Have you ever wondered how we see the light and the world around us? Depending on where you are in the world half of the day is most likely spent illuminated by the sun. Most life on earth is dependent on light or the ability to see. So what exactly is light?
To put it in the absolute simplest way possible, light is a form of electromagnetic radiation. Electromagnetic radiation exists in the form of waves and is measured by its wavelengths and classified by frequencies. Different wavelengths result in different forms of electromagnetic radiation.
The spectrum of electromagnetic radiation from longest wavelength to shortest is Radio waves, Microwaves, Infrared, Ultraviolet, X-Rays, and Gamma Rays. Between Infrared and Ultraviolet frequencies exists the wavelengths of electromagnetic radiation that are visible to the human eye.
Out of all the different frequencies that exist, why did we adapt to seeing these frequencies? The most likely reason is that these frequencies are the most abundant ones produced by the sun that actually reach planet earth. Plants and animals simply grew to what they had available.
Because colors that we see are just different frequencies of ERM, does that mean that there are colors we can’t see? The answer is yes. Human beings only have three types of color receptors in our eyes. We have color receptors for reds and greens, blues and yellows, and black and white. Some animals have many more like the mantis shrimp. The mantis shrimp has a whopping 16 different color receptors. There’s no way to know what exactly the world would look like through the eyes of a mantis shrimp but it can be fun to imagine.
In the relaxed camp atmosphere it’s almost too easy to find yourself swaying with the palm trees, entranced in the soothing sounds of the ocean while locked in a daze at the clouds rolling overhead but today we are talking all things scat. Surrounded by the beauty in nature, you’re feeling endlessly grateful for the present day at Fox Landing, until one fateful step when you feel an all too familiar squish beneath your sandal. You know it’s not the firm dirt path, you’ve stepped right into a mountain of fox feces! We share a home with a variety of organisms; terrestrial, marine, native or not, every animal inhabiting Catalina Island eats, sleeps, and poops here, just like us! Scat is animal feces or dropping and based on the animal, scat will differ in size, shape, color, consistency, and contents. Scat can be used to identify, learn about, and track animals. Safety first: don’t touch scat…without gloves on!
The Santa Catalina Island Fox, a species of Channel Island fox, can be found roaming our cove. Most often seen at night attempting to break into a trash can or scurrying away from the slightest noise. Their diet consists of mice, birds, eggs, fruit, berries, insects, and for some, anything they are capable of scavenging from humans (Leave no trace!). Fox poop is smelly, small and tubular or log shaped. Droppings are often left in high areas, as a way to mark territory. It is not unusual to find fox feces at the tops of staircases or on rock walls around camp.
A number of animals have been introduced by humans to Catalina. Included in these non-native species are the herbivorous American Bison and Mule Deer who spend their time grazing the island. Bison consume mostly grasses, herbs, and shrubs. They leave the largest brown poop patties I have ever seen while traversing the mountainsides. Mule deer will graze grasses and herbs as well as eat berries or fruits if they can find any. When the urge becomes too great, a standing mule deer will drop dozens of small, round, or bean shaped pellets in a single release of solid waste.
Within our ocean and tanks marine organisms also experience the pleasure of excreting their waste. The sea hare and sea cucumber are among some of our greatest producers of scat. A Sea Hare is a squishy bodied invertebrate in the phylum Mollusca. Feasting daily on different species of algae and expelling small, brown-green seed shaped waste throughout our touch tank, shark tank, and octopus tank. Plankton living in the sand or floating in the water column are no match for a hungry sea cucumber. This invertebrate, of the phylum Echinodermata, leaves in its wake a pile of long log shaped stool. Although this camouflaged waste blends in with the sand, our team of aquarists are filled with joy when they spot it and siphon it out of the touch tank.
Here at CIMI our backyard is full of all kinds of marine animals. The biggest of these animals includes the many species of cetaceans (whales, dolphins, and porpoises), which pass through the channel between Catalina Island and California quite frequently. As large as these animals are, chances are that you will be viewing them from a distance whether it’s on land or on a boat. Most of the time the only thing you will get to see from these magnificent creatures are there whale spouts, flukes (tail fins), or their backs whenever they surface and dive.
When whales spout, you will see a geyser of water shoot up into the air that can be seen from miles away. This water that is shooting out however is not seawater but it is the condensation of the warm insulated air that is being shot out of the whales lungs mixing with the comparatively cold air from outside. Every species of whale has a distinctive kind of shape of their blowholes and also has different sized lungs therefore each type of spout shape and size. Each species of whales also will have different shaped flukes and ridges of their backs. The whales that frequently go through our channel include some larger baleen whales such as the grey whale, blue whale, fin whale, and humpback. Baleen Whales have two blowholes whereas toothed whales like dolphins and porpoises only have one single blowhole.
The grey whale can have two very widely dispersed spouts in a “v” formation and can be between 9 and 16 feet in the air. They lack a dorsal fin but have several knuckle like ridges on its back that show as it surfaces or dives down. Their flukes are convex and usually ragged with a distinctive deep notch in the middle making the shape of a “whale” groomed mustache. They may pass through the Catalina Channel coming from the arctic on their way to forage for food in Southern California and Mexico.
Blue whales have been in the channel migrating to tropical waters in order to give birth to breed and give birth to their young. Their flukes are much less robust than the grey whales fluke with much more straight trailing edge and a shallow notch in the middle. Their spouts can be up to almost 40ft high and look like a slender column of spray that looks like the green stalk of a carrot. Blue whales have a small triangular and variably curved fin dorsal fin sitting towards its caudal region and have a smooth back.
Fin whale are very similar in appearance to the blues where they have a slightly more robust and curved dorsal fin and fluke and can be seen year round near the sea of Cortez.
Humpbacks have a rugged looking fluke with robust curves and many ridges through out the fluke as well as a deep v shaped notch in the middle of the fluke. They have a low stubby dorsal fine with a broad based followed by slight ridges going down its back towards the fluke. Their spouts can be up to 9 feet high and can be heart shaped. They can typically be found in higher latitudes during the summer to feed in colder water and in the winter will head to warm watered breeding grounds.
The most common toothed whales that come through Catalina Island include the Rissos, common, and bottlenose dolphin and on a rare occasion even an Orca or killer whale. Orcas can be found on the Pacific coast especially in Washington but will sometimes follow food all the way down to Southern California. They have a very distinctive black and white pattern on their tails and have a very widely dispersed spout.
So just based on their fins, spouts, and flukes you can be an expert in recognizing these magnificent animals. Next time youʼre out on the ocean be sure to bring a pair of binoculars to see if you recognize any whales from a distance!
Spring is in bloom and wildflowers of all colors are decorating our hillsides on Catalina Island. Just look at them! Bright red Indian Paintbrush, Castilleja affinis (Fig. 1) and white Bush Anemone (Fig. 2) are some you are likely to see while hiking around. Starting with the south facing slopes, the island begins a transition from the more earth toned brown landscape of summer and fall into one of vibrant and cheerful colors from February through May. The Shooting star, Dodecatheon clevelandii, is a favorite for many people, with its purple shape (Fig. 3), while the Blue Dicks, Dichelostemma capitatum, are a form of wild onion that was used by native Tongva for food (Fig.4)
But where do they hide all year long? Well, one of the perks of being a wildflower is that you don’t have to make an appearance all year long! These wildflowers are known as “annuals”, meaning the seeds will germinate in the fall or winter rains, flowers will bloom in the spring, and then they ripen to seed towards the end of the spring season. This completes the annual cycle and allows it to start again.
As the south facing slopes are exposed to more sunlight for longer periods throughout the day, these slopes will tend to bloom earlier in the wildflower season, followed by the shadier north facing slopes.
After a heavy rain season this year, the abundance of wildflowers is noticeably greater than in past years of drought. As it turns out, in order for the wildflower seeds to germinate, they require continued moisture, or at least enough that the soil remains moist. Without this, the plants will dry out before they get to flower! We really enjoy these annual bursts of color, so rain, rain, don’t go away!
Baby blue eyes, Nemophila menziesii, is only known to exist in one population on Catalina Island. Photo by Amy Catalano
Deerweed, Acmispon dendroideus, are endemic to the Channel Islands. Photo by Amy Catalano
On Catalina Island there is a wide variety of animals. Some of the animals that we see include ravens, foxes, bison, sea lions, and whales! Each of these 5 animals make vocalizations, or sounds, for specific reasons.
The common raven typically tends to use one of two calls. The first call is a loud caw or groan. Ravens use this call to communicate with each other. Their call can be heard by ravens that are a mile away! The second call that ravens make is a fast, repetitive caw. Ravens typically use this call when they are hunting prey like rodents, worms, or insects!
The Channel Island fox, Urocyon littoralis, is a relatively quiet animal. However, it can make up to 40 sounds and calls! These calls are used by a foxes to convey different messages to one another. For example, foxes will bark to alert other members of its skulk about danger, such as an approaching predator. The male foxes bark to attract a mate and growl to protect their territory. Female foxes bark to locate their cubs. Sometimes, the small cubs will let out a littlebark just to get mom’s attention!
A bison can often be heard snorting, grunting, and even coughing! Male bison attract a mate by making a deep, low rumbling sound called a bellow. The length, volume, and frequency of the bellow indicates which male is the most dominant and therefore the most likely to find a mate! The female bison uses calls to locate her young. She will produce low grunts and wait for the calf to respond with high-pitched grunts! They repeat this process until they can find each other.
Sea lions communicate both audibly and visually. When they make a sound, they also strike a distinct pose! Male sea lions lift their heads up high in the air and bark when they are claiming their territory. When they are barking to defend their territory from other sea lions, they will bark right in the face of the trespassing seal lion! The female sea lions bark to locate and protect their pups. The female sea lion lets out a loud yell and listens for her pup’s weak crying response!
Whales use clicks, whistles, and calls to communicate with their pod. Toothed whales called odontocetes use echolocation to help them navigate and find food! When echolocating, whales will make a clicking sound and wait for the sound to echo back to them. When the whales hear the echo, they are able to identify the location of the object or animal they are trying to find! Some whales can echolocate prey that is over 1,500 feet away! Whales also whistle and call to socialize with other members of their pod. Scientists discovered that whales have different dialects to help them differentiate between their pod and strangers! Certain low frequency calls can travel more than 10,000 miles across the sea. Pretty wild, right?!
It’s getting cold! The wind is starting to blow! Rain is falling! The grass is starting to grow! The waves are getting bigger! IT’S WINTER!!
But what exactly is winter?
There are two kinds of winter, astronomical winter— having to do with the position of the earth and the sun ranging from the winter solstice to the vernal equinox— and meteorological winter— based on the annual temperature cycle and the calendar.
In California this manifests in shorter days, cooler temperatures, increased rainfall and onshore winds. Many animals begin to migrate south towinter in warmer climates or find food.
Just as seasons affect life on land, changes are brewing in the oceans as well. Relative changes in sunlight, day length, wind and ocean temperature all impact phytoplankton— small, plant-like organisms at the base of our ocean’s food web— eventually working its effects throughout the ecosystem.
In the summertime, the dominant California Current sweeps cold cool nutrient rich water from the Alaska current down along the west coast while winds generally blow north to south. Because of the Coriolis Effectthese winds veer westward and surface water is pushed offshore. As this water moves westward deeper, nutrient rich water rises to replace the migrating water in a process known as upwelling. In areas where upwelling occurs, phytoplankton blooms are common, attracting fish and other ocean life to the area.
As winter approaches, the wind shifts direction and the California Current meanders westward to be replaced by the northerly flowing Davidson Current. Strong winds from the south pull surface water to build up along coastal margins, resulting in downwelling— essentially the opposite of upwelling where warm surface water sinks down. Even though surface water temperatures may drop rapidly with the arrival of winter, deeper waters (below 200 feet) can actually become warmer due to the mixing with warmer surface waters and the northerly Davidson Current. This warming of deep water could benefit bottom dwelling fish which breed during the winter months.
Many beaches also undergo drastic changes. In the winter larger and more frequent waves pick up sand from the beach and move it offshore, sometimes forming sandbars that buffer beaches from storm erosion. Beaches can become rocky or appear todisappear! But don’t worry, when the summer returns gentler waves bring the sand back on to the beach just in time to lay out and soak up the sun. Just don’t forget to wear sunscreen!!
For thousands of years cultures all across the world have told tales of raven’s intelligence. The clever trickster in many native tribes’ stories, a sacred animal to Apollo the God of prophecy, a bringer of wisdom to the Norse gods, even Game of Thrones shows a three eyed ravens during prophetic visions. It’s obvious people recognize these birds as pretty smart, and as it turns out, many scientific tests back this up. There are several characteristics that put ravens up there with the cleverest species, sometimes even out smarting great apes and human children!
Recognizing friend or foe
Ravens are social creatures, in many ways very similar to some humans! When ravens are old enough to leave their parents’ safe and cozy nest, the juveniles will join a crew and spend their time there. When a raven eventually finds a one true love, it will separate off and mate for life. They even hold funerals for their lost loved ones!
With all these social interactions, what is really interesting is ravens’ ability to recognize friend or foe. When interacting with other ravens, these birds will be friendly with birds they know and like, even if they haven’t seen each other for years. But you don’t want to get on their bad sides. Not only have they been known to act suspiciously towards ravens they don’t know and give the cold shoulder to birds that have wronged them, but they recognize human faces as well! If you cheat a raven out of its food, it will remember you and hold a grudge for months!
Using tools and playing games are sure signs of intelligence seen in only the most clever of animals such as monkeys, dolphins, and -you guessed it- ravens! In the wild, ravens are known to drop rocks on people threatening their nests, and to use sticks and other tools to get food. In one test, a majority of ravens figured out in only 30 seconds to pull down a string, anchor it, and keep pulling to reach a treat. But they’re not all work and no play! Ravens have been seen skiing down snow covered roofs and hillsides, making toys out of pinecones and golf balls, etc (a very rare animal behavior), and even playing “keep away” to taunt other animals just because it’s funny!
What really sets ravens apart is that they have proven to be able to plan for the future, something scientists thought for a long time only humans and our close animal relatives did. In one study, ravens were given a tool to get food. Not only did they figure out how to use this tool, but later when they were offered this tool or another less tasty snack, many would chose the tool to use later. They continued to chose tool over snack even when it would be a long time before they would get the food. This type of delayed gratification test has been presented to monkeys and human children, and the ravens out performed! Talk about self control!
On Catalina Island, we have tons of huge raven friends, and If you have ever left your backpack outside while at CIMI, you may have experienced just how clever these ravens can be when on the search for your tasty food. Now that you know how impressively intelligent these majestic birds are, don’t forget to hide your snacks!
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!
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!