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
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!
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?
Happy World Oceans Day! The ocean brings us all together, it can teach us, it can heal us, it can inspire us, it can entertain us, and it can protect us, but it turn, we need to love our ocean back. Unfortunately, we are in a place in society where our monetary desires have come before valuing the health of our planet and our ocean. Today is a day reserved to cherish and celebrate our blue planet while combining international efforts to preserve this amazing ecosystem and resource.
Roughly 71% of our Earth’s surface is covered in water and it contributes limitless resources toward our survival and wellbeing. Most importantly, the ocean is the major contributor of the oxygen that we need to breath every second (70%). Phytoplankton and algae are continuously producing more than double the amount of oxygen that comes from our terrestrial plants and without it, we would be hurting. The ocean also keeps our atmosphere clean; it stores the majority of Carbon Dioxide and other harmful gases that contribute to the depletion of our ozone layer. Aside from making the air that we breathe, the ocean provides us with many of the chemicals and pharmaceuticals that heal us when we are sick. It also keeps us healthy in sustaining us by cleaning the water we drink and supplying us with nutrients in food. Unlimited benefits can be sourced back to the big blue and we owe it to the ocean to give back.
Today on World Oceans Day, be aware that YOU can be the change that helps our oceans rebound from the damage that we, as a society have inflicted.
According to the World Oceans Day foundation, we can all contribute to the cause by following these steps:
Change Perspective– Discuss the ocean with your friends and family, see what their knowledge of the ocean is and how they perceive our impacts.
Learn– Research and discover the wonders of the blue and consider how we can change our behavior and benefit our oceans for a better future.
Change Our Ways– It isn’t as hard as you think to change your individual influence on the ocean. If you are aware, participate in your community, and inspire others to do the same, your actions will be felt for years to come.
Celebrate– Spend time at the beach and in the water, enjoy what the ocean has to offer and celebrate it! Even if you are far from the ocean, you still benefit from the ocean’s bounty; be aware and be thankful.
Corals are not rocks, nor plants. They are animals. Invertebrates, specifically. These sessile organisms are colonial—meaning many individual organisms comprise a single coral. These individual organisms are called polyps. Each polyp is complete with a mouth, a stomach, and multi-purpose tentacles. More on that later.
There are two major types of coral: soft corals and stony corals. The stony corals are considered reef builders, oceanic architects. The polyps that create stony corals secrete a hard skeletal structure made of calcium carbonate. Soft corals, on the other hand, have a different kind of support structure. Their polyps contain something called sclerites—a hard plate of chitin, which is what the exoskeletons of arthropods (think crabs and lobsters) are made of. Recent underwater explorations have discovered a third type of coral: deep sea coral. 20,000 below the surface of the ocean thrive both stony and soft corals. They differ from the shallow water corals in one major respect—they don’t need sunlight to survive.
That Big Ball of Energy
Photosynthesis. The process of converting the sun’s light energy into chemical energy. Many corals have the ability to do this. But polyps cannot complete the task on their own. To create their food source, their energy for survival, they obtain help from zooxanthellae. Put simply, zooxanthellae are microscopic algae. These algae find their home in the surface tissue of coral polyps. In return for shelter, these algae give coral the energy they need to survive. Additionally, these zooxanthellae provide a plethora of colors and patterns for corals. That rainbow of life that paints the iconic coral reefs of the world is much in thanks to zooxanthellae. The relationship between the polyp and zooxanthellae is symbiotic and mutually beneficial. Each one needs the other for its survival. When conditions in the ocean become inhabitable (think: too warm, too acidic), zooxanthellae are kicked out. The polyps, in times of stress, will expel their zooxanthellae—leaving the coral stark white and starving. This is called a coral bleaching event.
The Corals of Catalina Island
Most corals are found in warm tropical waters, near the equator, where there is clear water and ample light for photosynthesis to occur. Catalina lies in a temperate, nutrient rich zone of the ocean—not ideal for a coral reef. Nevertheless, among rocky reefs of Catalina exist a handful of coral. Purple Hydrocoral. Sea Pens. Cup Coral. Gorgonians. Although they are not reef-building corals, they fill their own ecological niche in their home waters.
Catalina and the other Channel Islands are bustling with life. Many endemic species have lived and evolved on the islands for millennia. The channel islands, like so many other islands, have never been connected to any mainland or continent, so how did all of the different plants and animals get to there in the first place? The for most common ways for plants and animals to spread to new lands can easily be remembered with what we refer to as the four W’s.
The first W stands for Wind. The first inhabitants of newly formed islands are plants. Plants, which live very stationary lives, have had to evolve methods for reproducing and spreading their genes over broad areas. Many plants have developed the ability to spread their genes through pollen or seeds that are designed to be carried through the air far away from the parent plant.
The second W is wings. This is by far the simplest method for immigrating to new places. Birds, bats, and insects that possess wings can simply fly to freshly formed islands, especially ones as close to the mainland as Catalina.
The next W stands for water. Many animals have swum great distances to increase their range. One example of this is the pygmy mammoth of the Northern Channel Islands. Some experts think that at the time the mammoths swam across the channel that the distance was about 10-12 miles. Some animals like the foxes and squirrels that still roam the islands that distance was too great to swim. What likely happened was that they ended up stranded on floating debris piles that drifted to the islands. Once they hit the islands or were close enough, they escaped the rafts and many eventually evolved into new endemic species.
The last W can stand for either Westerners, Warner Brothers, or Wrigley’s. No matter which one you prefer the method and results were still the same. Humans brought plants and animals to the island for various reasons. Some plants were brought over for function such as the eucalyptus trees for erosion while others were brought over for décor. Animals that were brought to the island include goats, deer, and pigs. The most renowned animal on Catalina is probably the bison. They were first brought to Catalina for a movie and then they were never returned.
However they got there, the animals of Catalina have and will continue to shape it’s unique ecosystem.
Catalina Island has a very long and unique history, from the Native American peoples who lived on the island for thousands of years, to the European settlers of the 16th and 17th centuries, and even the movie stars of the mid 1900s. One brief part of Catalina’s history that is often overlooked is the mining boom of the late 1800s and early 1900s.
Catalina had a brief mining rush that actually predates the California Gold rush. In the 1830s, a sea otter hunter and fur trapper named George C. Yount claimed to have discovered gold-bearing quartz in the hills of the Cherry Valley cove. Most people at the time didn’t take the discovery as lightly as Mr. Yount: he only returned to Catalina three times in search of gold, but news of his discovery eventually led to a mining boom on the island.
George C. Yount, or should we say… “The Goldfather?”
Many prospectors flocked to Catalina in search of riches, and found it quite easy to stake a claim and squat on the mostly-uninhabited island. The chances of striking a motherlode on Catalina seemed high, with many prospectors finding traces of silver and hoping it would lead them to a vein. Unfortunately for most miners, there weren’t any veins of pure silver ore, but instead major deposits of galena, which is a combination of Lead, Zinc, and Silver.
A combination of galena (silver) and quartz (white), a likely find in a mine like Black Jack (MineralsBulgaria.com)
Galena itself did have some value, but not to the average prospector — and the mining boom on Catalina faded fairly quickly. Some mines on Catalina continued to operate throughout the years, mining for galena at places such as Black Jack Mountain and Silver Peak, the second and third highest points on the island.
The name Black Jack itself comes from another mineral that is usually found in association with galena, sphalerite. The nickname “black jack” comes from the dark appearance of this “junk” mineral that was often found attached to more valuable lead ores.
Galena with sphalerite (zinc sulfide or “black jack”), quartz, and pyrite (Minfind.com)
When the stock market crashed in the 1920s and the Great Depression hit the United States, the last of the mining operations ceased and mining on the island disappeared, leaving nothing except for a few holes in the ground as evidence of the Catalina boom.
The Catalina Island Marine Institute has been an amazing marine science hub for thousands of students and campers from around the world since 1979. CIMI at Toyon Bay is just one of three camps on Catalina Island, but has an incredibly rich history. Unfortunately, this is rarely explained to visitors in depth, as our history normally takes a backseat to exploring our beloved ocean and beautiful labs. Today, that is not the case! We are going to go in depth about how Toyon Bay changed throughout the years, and became the home we all know and love.
You can easily see the geological processes that led to the formation of the Channel Islands, illustrated scientifically here in Oreo crème.
Our story starts out millions of years ago, when the island was first formed through a process called subduction. The large Pacific Plate, an oceanic plate, pushed the Farallon Plate underneath the continental North American Plate causing the subduction of the Farallon into the earth’s mantle. Out from behind the moving Pacific Plate popped Catalina Island and the rest of the southern Channel Islands. Furthermore, over millions of years, water and wind rushing through our island caused erosion in our canyon thus birthing the beautiful inlet we now know as Toyon Bay.
Bowls carved from steatite, or soapstone, by the island’s first inhabitants, the Tongva.
Fast forwarding millions of years we arrive at Toyon Bay’s first inhabitants, the Pimuvits; also known as the Tongvans or, to the Spanish, the Gabrielinos. Believe it or not, these Native Americans settled in our bay and thrived on the abundance of ocean resources that we now admire on our snorkels. Historians believe that the Pimuvits had been living on Catalina Island for at least 8,000 years before they finally moved back to the mainland. Their name comes from the original name they had for the island: “Pimu!”
You can see the dorm Flying Fish in this historical photo of the lower quad!
The next resident of our bay was a prestigious boarding school called the Catalina Island School for Boys. These gentlemen were the ones responsible for all of the antique buildings where you sleep and eat while you’re here. This school officially opened on September 21st, 1928 with an enrollment of 14 boys. Soon the popularity of the school skyrocketed and was sending many students to Harvard, Yale, Princeton, and other ivy-league schools. The dorms even had some of the same names as they do today such as Bald Eagle, Barracuda, Torqua, Flying Fish, and Albatross (above)! Even cooler, the shrine at the top of our shrine loop trail was called the “faculty shack” and was a hang out spot for all of the teachers (below). It was built by students that were in detention by lugging hundreds of pounds of lumber, stones, and cement up the hillside… talk about a punishment! Unfortunately, the glory days of the Catalina Island School for Boys ended with the beginning of WWII and the bombing of Pearl Harbor. This gave birth to the Bay’s next chapter, a United States OSS spy training camp!
The “Faculty Shack” or our famous Shrine of the Shrine Loop Trail
Upon the start of WWII, the entirety of Southern California feared Japanese invasion. Catalina Island was especially thought to be a spearhead for a Japanese attack on American soil. Naturally, the island became heavily fortified and turned into a spy training ground for the Office of Strategic Services, now the CIA. Toyon Bay itself shifted gears to churning out guerilla soldiers that would be sent to Japan to fight in the pacific theatre of WWII. The area around our gaga ball pits was once a shooting range, and small bullet cases have been unearthed by recent storms! Spy recruits that were stationed in Toyon Bay were nicknamed the “Bang Bang Boys” as they were given extreme training routines. One required them to survive in the interior of the island for five whole days with nothing but a knife and some metal wire. Another had them infiltrate the city of Avalon on SCUBA and capture the post office. The guards in Avalon had no idea this exercise was taking place, so the recruits were risking a lot!
Toyon provided ample facilities for spy training, complete with piles of seaweed that camouflaged recruits perfectly.
After WWII, the camp bounced around owners and became a resort, dude ranch, singing camp, and again a boarding school. Then in 1979, Ross and Kristy Turner decided to purchase the facility and start the Catalina Island Marine Institute! It’s crazy to think that from the formation of the island around 20 million years ago to today in 2017 we would have such an amazing place like CIMI call Toyon Bay one of its homes. Who would have thought that your trip to Toyon Bay has been 20 millions years in the making!
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!