Tag Archive: California


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The Mola Mola Ocean Sunfish

Imagine an irregularly shaped disk with exaggerated fins, bulging eyes and a tiny mouth below a bulbous flat head flopping around at the surface of Monterey Bay and you have discovered the ocean sunfish, Mola mola!  As you approach this mystical creature, it suddenly dives out of sight undulating its dorsal and ventral fins as it disappear into the depths. The Mola mola is the heaviest   bony fish known to exist in the ocean realm.   It sustains itself on a diet of gelatinous creatures such as the egg yolk sea jelly among other planktonic jellies found in Monterey Bay. Beginning life as a tiny minuscule drifting egg, an ocean sunfish will begin to grow increasing its size by over 50 million times until it reaches the size of a minivan. To put this into perspective, imagine a fully-grown marine toad, Bufo marinus weighing over 120,000 pounds that began its journey though life as a tiny tadpole, weighing less than a gram. Mola mola are acknowledged in the Guinness Book of World Records as producing the largest number of eggs of any fish ever recorded. A single female ocean sunfish held 300 million eggs. The ocean sunfish thrives in temperate and tropical oceans including the Pacific Ocean, the Atlantic Ocean, the Indian Ocean, and the Mediterranean Sea and on rare occasions, the Bering Sea. While their preferred habitat is open ocean, they may sometimes wander into kelp forests and deep coral reefs.

Natural History Notes

Its is intriguing to note that adult ocean sunfish lack a swim bladder, the organ in fishes that gives them the ability to control their buoyancy.  Ichthyologist once assumed that ocean sunfish traveled at the whim of prevailing currents drifting along with other planktonic forms of life. However, studies have revealed that the Mola mola can reach speeds of over 3 kilometers per hour and cover over 25 kilometers per day. While often appearing lethargic and slow moving near the surface, they are quite capable of speed and swimming to depth.aaScreen Shot 2017-07-01 at 8.42.11 PM

 

However, since ocean sunfish are often drifting at a pelagic snail’s pace, they are subject to a high degree of parasitism. Seeking slow moving creatures such as sea turtles basking in the sun, whales in breeding lagoons and meandering ocean sunfishes, a variety of parasites will climb aboard for an easily obtained and predictable meal.

 

Another interesting story can be woven between Mola mola and Bufo marinus, the lethargic marine toads of Tropical America. Oozing from the paratoid glands of these impressively large toads is a milky substance which contains bufotoxin, a strong neurotoxin. The ocean sunfish is classified among the Tetraodontiformes, an order of marine fish which contain a powerful neurotoxin, tetrodotoxin. Unlike their cousin the pufferfish, ocean sunfish probably lack the deadly toxin.  However, the toxins derived from both the marine toad and the Mola’s cousin, a Caribbean pufferfish have been used in the Haitian traditional practice of zombism.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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http://www.bluewaterventures.org

Blue Water Ventures offers customized naturalist-led field trips in California, Central America and the Caribbean. As environmental educators, we believe in hands on learning experiences using the outdoors as our classroom.

When teachers call to inquire about field trips, I speak with them personally to discuss curriculum and the particular themes they would like covered during a program.

Many Bay Area area schools choose the calm protected water of Elkhorn Slough for a day of sea kayaking. Harbor seals, sea otters, cormorants and pelicans are easily observed from the quiet perspective of a kayak. For fifth graders and above, no previous kayaking experience is necessary.

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Our Elkhorn Slough curriculum includes: wetlands ecology, endangered species, natural history of sea otters, harbor seals, sea birds. Etc and cultural history. Leadership and teamwork are key components of your field trip. After lunch, students are introduced to several sampling techniques including a large seine net to pull and plankton tow with field microscopes to use.

We offer a leisurely paced, full day in Elkhorn Slough (9:30-2:00) for only $38 per person with a complimentary trip for teachers. Closer to San Francisco and the is Pillar Point Harbor in Half Moon Bay where a similar curriculum can be offered for $48 per person.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

As a professional educator with over 30 years in the field with students, I am committed to providing quality outdoor programs. I would appreciate the opportunity to speak with you regarding potential field trips for your students.
Kim Powell, MRPA
Owner, Operator & Naturalist
Blue Water Ventures
phone & fax: (831) 459 8548
email: bluewaterventuressc@gmail.com
website: http://www.bluewaterventures.org
127 Mason St, Santa Cruz CA 95060

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What a spectacular day on the water with the humpback whales and marine wonders of the Monterey Bay. Bait fish have moved in close to our coast again creating a feeding frenzy among sea birds, sea lions, dolphins and whales. Humpbacks, which are capable of switching their diet from krill to bait fish thrive in such conditions where as other baleen whales such as Blues are restricted to krill blooms.

Check out http://www.bluewaterventures.org for our next whales and wildlife adventure by kayak, bioluminescence night paddles, Florida

manatees, Baja whales and more! DSC01865

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A budding shark enthusiast, a mere 10 years of age and part of my Marine Science Camp excitedly shared a memorable factoid with me a few years ago. “Ya know Kim, you are more likely to die from a toilet seat whirling through the air than a shark”.
I suppose this fact may be true if you reside in Kansas but not if you kayak the open coast of Central California from Davenport to Santa Cruz. Today we set off on such an adventure, part of a staff enrichment paddle with Blue Water Ventures. Armed with a marine radio, compass, extra fleece and a cell phone, 3 of my seasoned guides and a Blue Water fan set off on a 15 mile paddle along the rugged California Coast.

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The coastal scenery was spectacular. Sea caves, arches and rocky pour overs dotted the coastline. Paddling a mile or so offshore we admired the scenery from a far keeping a safe distance from a menacing surf zone. We hoped to encounter a few California Gray Whales as they make their perilous journey from the calving lagoons of Baja to their rich feeding grounds of Alaska. While several whales surfaced at close range, our real focus was to keep upright as falling seas lunged us forward and chaotic wind swell hit our kayaks broad side. We were slightly gripped, thirsty yet unquenched as we made our steady path down the coast. Four women focused and alert engulfed in blue seas.

Then a stealthy shape silently appeared slicing across the chaotic seas gliding along side us for a few seconds then disappearing. The Man in the Gray Suit, a real buzz kill, an uninvited guest and an apex predator, The great white shark, Carcharodon carcharias decided to crash our training. Our guess is that our little friend sporting the gray suit just cruised by mildly curious. Like most white shark encounters with humans, our visitor directed its attention elsewhere. An excited sea lion porpoised moments later, perhaps escaping the jaws of the shark or providing a meal.
DSC01789Admittedly, there was a sigh of relief as we tucked around Seal Rock and enjoyed a relaxing observation of a sea otter mom and her pup wrapped up in kelp.

How Big Are Elephant Seals?

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How Big Are They?
We are gearing up for our yearly elephant seal adventure for women south of Big Sur this weekend. If you were to combined the weight of the 22 NFL super bowl players (on average) their combined weight would not exceed that of one male elephant seal! Some of the largest males exceed 5400 pounds and the southern elephant seal is even more massive. Something to consider as you watch the game or better yet, view elephant seals during the height of their breeding and birthing season!

Few spaces remaining for our naturalist-led weekend, 1/31 details at: http://www.bluewaterventures.org

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The Creature Featured today is the Monterey Stalked Tunicate (Styela montereyensis).  Also known as sea squirts,  the tunicates are  more linked to humans than those octopus with clever thoughts,  crabs with their fancy  jointed appendages or  sea hares with their  joy of sex (mass orgies).   In fact, they belong to a group of  animals known as the Urochordates, a subphylum of  phylum  Chordata, animals with backbones.  In their larval form tunicates have  a primitive spinal cord, stomach and heart .  As  free swimming youngsters,  they sport  an appearance resembling  a  tiny  tadpole or human embryo.  As adults, Styela montereyensis claim a sedentary life attached to a surge channel or the  ocean floor filtering plankton through their dual siphons.  Check out http://www.bluewaterventures.org for our next naturalist-led adventure.DSCF36282


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As I pack up for our upcoming Baja Adventure, I reflect upon what an amazing year we had in 2011. There were so many outstanding highlights some captured in these photos. I have led trips to Caribbean Reefs for decades and was extreme tidepooling as a kid long before I coined the term. What fuels my soul are the people who join my Blue Water adventures.

Taking 10 year olds snorkeling with eye level views of sea otters or plunging into a Sierra stream is pure bliss, medicine for the soul. I’ve shared Elkhorn Slough with wonderful families who really care about the ecological wonders of one of California’s last wetlands.

My trips for women are more like adventures with great friends. I feel so lucky to have an amazing following of women, many who return for every adventure I throw their way. We have spent a day underground kayaking below the Belizean rain forest, snorkeled at night with bioluminescence draped over the reef, sailed the blue and thrown ourselves off granite rocks in the Sierras. Its been an unforgettable year of wildlife encounters……baby manatees, massive whale sharks, gray whales and tiny frogfish, all so awesome in their own right. Kayaking among the Humpback Whales of Santa Cruz last fall was a lifetime high point.

Funniest trip moment? Dr Ruth finding herself trapped in a broken elevator with a keg of beer, Florida Springs trip. The Ocala firefighters were on it!

I am faced with some personal challenges as I care for Mama Bear and juggle time spent with her and travel. My trips are healing during this challenging journey. I treasure each day I have with Bear. Having her in my life is truly a gift. On my Blue Water adventures, I am rejuvenated by sharing the wonders of the world with those who follow.

In 2011, I loss a dear friend, Jim Bitler who I dedicate this year to. Jim was one of the greatest naturalist and historians of modern times. Jim was an inspiration, friend and devoted partner who enriched my life and countless others.

I thank my Blue Water Ventures community for these memories and lessons I’ve learned from each of you along the way.

May the Wild-Life be with us in 2012!

Kim Powell, MRPA
Owner, Operator & Naturalist
Blue Water Ventures
phone & fax: 831-459-8548
www.bluewaterventures.org
email: bluewaterventures@sbcglobal.net
108 Mason St., Santa Cruz, CA 95060

www.bluewaterventures.org
Join the naturalist of Blue Water Ventures as we explore the tidal creeks of Elkhorn Slough. Sea otters, sea lions, harbor seals, sea jellies and an amazing array of migratory birds makes the Slough an incredible area to explore by kayak. Your professionally trained naturalist will explain the intricate details of this amazing marine ecosystem in an informative and entertaining format. Join us for a great day on the water!