First, they wait, buried up to their eyes… As soon as their prey is within reach…AMBUSHl! TEETH! GOT EM. And guess what? Halibut can chase their food as well, even leaping out of the water to do so.. if it’s their favorite (anchovies)… Who doesn’t love anchovies?!
Paralichthys californicus, the California Halibut, is a large flatfish found in nearshore waters, though they can be found as deep as 600ft. Full grown halibut can get up to 5ft and 72lbs. You may see more of them in shallow waters from February to September because this is when the adults migrate from the continental shelf to spawn. Juveniles spend their days in shallow-water bays and estuaries, making them especially vulnerable to habitat destruction by human activities such as dredging and pollution. Let’s be careful, friends!
Halibut, despite what you may think, are laterally flattened fish, as opposed to dorso-ventrally flattened. One side of their body always faces up, and the other always faces down, with the halibut always swimming on its same side. With both eyes on the top facing side of their body, halibut rely heavily on a visual ambush as a method for feeding. They may be hard to spot due to their ability to change their skin pattern and camouflage with sandy and rocky bottom terrain, but this helps them to ambush their prey by catching them off guard.
These fish are most abundant from central California to Baja california, and tip the charts as far as “yum” factor. In fact, California halibut is one of the most important commercially-fished species among all state-managed fisheries. To learn more about halibut, like how its eyes migrate to one side of its face, look out for part two!
Here on Catalina Island there is never a dull moment when the ravens are around. One may see them as a pestering omen of darkness due to their long mythical history. However, once recognizing how incredibly intelligent the large black mystical creature really is, one may nevermore see them that way again. (Quoth the Raven)
“The Raven” by the famous American poet Edgar Allen Poe was published in 1845 and is notoriously known for its uncanny atmosphere and the talking raven.
Ravens are considered to be one of the most high intelligent birds on the planet. They are capable of utilizing tools such as rocks to crack open shells, drop rocks on nest invaders, learn to talk when in captivity better than some parrots, and have the ability to recognize human faces and other birds up to three or more years after the first encounter!Due to their highly functioning brain the ravens alway seem to be up to something mischievous whether it be playing “keep away” from other animals, rolling down snowy roof tops, trying dangerous flying maneuvers to impress a future mate or just taunting other animals for fun.
Adult ravens pair up with life long mates and as adults, are typically less likely to flock with other ravens. As adolescent, ravens that live together in a group referred to as an “unkindness” in order to help support each other in finding protection and food. Adolescent ravens can be the professionals at mischief by working together to trick other animals and steal their food. This may be the reason why a flock of ravens got the name “Unkindness”!
Where can I find one of these tricksters you ask, well, ravens are everywhere! They can be found just about anywhere in the Northern Hemisphere making them one of the largest widespread naturally occurring birds in the world. Ravens have very few natural predators so no matter the weather or the surrounding habitat ravens can live it up anywhere from snowy mountains, thick forests, hot deserts, to beaches of Catalina Island!
Next time you see a raven make sure to make a friendly gesture and you’ll have a life long feathered friend!
Happy Halloween! CIMI staff love to wear costumes, but not just on Halloween! We wear them every time we teach squid dissection. You can often see us dressing up like fairies, senior citizens, mad scientists, pirates, and even ghostly skeletons, which brings me to my next point. Did you know crustaceans, like crabs and lobsters, participate in Halloween every day? They wear skeletons on their outsides all the time! Unlike a costume or an internal human skeleton, called an endoskeleton, crustaceans have external skeletons, called exoskeletons. Exoskeletons are made up of chitin, a compound rich with calcium. This is similar to keratin, which comprises your nails and hair. Exoskeletons are tough, like armor, and relatively inelastic, so much like buying a new costume when you outgrow your old one, crustaceans must shed, or molt, their exoskeletons as they grow in a process scientists call ecdysis.
Ecdysis can be a pretty scary process to undergo. It is comparable to taking off your wetsuit without being able to use your hands! When an organism begins ecdysis, it enlarges the skin cells beneath its old exoskeleton and begins secreting calcium to form its new one. It then pumps in seawater to force the old exoskeleton away from its tissues, splitting it in half at the base of the carapace, or the upper body, and the tail, so it can escape. Now here comes the really scary part… In addition to shedding their outer covering, crustaceans must also shed their eye surfaces, throat and gut linings! Crustaceans have grinding teeth in their stomachs, called their gastric mill, that they use to break down their food. Since these grinding teeth are composed of chitin, the crustacean must shed them to grow a larger gastric mill for a larger stomach. It is possible during this tricky molting process to accidentally tear of an eye or a limb, or get stuck all together! How terrifying! Fortunately, crustaceans have the ability to regenerate, or regrow, their lost appendages just for this occasion. If a crustacean loses an eye, however, they must regenerate it quickly because the hormone that prevents them from molting continuously is distributed from a gland in their eye stalk. Without an eye, and without this hormone, crustaceans are unable to cease ecdysis and perform other normal body functions. Hurry, grow it back!
Escape from an old exoskeleton can take anywhere from several minutes to a half an hour, depending on the species, size, and environmental conditions. While escaping, clawed crustaceans must dehydrate and shrink their tissues enough to pull their whole claw through a hole the size of their wrist! Once all the way out, the crustacean swells with seawater, becoming up to 15% larger in size and 40-50% heavier in weight, only to release that seawater once it is done calcifying, or hardening, its new exoskeleton. This ensures that the newly molted crustacean has formed a larger exoskeleton and provided ample growing room for the future. Often, in order to speed up calcification, the crustacean eats its old exoskeleton to reabsorb some of the calcium it put into making its old armor. This may seem ghastly, but this way, the crustacean guarantees that it has enough calcium to generate its new exoskeleton.
While the crustacean hardens its armor in the next few hours after molting, it is too soft to defend itself against predators or other larger crustaceans. Newly molted lobsters are so rubbery and squishy that they are fondly referred to by fishermen as ‘jellies.’ To prevent a fight they cannot win, crustaceans tend to molt and calcify in the safety of their burrows, whether that be a hole in the sand or a deep crevice in the rocks.
With how spooky a process ecdysis can be, it is a good thing that crustaceans molt less with age as their growth slows. This is especially true for adult females, who naturally molt less because they cannot undergo ecdysis while they are laden with eggs. While an adult male lobster will molt once a year, an adult female lobster carrying eggs will molt once every two years. Regardless of sex, crustaceans grow slower, and therefore molt less, in colder waters. It is then safe to assume that crustaceans are always hoping for a colder Halloween!
Have you ever been watching the clouds move across sky and wondered what you were actually looking at? Do all the names of these clouds seem to sound the same? You are not alone, however, today we are going to alleviate this confusion. Clouds are normally identified by their elevation in the sky and their physical appearance. There are 10 major distinctions of clouds that will cover most patterns you see in the sky. Below are photos and descriptions associated with each cloud type:
Low Elevation Clouds
Below 6,000 feet
Stratocumulus are low lying, white, stretched, puffy clouds that may appear dark in places. These clouds are similar to your average cumulus cloud; however, they are much larger and can appear darker.
Below 6,500 feet
When you see nimbostratus clouds you are almost surely being rained on or will be rained on. These dark, thick clouds lay at mid to low levels because they are weighed down with water concentration.
Below 6,000 feet
Like fog, stratus clouds lay very low in the sky and have very little structure. Stratus clouds are great movie days associated with mist, spit, or a light drizzle. Although stratus clouds look like fog, they are higher in the atmosphere, normally lining the horizon.
Cumulus (fair weather)
Below 6,000 feet
If you picture yourself having a picnick on a beautiful day. Now look up. If you are seeing clouds on this beautiful day, you are probably envisioning cumulus clouds.The classic white, puffy cloud with a rounded top and a flat bottom.
Mid Elevation Clouds
Between 6,000-20,000 feet
Altostratus clouds are reserved for those hazy days when the dark blue-grey clouds seem to engulf the sky. Sometimes the sun or moon will shine through and appear fuzzy.
Between 6,000- 20,000 feet
Altocumulus are the classic cotton ball clouds. These puffy, white clouds are the most common mid-level clouds and sometimes signal that a storm is on the way.
High Elevation Clouds
Above 18,000 feet
Cirrostratus clouds are spread across the entire sky and almost seem transparent. This wispy cloud formation signals that there is warm weather ahead.
Above 18,000 feet
Cirrus clouds are extremely common year-round on clear days. At their high altitude, ice crystals are spread apart as if they are painted across the sky. Less widely spread as cirrostratus clouds and more
Above 18,000 feet
Cirrocumulus clouds are similar to cirrus clouds in height, however, they appear more splotched than stretched. To elaborate, cirrocumulus clouds are groupings of packed ice crystals (cloudlets) that are more uniform than their sister cirrus clouds.
Both Low and High Elevation
Near ground level to above 50,000 feet
Cumulonimbus are the clouds most closely compared to what you would imagine a thunderhead would look like. These giant billowy towers are composed of water droplets in its’ base and ice crystals towards the upper levels. Cumulonimbus clouds almost always signal that there is a thunderstorm happening.
It is reaching the end of your orientation snorkel on day one of your field trip to CIMI and your instructor dives down one last time before exiting the rocky reef structure of Pinnacle rock. As you watch his luscious blonde locks flowing underwater, you realize that he isn’t attempting a subsurface dance move, he is frantically signaling toward a giant, terrifying, green head looming from the darkness of a crevasse. The organism has incredibly sharp teeth and seems to have a problem keeping its mouth shut. Although you may think you are looking at a scene from Alien vs. Predator, you are actually looking at a California Moray Eel (Gymnothorax mordax).
The California moray eel is relatively common in our Channel Island’s shallow rocky reef habitats; however, they range from as north as Point Conception and as south as Baja California. They tend to conceal their entire bodies between rocks while peaking their heads out to stay aware of potential predators and prey. How aware are they? Well, like most eels, these morays have awful eyesight that does not significantly contribute to their hunting capabilities. CA moray eels are nocturnal ambush predators and rely on acute chemosensory organs (nares) to detect their prey. Common snacks include crabs and crustaceans, small fish and surprisingly, octopuses.
Although CA moray eels look like an alien creature, they are much more familiar than the appear. They are part of the taxidermic classification Osteichthyes or “bony fish” along with other beloved bony fish like the garibaldi. The reason these eels look so foreign is because they lack scales, a gill cover and both pelvic and pectoral fins. CA Morays are different from their relatives through an adaptation that allows a second set of jaws (pharyngeal jaw) to extrude from the back of their throat and pull their meal further into their mouths after the initial bite. The thought of this is so terrifying that it inspired Ridley Scott to model an extraterrestrial being after it in his movie Alien. Our worldly aliens can grow up to five feet in length at around 30 years of age.
The moral of the disgustingly horrifying California moray eel is that they are truly misunderstood. These organisms are extremely unique and are so ugly they’re cute, so next time you see this green slimy friend stashed in a crevasse blow them a kiss or better yet, sing them a song!
The California Moray Eel Fact Sheet
The California moray eel – Gymnothorax mordax
Our moray eels live in shallow rocky reef habitats from Point Conception down to southern Baja California.
Although California moray eels may not look like fish with their lack of scales, apparent fins and an operculum, moray eels are part of the Osteichthyes (bony fish) taxonomic group.
The moray is thought to have a life span of up to 30 years and possibly longer.
Moray eels have adapted a second set of jaws that extrudes from the back of their throat to pull their meal further into their mouths after the initial bite.
Being an ambush predator can be difficult when nearly blind, however, these eels have an excellent sense of smell that allows them to pin point prey.
In the early 1930’s feral pigs were intentionally introduced to Santa Catalina Island. They became extremely abundant and were hunted by sportsman for over fifty years! They were also introduced to help control the island’s rattlesnake populations. After the population of these feral pigs began to skyrocket seemingly out of control, a pig control and eradication program began in the 1990’s. From 1990 till July of 2003, over 12,000 feral pigs were removed to help protect the island’s native species.
(Feral Pig – Sus scrofa )
The feral pigs were uprooting many of Catalina Islands’ fragile plant species. The rooting caused serious soil erosion, especially on hillsides. Not only were Catalina Island’s plant species in danger from the feral pigs, but some of the native species of animals were also at risk. Populations of golden eagles from the mainland were attracted by feral pig carcasses, and then decided to turn their sights to the islands’ endemic Catalina Island fox population. Although the feral pigs were declared eradicated from the island within the last decade, there is said to be one feral pig that remains…The Ninja Pig.
Many people have heard stories about the Ninja Pig and some believe that this pig is still on the island. They say that the pig has survived the eradication efforts and continues to live on the island. The Ninja Pig is known to be shaggy and large, with tusks. Evidence that there could still possibly be a pig on the island is the proof that people have found pig scat. Some people even claim to have seen the Ninja Pig themselves. There is only one question that remains…do you believe in the Ninja Pig?
The beach is such an AMAZING place where you can discover so many interesting things! From living organisms to unfortunately trash, I’m going to be talking about some of the most attention-grabbing things we find on our beach!
We get a lot of Algae that washes up on the beach. From the invasive sargassum that tends to wash up from our bay, to pieces of giant brown kelp, we see it all! We also find lots of different parts of algae, including the holdfast, stipe, and air bladders! Sometimes looking under the holdfast (which can pretty much have it’s own entire ecosystem, how cool!) we have found tiny sea slugs and sea stars!
Also washing up more recently in our bay are red pelagic crabs, otherwise known as tuna crabs! These mini looking lobster creatures end up floating around the ocean their entire lives! Unfortunately sometimes they wash up on our beach and become stranded! Our seagulls sure do love to eat them as a snack!
(Above: Tuna Crabs will wash up on our beach, sometimes by the hundreds!)
Lastly, we find many amazing seashells, sea glass, and really cool looking rocks! A lot of the seashells we find are the purple olive snails! We also find lots of sea glass, which comes in many different colors including white, brown, green, and blue! Sea glass is glass that ends up in the ocean and becomes textured and tumbled! Super beautiful and fun to craft with! The crazy amount of different types of rocks we find on our beach is also pretty diverse! On our beach you will find sedimentary, igneous, and metamorphic, along with many other interesting types. Next time you head to a beach, maybe you can have your very own beach treasure hunt and see how many different cool things you can find!
(Above: Seashells, Sea glass, and rocks that have all been found on our beach)
Sand particles can range in size from 0.0625 mm (or 1⁄16 mm) to 2 mm. Despite not being very large there is a whole diversity of an ecosystem within the sediment. Infauna are animals that can be found within these sand grains this differs from animals that live on the benthos or bottom ocean floor in that the infauna actually live within the sediment itself. There are several macrofauna that live within the sediment like the bobbit worms, worms eels, sting rays or take shelter in the sand or even camouflage in the sand. The sand acts as a perfect place to hide from predators or even ambush your prey. Bobbit worms live within the sand sediment and actively hunt fish hiding it’s 3 foot long body under the sand sediment and awaiting for a fish to trigger it. Most specimens of bobbit worms have been up to 3 feet long but some have been found to be even 10 feet! The sand can act as a pretty convenient habitat for a lot of organisms, but too see some of these organisms you have to look even closer.
When you look at the sand even closer, it is revealed that there are even smaller animals that fit inside those small .0625mm to 2mm spaces. These animals consist of the meiofauna which can pass through a 0.5 to a 1mm mesh unharmed. Most of these animals consist of small invertebrates like polychaate worms, nemotodes, arthropods, platyhelminthes, other annelids, and more. The meiofauna are unique in that they have one of the highest species richness and abundance indices. Meiofauna serve as important food resource for deposit feeding animals. A lot of animals such as the sand bubbler crabs or sea cucumbers actively filter out meiofauna living with the sand sediment.
Meiofauna also serve an important role for breaking down detritus and excrete nutrients that are used by phytobionts and bacteria making them very key for nutrient cycling in the marine ecosystem, determiners of ocean health and ecosystem functioning, and indicators of carbon cycling in the seabed. Because meiofauna are so highly diverse, they can also be key indicators for the effects of global warming on diversity. Studies in Antarctica, a place where rising temperatures show a major affect and change to the habitat, have shown a drop in diversity due to rising ocean temperatures.
Despite being one of the most diverse, species rich, and abundant ecocsytems on the planet, the meiofauna are actually highly understudied. There is still so much more to know about them and so many more species to potentially discover. With rising ocean temperatures, meiofauna need to be studied before all of that diversity goes away and we must continue to do our part to take care of the ocean and be aware of how pollution from human can affect even the smallest of ecosystems.
According some experts estimations, sharks have been around planet Earth for somewhere between 425 and 450 million years making them just as old or even older than trees themselves! As such, sharks have had time to evolve numerous methods of sensing their environment, making them expert hunters. In order to understand shark senses, one must first understand where the perception of these different sensations occur in the shark brain.
The shark brain is a Y shaped organ located in the chondrocranium of the shark. The shark brain can be split up between the forebrain, midbrain and hindbrain, each of which will specialize in a different sense. The forebrains specializes in olfactory, midbrain in visual, and the hindbrain specializes in hearing, touch, and electroreception.
Depending on the species sharks can smell up to 1km or more away, hear about 100m away, see about 10m away depending on water clarity. Depending on the sharks environment/habitat there will be corresponding enlargements in the brain. If the shark lives in deeper water where not much light exist or live mostly in the open ocean where food availability tends to be low, they might have enlargements in their forebrains because they have to rely on olfaction to find their food. With over 400 different species of sharks, not all sharks are necessarily the “swimming noses” that we think they are. With such diversity, sharks will specialize in different senses based on the environment of which they live. Even with one sensory specialization, it is the combination of all the shark’s senses that make them such great predator.
As sharks draw in closer to their prey they use electroreception. Imagine the brain as a biological computer, sending electrical impulses down a highway of motor neurons in order to move the muscles of the body. Sharks are able to detect those electrical impulses from up to 1 meter away. Some sharks, such as the scalloped hammerhead, can sense as low as half a billionth of a volt of electricity. They use special gel filled pores called the Ampullae of Lorenzini in order to sense these weak electrical impulses.
Sharks will continue to dazzle and amaze us with their sensory capabilities. New research indicates that sharks can even use electroreception to navigate the earth by sensing the magnetic poles. Such extraordinary evolutionary advantages are what will continue to make sharks a dominant predator for a very long time.
Have you ever been walking along the beach or kayaking through the ocean and spotted what appeared to some weird plastic bag looking jellyfish-like thing? Have you ever thought, “What on earth is that?” Well that is a salp and it is not a jellyfish (Figure 1). It is a tunicate, which is in the phylum Chordata. The very same phylum that you and I are in. That means that that strange transparent gelatinous sack has more in common, evolutionarily speaking, with us than it does with its jellyfish doppelgängers.
As members of the phylum Chordata, most tunicates have atail, notochord, nerve cord, gills, simplified eyes, and even a brain. But only during their larval stage. As adults, they lose most of the features that make them like other vertebrates. Tunicates, named so because of their tunic-like outer layer, include sessile sea squirts and sea porks as well as free swimming and planktonic salps, doliolids and pyrosomes.
These seemingly simple jello sacks actually do a lot. Salps are one of the most energy efficient organisms out there. Not only do they eat at the same time as they swim, their waste has also been linked to the carbon cycle and may even impact climate change. They move by jet propulsion, sucking in water through their inhalant siphon and pushing it out their exhaling siphon by squeezing the tunic. As the water travels through their gelatinous bodies, it passes through their pharynx, where a mucus net and beating cilia filter out plankton and organic matter of all sizes. In fact, they consume particles spanning four magnitudes in size. That’s the equivalent of us eating everything from a mouse to a horse, according toresearch conducted bu the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. This allows them to survive in the open ocean, where food is often scarce. Their ability to eat nearly everything that passes through them alsogives them an important role in the carbon cycle.
Salps are found in every ocean but are often concentrated near the Antarctic where there favorite snack, phytoplankton, blooms (Figure 2). Salps can devour entire blooms by rapidly cloning themselves and forming huge chains. Salps, with can live for weeks or months,start off as an individual that reproduces asexually, making multiple genetic clones that then form long chains, wheels and other structures. Individuals within the chains then reproduce sexually with other chains through external fertilization processes. Salps can produce thousands, millions of other salps at these phytoplankton blooms. Imagine the scene: a slow motion feeding frenzy with salps popping into existence like Imperial Star Destroyers coming out of hyperspace. You can almost hear the haunting music of the “Imperial March” in the background as thesesalp clones attack, wrecking havoc on the defenseless phytoplankton.
As they consume the phytoplankton, they produce dense fecal pellets that rain carbon down on the deep sea. This acts as an effective carbon sink that removes carbon from the ocean surface and traps it a depth for hundreds of years. Thus allowing the upper ocean to accumulate more carbon from the atmosphere, mitigating the anthropogenic rise in carbon-dioxide in the atmosphere.
We would like to thank you for visiting our blog. Catalina Island Marine Institute is a hands-on marine science program with an emphasis on ocean exploration. Our classes and activities are designed to inspire students toward future success in their academic and personal pursuits. This blog is intended to provide you with up-to-date news and information about our camp programs, as well as current science and ocean happenings. This blog has been created by our staff who have at least a Bachelors Degree usually in marine science or related subjects. We encourage you to also follow us on Facebook, Instagram, Google+, Twitter, and Vine to see even more of our interesting science and ocean information. Feel free to leave comments, questions, or share our blog with others. Please visit www.cimi.org for additional information. Happy Reading!