Tag Archive: naturalist-led


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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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Man In the Gray Suit

Man in the Gray Suit
Also known as the Landlord……love being home paddling among our humpback whales of Monterey Bay and a few more elusive species.
Rebecca and I paddled out about 3 miles from Moss Landing Harbor. Beautiful sea conditions, ideal for whale and wildlife sightings. We were hopeful and eventually in awe when 1/2 dozen humpback whales were sighted.

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Smelling a slight stench, we noticed a massive slick of dead anchovies which stirred up a feeding frenzy of birds and a few overly anxious sea lions…..off in the distance several humpback whales surfaced.
Glancing back towards the fish slick, a large dark dorsal fin approximately 2-3 feet high suddenly emerged among the fish goo. My thoughts instantly raced through a series of possibilities. Within seconds I realized we were kayaking with a truly impressive apex predator, a great white shark!
Bill Pullen who was with us confirmed my thoughts and said, “Yeah, that’s a big one” based on his recent sightings of juvenile white sharks while surfing around Santa Cruz county. How Big is Big? Large female white sharks may exceed 20 feet in length which would dwarf our tandem kayak but who knows….we just saw the impressive dorsal fin.
I have paddled Monterey Bay for over 20 years and today was my first good look at the stealthy predator, the Landlord of the Sea! Love the wonders of Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary.
Join us on a naturalist-led adventure at http://www.bluewaterventures.org. Our next whales and wildlife paddle leaving from Moss Landing is October 1st.

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Encounter With Friendly Humpback Whales of Tonga
The South Pacific Nation of Tonga is one of the few places in the world where in water whale encounters are officially sanctioned.
Humpback whales were hunted to near extinction in Tongan waters until 1978.
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Today a whale watching industry is helping to stimulate the local economy and the majestic whales are fully protected. The level of interaction was dictated by the whales. As we backed away they approached closer.
As we slid into the water, two presumably adolescent male humpback whales initiated a close encounter with us.
We departed Tonga with a sense of profound awe and appreciation.
Thank you to the kind people of Tonga and to the magnificent humpback whales.
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Last night our bioluminescence paddle was so incredible that we added more dates for September! Water was glowing and sparkling with each stroke of the kayak blade…erie, cool and memorable with marine mammals coming in close for a better look at us! Join us at http://www.bluewaterventures.org!

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Our group of Mt Modonna Students were thrilled to learn about the California Sea Hare during our kayaking field trip to Elkhorn Slough. Sea hares, a large marine slug can emit a midly toxic purple dye as a defense. Slow moving grazers, they are simultaneous hermaphrodites and are sometimes found in large mating masses known as daisy chains or roman circles

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We also found the gelantious Ctenphore or comb jelly which empowers sicky cells rather than  stinging cells like the true sea jellies (cnidarians) employ. IMG_0692

Mt Modonna’s Pal program matches a senior as a role model with a 3rd grader during adventures throughout the school year. Super cool and highly effective concept.

Teachers, join us on a naturalist-led field trip with bluewaterventures.org. We love our outdoor classroom!

Orcas of Monterey Bay

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Orcas of Monterey Bay…..Finally after many years of searching, we found Orcas! 32 women on our private Blue Water Ventures charter with Sanctuary Cruises got to witness an unbelievable show! Several pods of Orcas, also known as killer whales had converged together south of Moss Landing.

Thanks to the amazing crew at http://www.sanctuarycruises based in Moss Landing. Join our next adventure in search of sea otter pups and baby gray whales next weekend at http://www.bluewaterventures.org!

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What a stellar day we had viewing the Elephant Seals of Ano Nuevo and tidepooling at Davenport Landing! A great group of women from Betty’s List teamed up with Blue Water Ventures for an incredible day.

IMG_0656Mature female elephant seals and juvenilles are returning to the beaches of Ano Nuevo for a catastrophic molt, where patches of both skin and hair flake off their bodies. A shiny new gray coat is revealed.

 

 

 

Juvenille males are around testing their battling skills in the shallows and a few weaned pups or “weaners” remain on the beaches.

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April is truly an outstanding time to hike Ano Nuevo, teachers please join us with your students!

Our day ended with a juvenille gray whale breaching just past the surfers at Davenport Landing.

Check out our next naturalist-led adventure with http://www.bluewaterventures.org!

Baby Spider Eyes Aglow!
Over a thirty year career of night hikes through the jungles of Tropical America, I have seen some really strange and fascinating creatures. I was first introduced to tropical ecology  while working as a naturalist with an incredible outdoor school and crew at Wilderness Southeast based in Savannah, Georgia.

On our last evening at Glover’s Atoll, I noticed the eyes of a wolf spider glowing back at me, something we had already shared with our  22 students  from Our  Lady of Good Counsel High School, Baltimore.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Wolf spider eyes contain a tapetum lucidum, a reflective layer that increases the available light aiding them in their stealthy hunting practices. Years ago, I learned the “naturalist trick” of instructing students to place their flashlight on their foreheads, find an emerald green glow in the grass and follow it to the source…indeed spider eyes!  This night activity was often a crowd pleaser though would send others quickly to their tents! Version 2

That last evening I happened to glance at a wolf spider but noticed that it’s entire back was sparkling with tiny little emeralds. At first glance I thought I had discovered a new species. A closer examination revealed that the tiny sparkles were the eyes of  baby spiders clinging to their mother’s abdomen. Creepy and cool….100’s of eyes shimmering back at us!
An unforgettable moment during our naturalist- led adventure to Belize with http://www.bluewaterventures.org

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