Tag Archives: Ocean

It’s World Oceans Day!

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.

Happy World Oceans Day!



Catalina Coral & Zooxanthellae

What is a coral?

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.







Hydrothermal Vents

Life was once thought to be completely dependent upon our closest star, the sun. Even in the deep, dark depths of the ocean where no light penetrates, organisms ultimately rely on the productivity from the sun-bright shallows above for their food. In 1977, scientists discovered that this belief was wrong. At the bottom of the Pacific ocean, near the Galapagos Islands, a team tasked with photographing the Galapagos rift found something no one thought was possible. An abundance of life. An area that was thought to be akin to a desert now resembled a rainforest. How was this possible? 

hydrothermal Chemosynthesis. When orghydrothermal ventsanisms use energy from chemical reactions to create food. These chemical reactions are spewing from the ocean floor—from hydrothermal vents.  A hydrothermal vent is a fissure, or a crack in the planet’s surface. The vents are created when seawater meets magma. As the cold seawater is heated by magma a series of chemical processes take place. The water becomes acidic and metals begin to leach from rocks, as this new fluid rises and reaches the ocean—cold and oxygen laden—once more, chemical reactions quickly begin to occur and create compounds like hydrogen sulfide and carbon dioxide. These compounds are absorbed by bacteria who then use them to chemosynthesize. These bacteria are the base of the food chain for the hydrothermal vent ecosystem. Mussels, clams, giant tube worms, and crabs flourish here. 

hydrothermal vent


The latest data from NOAA explains that there are potentially 550 hydrothermal vent sites around the world. Only 5% of the ocean’s floor has been mapped—who know what else we might find down there.



World Penguin Day

Although Wednesday, April 25th is officially World Penguin Day, it’s never a bad day to celebrate these charismatic flightless birds! Penguins’ distinct waddle, fluffy feathers, and stout body shape make them one of the most objectively adorable animals on our planet. But they aren’t just cuddly organisms. On the contrary, they are efficient predators and are resilient in the face of some of the most challenging climates on earth.

Out of the 17 species in the penguin family, one of the most well-known is the Emperor Penguin. The largest of all penguins, Emperors live year-round in arguably the most unforgiving environment on our planet: the Antarctic. To survive in temperatures as low as -76°F, Emperors live socially, partitioning duties to ensure the continuity of their species. After laying a single egg, females will embark on a two-month journey in search of prey. During their hunting trip, these females will dive down to 1,850 feet for as long as 20 minutes in search of fish, squid and krill. They are aided by their dense bones and stiff flippers, which make flying impossible, but allow the Emperors to dive and swim with high efficiency. Meanwhile, males of the flock remain huddled together for warmth, carefully protecting their female’s egg. These males will rotate through outer and inner positions in the flock, allowing some to warm up in the middle while others bear the brunt of the cold in the outer flanks. Upon the females’ return, they will regurgitate food for their newborn chicks, and the males will swap out, now having their chance to take to the ocean in search of food. Without the cooperative tendencies that Emperor Penguins have developed over thousands of evolutionary years, their species would be long gone in such a trying environment.

While Emperors tough out long winters in the Antarctic, every other species of penguin either leaves during the coldest months, or simply occupies a milder climate year-round. The smallest of all penguins, reaching an average of 13 inches in height, is the Little Blue Penguin, which can be found along the coasts of Australia, New Zealand, and Tasmania. Unlike the Emperor Penguin, Little Blues dive in short spurts of about 35 seconds at a time, reaching a maximum depth of 230 feet. But although Little Blues are small, they are mighty. Little Blues have been known to escape from their primary natural predators: skuas, gulls, and sheathbills. Unfortunately, human-sustained predators like rats, dogs, and cats have taken their toll on Little Blue numbers.

Anthropogenic threats to penguins don’t end with predation on Little Blues. Perhaps the most imposing issue for these flightless birds is global climate change. As air and water temperatures warm in the Antarctic, vital ice sheet breeding grounds that Emperor and Adelie penguins need are melting away. A study conducted by the World Wildlife Foundation in 2008 predicted that in 40 years, 50% of Emperor penguins could be wiped out due to the impacts of climate change.
Penguin Day

So, what can you do to help out our feathery friends on the other side of the globe? Well, start by celebrating World Penguin Day! Then, think of ways that you can reduce your carbon footprint in order to slow global climate change. Maybe try biking to your friend’s house instead of catching a ride, or reducing the amount of meat you eat! Any little effort helps, because just like the Emperor penguin, if we all work together, we can ensure the continuity of an entire species!






The Giant Sea Bass

Let me introduce you to the King of the Kelp forest, the Giant Sea Bass. This behemoth of a fish can grow up to nearly 7 and a half feet long, can weigh a whopping 560 pounds, and can live to the ripe old age of 75. These fish were, at one point, a prized catch by fishermen. Now, critically endangered, an encounter with a Sea Bass is a rare, exciting, and memorable event.

giant sea bass adult

These mega-fish begin their lives as tiny planktonic larvae, adrift in the ocean at the mercy of the currents. As they grow into juveniles the Giant Sea Bass is golden in color with distinct black spots. As they grow into maturity, which can take up to 10 years, they lose their bright coloration and turn gray. Their spots, while still visible, are less permanent.

Giant Sea Bass juvi

Adults are apex predators. Top of the food chain. As such, these fish are a keystone species. Without the Giant Sea Bass the kelp forest ecosystem in which they reside would be drastically changed. On a daily basis the sea bass feeds on a variety of critters that also find their home in the kelp—fish, rays, crustaceans, squid, and sometimes kelp itself. Generally slow swimmers, the sea bass seeks prey that lives on the bottom of the sea floor. Their caudal fin (tail fin) is built, however, for short bursts of speed if need be. Say if, perhaps, the Giant Sea Bass finds itself face to face with its one and only known natural predator: the Great White Shark.





A Few Famous Marine Biologists

For much of human history, the phenomenal life beneath the ocean’s surface was a distant, unattainable world. Thanks to many curious and courageous individuals, however, marine science has grown into a vast and exciting field. While the true “list” of humans who have contributed to our shared understanding of the sea is inexhaustibly large, this post celebrates three who stand out amongst the masses as exceptional pioneers: Rachel Carson, Eugenie Clark, and Sylvia Earle.

Rachel Carson is perhaps best know for Silent Spring, her most celebrated and influential literary work. Her work as a marine scientist, however, extends far beyond one impressive book. Carson studied population dynamics of marine birds, tidal patterns, fish development, and more. Carson had a particular strength that cemented her role in the history of science: she could communicate scientific discoveries and urgencies to the non-scientific public. Carson wrote extensively about environmental ethics and the human-ocean relationship, bringing issues such as the lethality of pollution, the threat of a warming ocean, declining populations of marine life, and many others to the attention of the public. More impressively, she did all of this in spite of harsh denial and criticisms from a canon of government officials, scientists, and elitists whose successes, reputations, and egos were built upon the harmful ocean practices that Carson strove to dismantle.

marine biologists

Biologist/author Rachel Carson reading in the woods near her home. (Photo by Alfred Eisenstaedt/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)

Eugenie Clark began her career in marine biology in a post World War II America, when woman, particularly Japanese-American women, were an absolute minority within science. She nevertheless pursued her passions and over her lifetime, earned the fabulous and illustrious title of “Shark Lady” for her numerous discoveries on shark species and her efforts in extinguishing the unprecedented public fear associated with these misunderstood predators. Clark was also a champion of ocean advocacy and founded the Mote Marine Laboratory, which is dedicated to protecting shark species, establishing sustainable fisheries, conserving coral reef ecosystems, and much more.

marine biologists clark

Eugenie Clark 

Almost no conversation about the history of underwater exploration can be had without the mention of Sylvia Earle. Earle has had a massive influence in the development of modern SCUBA diving and underwater submersibles. She once held the world record for the deepest untethered dive and was the first to lead an all-female crew in a prolonged underwater living experiment. Earle later became the first woman to serve as chief scientist for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the first woman to serve as an explorer in residence for the National Geographic Society. Amongst a life of groundbreaking firsts, Earle dedicated much of her time and energy to promoting oceanic conservation and stewardship.

marine biologists Sylvia Earle

Sylvia Earle

While Rachel Carson, Eugenie Clark, and Sylvia Earle are only a fraction of a fraction of the many who have dedicated their lives to the ocean, the legacies that these three scientists have left, the young people that they’ve inspired, and the hearts that they’ve changed will leave a lasting impact of immeasurable power. Perhaps you, dear reader, will find your name amongst them in the years to come, so long as you keep exploring our oceans.





Mucus in the Animal Kingdom

Boogers. There. I said it. Now you are all thinking about thoseooey gooey slimy’s that drip from our noses when we are sick. But our bodies produce mucus every day—it helps protect our lungs by capturing dust and dirt when we inhale. Mucus production ins’t only a human process, however. Lots of different animals produce mucus for a variety of different reasons. Take these Catalina ocean dwellers, for instance:

California Sheephead

Mucus sheephead

At night this fish may produce a mucus cocoon around its body. This inhibits predators from using their sense of smell to find these fish while they are resting.

For more on this species: https://www.montereybayaquarium.org/animal-guide/fishes/california-sheephead

Sea Hare

mucus sea hare

As a defense the sea hare can produce a purple ink and something called opaline. This slimy, sticky secretion was studied a few years ago. It is believed to interfere with a predator’s ability to taste and smell.

For more on this species: https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/running-ponies/sea-hares-thwart-spiny-lobster-attack-with-goo/

Pacific Hagfish


The slimiest of them all. Pacific hagfish create slime as a defense against predators. Their slippery bodies allow them to flee from the mouths of predators and slip into tiny crevices.

For more on this species: https://news.nationalgeographic.com/2017/03/hagfish-oceans-slime-deep-weird/


Mola Mola Song

The Ocean Sunfish also known as the Mola Mola is perhaps the most strangely intriguing fish in ocean. Its appearance is more alien like than anything else though it isn’t from out of this world. The Mola Mola belongs to the class Osteicthyes that means bony fish. This differs from chondricthyes, which are fish that are made of cartilage like sharks or rays. The Mola Mola is particularly interesting fish. Though it is a bony fish that belongs in the order tetraodontiformes, which includes puffer fish and triggerfish, it lacks several structural features that are prominent on most of their fish cousins. The most glaring absence is the caudal fin (tail fin) and the presence of elongated dorsal and anal fins, which it uses to swim. They also lack a swim bladder, which is a special organ in bony fish that helps them maintain neutral buoyancy. Ocean Sunfish have buoyant skin to help them float which is very beneficial since Mola Mola have the potential to be large. They are the heaviest of all bony fish with some specimens recorded weighing over 5,000 pounds. To grow to such a size one would think that Mola would be carnivores with a high protein diet but instead they are pretty passive eaters that mainly eat jellies that they come across in the ocean. Some specimens have been found to have brittle stars and pieces of fish in their stomachs indicating that they may have a broader diet than previously thought.

mola mola flat

The Mola Mola is received the name Sunfish because their tendency to lay flat at the surface basking in sunlight. Historically they were thought to be planktonic and only go wherever the ocean currents would take them but Mola Mola are actually very strong swimmers that have the ability to dive to fairly deep depths. Sunfish have been observed swimming as deep as 600 meters. One theory that has yet to be proven is that Mola Mola bask at the surface to warm themselves up after extremely deep dives. They have also been known to swim beneath kelp rafts to let fish such as senoritas eat ecto-parasites that attach to their skin. On occasion they will even let birds like seagulls peck the parasites from their skin.

mola mola skin

Mola Mola are found in every ocean except the arctic but breeding grounds or seasons have not been determined. Mola Mola do however lay over 300,000,000 million eggs per individual. The sunfish lays more eggs than every other know vertebrate.

Mola Mola have very few predators. Sharks, Orcas, and Sea Lions have been known to prey on Mola Mola but do not do it habitually. Humans do not regularly fish for Mola and there isn’t a market for them in most parts of the world. Humans are however the biggest threat to Mola due to bycatch from commercial fishing operations around the world.

mola mola 2

Light and Color Below the Surface

Have you ever gone diving and noticed that colors above the surface may look very different than colors below? This is because light and color are very different underwater. Water is very good at absorbing light, and to understand this a little bit better, let’s talk about good ol’ Roy G. Biv.


(Light on the surface appears very different than light below.)

Roy G. Biv (an acronym for the color spectrum) stands for the colors red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet. These colors are in order from lowest to highest energy. Sunlight contains all of the colors of our visible color spectrum and these colors combined together create white light. As you travel from the surface to deeper waters, the amount of light changes and decreases with depth.

light wave

(Red light has the longest wavelength as shown above.)

Red light has the longest wavelength and therefore has the least amount of energy in the color spectrum. Wavelength decreases as energy increases as you move from red to violet light across the color spectrum. Blue light however penetrates the water the best. This is why the ocean can appear in many different shades of blue. Unlike blue light, red light becomes quickly filtered from water as the depth increases. At around 300 feet, no visible light can penetrate the water at all!

Let’s take an apple for example. At the surface an apple appears red. It appears red because it is reflecting that red light from the sun. When taking this apple down to depth at around 70 feet however, it lacks the red coloration and appears greyish. This is because the deeper you go, there is less and less red light to reflect off the apple. This is an amazing adaptation for deep-sea creatures to have. Deep-sea creatures that are red will appear less visible to prey.

light brooke

(Left: Apple appears brownish at depth.)










Written By: Brooke Fox

Blowhole, What are They and What are They Used for?

What is a blowhole?

A blowhole is essential the nostril of a whale. Similar to a human the whale’s blowhole is attached to their trachea and is connected to the lungs, however unlike humans the whale’s trachea and esophagus are separate, therefore a whale in there would never choke on food like a human might. The blowhole is also not located on the front of the whale but in fact on top of their head, funny to think about imagine if our noses were on top of our head instead of on our face? How would we wear sunglasses?


The purpose of having their blowhole on top of their head is for the convenience of not having to lift their entire head out of the water to get a breath. In fact a whale can’t even breathe through its mouth it can only breathe through its blowhole. Its mouth is just used for eating, nom nom nom. Just like if you were to hold your breath for a really long time you let out a huge breath of air and then you try taking in a big gulp of air, a whale essentially does the same thing. They take a massive breath and then hold it between 7-30 mins, or if you are a sperm whale you can hold your breath for up to 2 hours. After they hold their breath they let it out once they reach the surface letting out a huge burst of air. This is where we see the water spout that we call a “blow”

There are 2 distinct types of blow holes, 1 blow hole or 2 blowholes. The one blowhole looks kind of like a donut and the 2 blowhole looks kind of like a heart. Whales that have teeth are going to have a single hole, where as a whale that has baleen is going to have 2 holes.

blowhole whale

Blowhole of a Humpback Whale

blowhole blue

Blowhole of a Sperm Whale

Did you know the average human sneeze travels at about 100 mph? A whale will let out a single breath that can travel at speeds of 300 mph, 3 times the average speed of a sneeze!

When a whale let its breath it can travel at incredible speeds but it also reaches up 30 feet in the air, creating a cloud of mist or spray that almost every person on the ocean is looking for.

blowhole tall

Now when these whales let out these mighty blows they aren’t releasing water from their blowhole they are letting out air, because their breath is so powerful it causes the water around its hole to create a cloud of mist. Well that mist isn’t just water it actually contains mucus and oils, it’s almost like the whale has a cold and is blowing its nose, gross…. Those whale blows can also be very stinky!

blowhole final

The coolest thing about a whale blow is that almost every species of whale has an iconic blow. Which means if you see a whale spout on the water you might be able to identify the whale species. If you see a giant heart shape come from the water chances their might be a right whale underneath it, if you see a geyser come up from the ocean it might be a sperm whale coming up from the deep depths of the ocean. The reason that they have iconic spouts is because the shape and design of their blowhole.

Now you know! So the next time you are out on the ocean or if you’re taking the boat over to Catalina Island and you see a big spout coming from the water, try and knowledge drop on your friends and tell them what type of whale you think it is!

Keep in mind: that whales and many other marine mammals are protected by the Marine Mammals Protection Act of 1972, so it’s very important that we respect the law as well as the safety of whales and all animals we see. A great way to make sure that you are being respectful to the animal and law is by staying a reasonable distance away and utilizing long lens for cameras.



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!