstood Crustaceans

Some of the sea creatures I’ve described for California Diving News are more than a little aggressive. Many crabs, however, prefer hiding to fighting even when equipped with those seemingly formidable defensive tools called claws. Like 75 percent of all animals, crabs belong to the phylum Arthropoda, which means jointed leg and includes not only aquatic creatures, but also many terrestrial ones, such as spiders, scorpions, centipedes and millipedes. The subphylum Crustacea includes crabs, lobsters, shrimps, barnacles, amphipods and isopods. Some isopods and a few […]

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