Happy (almost) Valentine’s Day!
Here on land, we give our sweethearts flowers to show our love. But what is the undersea equivalent of a rose? To answer that question, we’ve chosen three undersea creatures who seem to embody the spirit of Valentine’s Day.
A Spanish dancer is a nudibranch, or sea slug, but these are much prettier than our above-ground slugs. They are free swimmers and wouldn’t make this list if it weren’t for their egg sacs, which are literally called a “sea rose.” And that’s exactly what they look like, a little rose growing under the sea.
But even the adults get in on the Valentine action, often colored bright red or pink and gracefully moving through the water like flamenco dancers. Watch out, though, because Spanish dancers and their sea roses are both toxic and best admired from a distance.
Mediterranean Red Coral
Mediterranean red coral is made of a hard red or pink skeleton, covered in small polyps that wave graceful tentacles. Its bright red color is truly eye-catching; so much so that people have been harvesting it for centuries to display and make into jewelry. It’s now difficult to find a thriving colony of red coral, and thus it should be off-limits as a Valentine gift. But taking your valentine on a dive to see some living coral would make for a lovely (albeit expensive) date.
Passion Flower Feather Star
We just love the name of this creature. The passion flower feather star is an echinoderm, like a starfish. They have many feathery arms—up to 20!—that look like red petals. They grip onto rocks or other hard surfaces and use the feathery appendages on their arms to trap plankton and other small foods. They mostly stay where they are, like a flower constantly in bloom, but will curl up into a protective ball if disturbed. They add a lovely spot of color to reefs and bays in southern Australia.
Our conclusion? Undersea gardens are just as beautiful as our rose gardens on land, but they are best left alone—like a rose, these creatures will not last long out of their habitats.
To learn more about exotic and unusual sea creatures, check out our marine wildlife encyclopedia.
This is part of a series of posts about our Pacific Hotspots expedition. Today's highlights: octupuses, hydrocorals and nudibranchs!
California Leg, Days 4-5
Friday concluded the Monterey portion of the expedition, and we had high hopes and much enthusiasm for the last day. We successfully completed three fantastic dives exploring three unique habitats.
This section of the expedition involves two ROVs, a compact one able to capture footage in more shallow depths and one designed to dive much deeper. The crew is still making improvements to the larger ROV so we used the smaller one to document bottom habitat consisting of sand, boulders, and large white sponges inside Point Pinos reef; the pinnacles at Asilomar State Marine Reserve; and investigated marine life hiding within the ledges of the Monterey Shale Beds.
The strong swells we had been working against all week calmed a bit under the overcast sky. Special guests joining us today included scientists from the Stanford Center for Ocean Solutions, a reporter and photographer from the Santa Cruz Sentinel newspaper, and documentary filmmakers from Sea Studios.
Our dive within the newly established Asilomar State Marine Reserve was truly extraordinary. We were pleasantly surprised to see that this marine protected area contained such large pinnacles, equivalent in splendor and color to what we observed further south near Carmel earlier in the week.
Why are sea slugs so much more beautiful than their terrestrial counterparts? I don’t know, but thank Neptune for nudibranchs.
Here’s a slideshow of some of the gorgeous “nudibranquios” (new favorite Spanish word) captured during the Oceana Ranger’s expeditions: