Category Archives: Explore

Winter: It’s Here But What Is It?

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!!

WinterBut 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 to  winter 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 Effect these 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 to  disappear! 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!!

By Sachiko Lamen







Ravens: Clever and Intelligent

RavensFor 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 birdsRavens 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!

Tools and Toys

ravens animalsUsing 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!


Planning Ahead

ravens intelligentWhat 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!


The California Halibut Part 1

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?!

california halibut

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!

california halibut 1

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.  

california halibut 2These 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!



Ravens and All Their Dark Glory

ravensHere 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”! 

ravens 1Where 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 with Exoskeletons

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!

Written By: Kathy Miller

The Types of Clouds

The Types of Clouds

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:

Types of Clouds 1

Low Elevation Clouds

  1. StratocumulusTypes of Clouds 2

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.

  1. Nimbostratus (rain)Types of Clouds 3

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.

  1. StratusTypes of Clouds 4

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.

  1. Cumulus (fair weather)Types of Clouds 5

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

  1. AltostratusTypes of Clouds 5

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.

  1. AltocumulusTypes of Clouds 6

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

  1. CirrostratusTypes of Clouds 7

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.

  1. CirrusTypes of Clouds 8

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

  1. CirrocumulusTypes of Clouds 9

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

  1. Cumulonimbus (thunderheads)Types of Clouds 11

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.

Web Sources

The California Moray Eel

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).

Moray EelThe 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.

Moray Eel 2The 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

Movie Alien?

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.


The Mysterious Ninja Pigs

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?

Written By: Brooke Fox




Beach Love – There are So Many Treasures


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!

beach love

(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!

beach appreciation

(Above: Seashells, Sea glass, and rocks that have all been found on our beach)

Written By: Brooke Fox

Meiophenomenal: Diversity of organisms within the Sand Sediment

Sand particles can range in size from 0.0625 mm (or ​116 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.

sand 2

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.

sand 3

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.


Sting ray

Carbon Cycle

Meiofauna diversity image

Meiofauna- life between grains

BBCs Blue planet sand bubbler crab

The Chordettes Mr. Sandman


Smithsoian channel – bobbit worm

Bobbit worm image


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 for additional information. Happy Reading!