Category Archives: Just For Fun

If Penguins have wings, why can’t they fly?

Penguins are an interesting species of bird that are found in the southern hemisphere of our planet. There are around 17 different types of penguins, and these species are all non-flying. They have a semi-aquatic lifestyle and several characteristics that are very different than other types of birds we commonly know. While other birds have adapted wings for flying, penguins have adapted flipper-like wings to help them swim through the water.

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A large group of penguins in the water is called a “raft” and a large group on land is called a “waddle.”

A penguin’s body is constructed perfectly for aquatic life. They have long, streamlined bodies that help propel them through the water. They spend around 75-80% of their life in the ocean, but will mate, lay eggs and rest on land. Spending this much time in the water puts penguins at a high risk for predators, such as the leopard seal. Penguins’ wings play an essential role in helping them to escape from predators in the water, but not so much on land. This is because there are several differences between birds that use their wings for flight and our non-flying penguin friends.

Many flying bird’s wings are constructed of delicate, lightweight bones that help to lift the bird off the ground to reach flight. However, some species of birds such as the penguin, ostrich, and emu have heavy solid bones that make it harder for them to stay in the air. A penguin’s wings are designed perfectly however for gliding through water. They are often referred to as flippers because of their shape. The wings are super stiff and penguins can actually rotate them in different directions at the same time! This helps them act as the perfect paddle to help catch their prey. They can even reach speeds of up to 22 mph and some species can hold their breath for as long as 20 minutes!

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A penguin using its wings as flippers to glide through the water!

Some scientists believe that a penguin’s inability to fly comes from where they are located. Since penguins have always lived near water millions of years ago, they had to rely upon the ocean for their source of food. Over time they adapted to become more so an aquatic bird, exchanging true wings for “flippers”. Other scientists suggest that getting off the ground took too much effort for a bird that spent so much time in the water. They have over time adapted to their surroundings and decided to become expert swimmers instead of flyers.

Written by: Brooke Fox







Happy Pi Day!

Not only are we a bunch of ocean loving enthusiasts here at the Catalina Island Marine Institute Screen Shot 2016-03-14 at 10.09.19 AMwe have a deep appreciation for pi (p) as well! Over the years p has made a huge impact all around the world. Not just as delicious desert, but as an important component of math!

Pi represents the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter. But because p exists as an infinite series of numbers that will never end it can never truly be expressed as a fraction. However when rounded up this number is approximately 3.14. As a result March 14, or 3/14, has become known as Pi Day, an annual celebration of the mathematical constant p.

Whether you celebrate this day riding your bike, watching a round ray swim, or eating a slice of pie CIMI wishes you a very happy Pi Day!


Written By: Alex Feltes



National Kazoo Day

Happy National Kazoo Day! Each year, National Kazoo Day is celebrated on or around January 28th. It’s stated that this is the typical day, but it should be near the fourth Thursday of January, or really whenever it is convenient for the kazooist! The unofficial holiday actually started back in the 1980s and there is even a group of people that are trying to get the kazoo to be America’s national instrument! For such a simple instrument, it does have a great history behind it.

1Legend has it that the kazoo dates back to the 1840s in Macon, Georgia with a collaboration between a man named Alabama Vest, and a clock-builder Thaddeus Von Clegg. Even earlier than that, the idea behind the kazoo seems to have evolved from horns or hide-covered instruments in Africa that vibrated and changed the voice of the player. Similarly, the wax membrane of a kazoo vibrates with each change in air pressure as one hums or makes noise through the instrument’s mouthpiece. Both ends of the tube are open, however one is larger and flat, and the other is small and round. A common mistake, like myself, is to simply blow into the kazoo like a whistle and expect sound. In reality, the kazooist is making the sound, and the kazoo alters it into a musical buzz. The category of instruments that a kazoo fits into is called a mirliton, who knew!

In 1883 the instrument was named the kazoo and officially patented by an American inventor named Warren Herbert Frost. Later on in 1902, Georg2e D. Smith patented the first metal kazoo, where soon after popularity spread. The Original American Kazoo Company from Eden, New York began a large-scale manufacturing of kazoos in 1916, and by 1994, they were producing over 1.5 million metal kazoos each year! Now it is called The Kazoo Factory and Museum, but still operates similar to it’s original production, and even offers tours for the public! Plastic kazoos are extremely popular today, but some companies have gotten extremely creative and have made them out of wood and even chocolate!

Apparently, the kazoo was supposed to be a sophisticated disguise of the voice upon invention, however it is commonly thought of now as a fun/annoying children’s toy. However you view it, take some time to enjoy this fun and easy instrument on National Kazoo Day!

Written By: Jaclyn Lucas

Waves 101

Waves start far away from the beach, out in the open water. As wind brushes up along the ocean, friction is created between the wind and the water, transferring energy from the wind to the water molecules. As the wind continues to push against the water, it can force smaller wave energy together forming larger waves. When the wave energy reaches the coast, the water starts to run into the ocean floor and is slowed down by friction. The closer the water gets to shore, the more shallow it is, causing more water molecules to come in contact with the ocean floor and slow down. As the energy moves closer to shore, the surface water continues forward at the same speed while the deep water continues to slow down. Eventually the water at the surface crashes over itself forming waves we see on the beach.

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Photo Credit:

The size of the wave depends on many different factors. First which of is the speed of the wind, the faster the wind travels the bigger the wave will be. This is due to the greater force of which the wind places on the ripples of the ocean. The second factor is the fetch, or the amount of time wind is blowing over a certain area of water. Waves will continue to get larger the longer wind blows across the water.

Larger waves tend to be formed farther from shore than smaller waves which are created right offshore. Waves that start far offshore are typically called swell waves because they have much more time to build in the open water. Large storms have the perfect conditions for forming large waves due to the amount of wind and pressure that is pushing against the ocean.

Surfers monitor the weather conditions and patterns to determine if the surf will be large or small. Here on Catalina Island the best surf comes from the windward, or the open ocean side of the island. This is due to the open ocean swell that builds up over time reaching the island as large waves. On the leeward or the channel side of the island there are little to no waves. The island acts as a wind shadow, protecting the channel from wind and therefore preventing the formation of large waves. Here at CIMI we are on the leeward side of the island, which produces little to no waves. Can you figure out where we are surfing?

Waves 101

DIY Gyotaku

The art of fish printing, also known as gyotaku, originated in Japan in the mid-1800s. This practice was widely used among fishermen to accurately depict the size of their catch. Prior to fish printing, the size of a caught fish grew with the spread of the story. What started as a two-foot fish quickly grew to five within a few exchanges.

In traditional gyotaku, ink is painted onto both sides of a fish. The fish is then wrapped in thin paper, leaving behind an ink replica of each side of the fish. Most fishermen originally used black ink, but some tried to recreate the colors of the fish with their print. Artists around the world still use this practice to depict aquatic life.

While we don’t recommend finding a dead fish to practice gyotaku, it is possible to put these practices to use in your own project. Children can pick out soft plastic molds of sea life at a craft store, or you can even use wild flowers from your backyard. Here is what you’ll need:

-Plastic mold or wild flowers

-Washable paint

-Bowls for paint


-Canvas, paper, tee shirts, or anything you would like to paint!

-Rinse bowl

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Find a flat surface on which to do your project. Choose your desired print shape (we chose the ephemeral wild flowers that are currently blooming on Catalina Island!) and a paint color. Coat the entire surface of your flower thoroughly. Press the flower onto the paper, making sure to press each petal individually to transfer color. Lift the flower, being mindful not to smudge the wet paint, and you’re done! We also printed a plastic mold of sea stars and a Garibaldi using the same methods.

Gyotaku is a great DIY craft project for kids. Use it as an opportunity to teach them about the sea life or flowers they are pressing. Or, grab some canvas and nice paint and create a beautiful, natural home decoration!

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Happy Pi Day! 3/14/15 at 9:26:53 a.m.

We may not teach a course on geometry at CIMI, but that doesn’t mean we can’t appreciate the importance of pi (π). Pi is a mathematical constant that represents the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter. Ancient Egyptians and Babylonians were the first to approximate the number, calculating it to within one percent of its true value. It is an irrational number, meaning it cannot be expressed as a simple fraction and exists as an infinite series of numbers that will never end. When rounded up, the number comes to approximately 3.14. Thus, March 14th is Pi Day.

Why does a marine science camp care about Pi? Pi has all kinds of everyday applications. Think of all the round or rounded things that exist in this world: wheels, gears, eyes, rainbows, round rays. Engineers use pi to build machines. Architects use pi to create their blueprints. Geneticists use pi to understand the structure of DNA. The Earth itself is a sphere, so when an oceanographer measures the movement of the tides or the length of waves in the sea, they need to use pi in their calculations. So go celebrate pi today. Ride a Ferris wheel, eat a slice of apple pie, watch Life of Pi and get inspired by that beautiful scene with the bioluminescence and the whale all over again. Take a moment to watch the sunset and think about how big and beautiful and round it is, then wait for the moon to rise and look at that too. From all of us at CIMI, we wish you a very happy Pi Day.

Written by: Megan Petkovic

Happy Birthday Dr. Seuss!

A Poem in honor of Dr. Seuss by Max Veenema

One fish, two fish, here’s to you fish

Every once in awhile comes along a great writer, they are witty, and sharp. Their words couldn’t be brighter.

One of those people, has shaped many a mind.His books are enchanting, and funny, and kind.

Dr. Seuss is his name and today is his day, so follow his words – Go outside! Play! Discovery, innovation, and adventure he implored. Go explore the world and you’ll never get bored.

There are many places to go, many places to be, like on top of a mountain or deep under the sea.

Though he made up lots of things, like Thing One and Thing Two, his words still live on and they are truer than true.

To leave you with a message from this poem, so it’s not misunderstood, I’ll let the rhymer speak for himself when he said “fun is good”.

So Happy Birthday Dr. Seuss! You are a constant inspiration. You have shaped all us here beyond your wildest imagination.

Hike Seuss Kayak Seuss Squid Seuss

CIMI Camouflage

Camouflage is one of the most widely used adaptations by animals to both hide from predators and to surprise prey. There are many different types of camouflage including concealing coloration, disguise, disruptive coloration, and mimicry. There are many different fish we see hear at CIMI that give us great examples of camouflage. Cabezon fish are a prime example of how camouflage is used. The coloration of a Cabezon allows it to perch motionless on rocks and algae without being seen. Prey or predator could be a foot away and still not see it. This advantage point allows for quick ambush. Other fish such as Scorpionfish have encrusted algae on their bodies to better camouflage in their surroundings. Flat fish like Halibut and CO Turbots blend in with the sandy ocean floor and also cover themselves to better hide while waiting to ambush.

Here at CIMI we wanted to try and mimic the Cabezon fish strategy. Toyon Bay CIMI instructor Trevor waited in areas that allowed him to blend in while he waited for passing instructors. Each passing instructor got a scare but also a great laugh. It’s a good thing this was not the real predator vs. prey or Trevor would have gotten them all. He also would have had a full tummy.

DIY Algae Press in 9 Simple Steps

DIY Algae presses are a fun way for students to take a little piece of CIMI home with them. After learning about the three different types of algae (Chlorophyta, Phaeophyta, and Rhodophyta), each student has an opportunity to design their very own algae art piece. Now if you’re trying to do this at home, you may not have easy access to tons of algae, like us, so feel free to go find some plants or flowers in your neighborhood to use.

Things you’ll need:

  • Something to press, like flowers or leaves (stay away from anything with a large stem, as it won’t press very flat)
  • A piece of cardstock or thick paper cut to about 6 by 9 inches
  • Some wax paper or parchment paper
  • Cardboard cut into small 6 by 9 inch sections or so
  • Rubber bands
  • A few heavy books
  • Two weeks of patience
  1. To start, gather all your plants and decide upon a design that you want to create.
  2. Take your piece of cardstock and carefully place your plants down in the shape you picked out. Try not to overlap pieces of plants, instead try to keep just one plant layer all over your paper.
  3. Do not use glue to stick the plants down; they will change shape and size as they dry.
  4. Once you have positioned your plants as you like, place a sheet of wax paper on top of your creation. This will keep the plants from sticking to the cardboard as they dry.
  5. When you are ready, place the cardstock and wax paper in between two piece of cardboard. Basically making a sandwich.
  6. Then use 4-5 rubber bands in both directions to hold your project together.
  7. Find a few heavy books and place your project in a cool dry place for about 2 weeks.
  8. If you check your press after two weeks and its not completely dry, leave it there for another week.
  9. Once everything is dry you can remove your press from the cardboard and wax paper. If the plants aren’t staying in place, feel free to glue them or get your press laminated, this will protect it from general wear and tear.

Pelican vs Cormorant! The Winner Is…

Pelican vs Cormorant! Okay, so a pelican and a cormorant may not ever battle each other, daydreams aside. But what if they did? First, let us compare and contrast.

Around Catalina Island we typically see the brown pelican, Pelecanus occidentalis, one of only three pelican species found in the Western Hemisphere. The Brown Pelican is considered the smallest kind of pelican, weighing in at 8 to 10 lbs, but can have a wingspan of over 7.5 ft (for reference, Phil and Cullen are only about 6 feet tall)! This species has a very large bill (over a foot long) with a pouch at the bottom to drain water when it scoops its prey from the ocean. This pouch can hold over three times more than its stomach! It’s head is often white, or yellowish in color and they have red coloration under their throat, while they have brown plumage (that’s a code word for feathers) and are brown to black on their chest, legs and feet. When it hunts, the brown pelican soars above the ocean and dive-bombs its prey, snatching it with its bill. Rad. You’ve heard that saying “pelicans fly together,” right? Well, they do. You can see them gliding together, their wingtips almost touching, low over the water.


Cormorants are typically darker in color, and may appear completely black at first glance. They catch their prey not by dive-bombing, as the brown pelican does, but instead by slipping head first underwater and swimming with their feet to snag fish, eels and water snakes! They have been observed diving as deep as 150 feet to catch food! Talk about persistence. After a dive, cormorants can be seen resting ashore with their wings spread out in the sunlight so they may dry. Around Catalina Island we commonly see Brandt’s Cormorant, Phalacrocorax penicillatus, whose scientific name means “painter’s brush” in Latin for the plumes that appear on its neck during its breeding season. Brandt’s Cormorant only grows to about 4.6 lbs, with a 4 ft wingspan.


Alright, so what if they were to fight? The brown pelican has a distinct size advantage, weighing in at almost double that of our cormorant! Dropping the two birds in the ring for a one-on-one battle, the size, strength and bill size of the pelican would overpower the cormorant. Let’s not forget the pouch below the pelicans bill, which is probably big enough to hold an entire cormorant captive! Now remember that a cormorant can dive well below the surface of the ocean! So let’s crack open a scenario to play this thing out. We have pelicans soaring over the water and they spot a few cormorants paddling about below. The pelicans point their bills down and begin hurdling down towards the unsuspecting victims. The cormorants, spotting their nemesis, dive below the surface, leaving the pelicans to faceplant in nothing but water. Now it is the pelicans who must evade as the sleek cormorants can spring surprise attacks from the depths, likely scaring off the larger, more buoyant bird. Yep, my money’s on the cormorant.

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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!