Marine Life

The Secret Lives of SoCal Rockfishes

With more than 100 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.” So is it any wonder many of them are a challenge to identify? I sought out Dr. Love’s expertise and […]

Marine Life: Bad-Ass ‘Branchs: The Mighty Aeolids

In researching last month’s article on dorids, I finally got around to sorting my more than 370 photos of nudibranchs according to their classifications. I also looked for images for that article (on Doridacea) and this one (on Aeolidacea). The majority of nudibranchs are dorids and when the sorting was complete, that was overwhelmingly evident. I had loads of dorid images and they were of several different species. My many images of aeolids, however, were of just four species.  Aeolidacea are named for the Greek […]

Those Darling Dorids: SoCal Nudies Exposed

Many underwater photographers love nudibranchs and I am not the only one with numerous images of these colorful creatures. We Southern California divers are lucky; of the more than 170 species found off the Pacific Coast, a large number live in our part of the ocean.  Most nudibranchs range in size from less than an inch to several inches long and can have unusual shapes. While a few have colors that serve as camouflage, most are flamboyant eye-catchers. They can afford to be highly visible […]

Naming Names: A Diver’s Guide to Taxonomy

As kids most of us learned the common names of many of the plants and animals we encountered in our everyday lives. We learned the common names of various trees, flowers and butterflies as well as names of iconic species such as the bald eagle and killer whale. For many years and most applications our use of common names seemed perfectly sufficient when it came to communicating with our peers. Aside from cartoon aficionados that sometimes referred to the speedy and often mischievous Road Runner […]

She Seas Sea Stars: Sea Stars Exposed

Lying on or crawling ever so slowly across the bottom, the sea star looks deceptively simple and slightly out of place — like it might have fallen from a child’s crude drawing of the night sky and landed on the sea floor. But don’t let the sea star’s appearance fool you. It’s a complex, fascinating creature, indeed.  For example, the sea star doesn’t have to ingest its food; it covers it with its oral disc (body) and then extrudes its stomach (which resembles a tiny, […]

Spiny Skinned and Symmetrical: California’ s Sea Urchins

My introduction to sea urchins — on my first scuba dive — was a learning experience. I learned how easily their sharp, brittle spines pierce human skin. Most importantly, I learned to avoid contact with sea urchins, which is easy because the animals are sedentary, slow moving and not aggressive. Sea urchins are classified as Echinodermata, which means “spiny skinned”. The 6,000-member phylum also includes sea stars, brittle stars, sea lilies and sea cucumbers.  Five is a magic number when it comes to echinoid body […]

Exploring a Not-So-Barren Landscape: The Sand Biome

Some divers swim over patches of sand in California as if they are trying to escape from something. The faster they go, the better. I understand the magnetic appeal of the adjacent kelp forest and rocky reef communities, but experience has taught me to appreciate, rather than avoid, the sand biome. At first glance, some sandy areas appear to be vast wastelands of nothing but sand. But I invite you to look again. I have learned that if I slow down and take a good, […]

The Scuba Chef: The Magical Flavor of Fresh Sea Urchin

When I was 13 my father took me camping at Rosarito Beach on the Pacific side of Mexico’s Baja peninsula. We set up our tent right on the beach. The next day a local fisherman took us on his small wooden boat to a shallow reef just a half-mile off the coast. It is a day I’ll never forget — it was the day I discovered the magical flavor of sea urchin fresh from the ocean. The bright orange roe was firm and possessed a […]

Aggregating Anemones: Gangsters of the Sea?

Imagine what Hollywood would do with a film about anemones. Take aggregating anemones for example. They are relatively small, but these carnivores are well armed and can be surprisingly aggressive toward their neighbors, so you might imagine they’d be cast in a gangster movie — with lots of special effects like fiery explosions and crash scenes. Their tentacles can fire venomous miniature harpoons that repel potential predators including anemones unlike themselves. Mother Nature is perfect for the “good cop” role of peace negotiator. In real […]

Giant Sea Bass: Are They Really Back From the Brink?

My first giant sea bass encounter occurred off San Nicolas Island in the 1970s. I sensed something overhead and looked up. A gigantic Goodyear blimp hovered over me.  A cartoon I‘d seen recently popped into my head. Two large fish were face to face. A scuba diver’s legs and fin-clad feet protruded from the puckered mouth of one wearing a sour expression. The other fish was saying, “I told you to peel them first.” I was a new diver and didn’t know if giant sea […]

California Diving News © 2016