The Beacon: Ashley Blacow's blog

Last Day in Washington: Techno-Colored Crabs

crab

© Oceana

This is part of a series of posts about our Pacific Hotspots expedition. Today's highlights: On their last day in Washington, the team saw an orca, spiny dogfish, techno-colored crabs and more.

Washington Leg, Final Day

As we prepped the ROV for its first dive, an orca slowly made its way around the island, easily identified by its magnificent tall, black dorsal fin. It was dinner time as we arrived at Kellett Bluff in Puget Sound. A harbor seal moved effortlessly across the surface of the water carrying its dinner, a large salmon. As we readied for the dive, more rhinoceros auklets feasted on sandlance.

Once the ROV was deployed we soon saw several spiny dogfish swimming back and forth in front of the camera’s path. This grey shark is important because it serves as both predator and prey, and this abundant little shark can have large effects on its ocean ecosystem. It’s also important to note that spiny dogfish reproduce in a way that makes them extremely vulnerable to overfishing. The age at which they reproduce has been estimated to be from 10 to 20 and even 30 years.

In Andrew’s Bay the crabs stole the show. A crab that can only be described as techno-colored perched on a rock. It was miraculously camouflaged despite its bright orange and red colors. Another intriguing crab was wearing a hydroid coral as a headpiece. It proudly wore this fanned coral with a height equal to the length of the crab’s body. 


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Diving in the San Juan Islands

anemone

© Oceana

This is part of a series of posts about our Pacific Hotspots expedition. Today's highlights: On their first day in Washington, the team saw a minke whale, harbor seals and more in the San Juan Islands.

Washington Leg, Day 1

Just before 5 a.m., captain Todd Shuster started the two quiet engines of the eco catamaran, Gato Verde. Shortly thereafter we were riding the waves out of Port Angeles Harbor.

Due to gale force wind advisories in the central Strait of Juan de Fuca, we were forced to re-route our diving to the San Juan Islands. For years, we have been interested in the abundant forage and orca whale populations, steep drop-offs and strong currents in this area. As we approached the islands we were exuberant, curious, and hopeful of what we would find today.

Living among the sand and rocks of Hein Bay, a bed of scallops and sea urchins were kept company by corals and a diversity of fish species. A brief appearance by a minke whale off the bank was a highlight of this dive.


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Close Encounters With Humpback Whales and Orcas

orca

An orca breaching in Monterey Bay. © Oceana/Geoff Shester

This is part of a series of posts about our Pacific Hotspots expedition. Today's highlights: humpback whales and orcas!

California Leg, Day 3

Yesterday was a spectacular day as we saw some of the most colorful and rich habitats we’ve seen yet! The objective was to gather footage from some of the more spectacular areas of pinnacles and rocky reefs that we started to explore last year.

At the outer edge of the Monterey Peninsula, just off Pebble Beach, is a spectacular reef that we explored last year. While golfers marveled at the sites from the world famous course on shore, we marveled at the wildlife above and below the ocean offshore. 

We brought several guests with us including a representative from Mission Blue, another organization focusing on ocean exploration and conservation. The weather was sunny and warm, however a medium-sized southerly swell made the ride a bit bumpy and our cable operators got soaked.

The Carmel Pinnacles were protected as a marine reserve in 2008. This combination of rocky reef at the edge of a steep canyon wall that drops thousands of feet provides a rich feeding ground, as nutrient-rich water is pulled up from the deep through a process called upwelling. 

As we set our ROV equipment up for the first dive, we saw two large humpback whales swimming right by our boat. We explored a depth range of 90-150 feet. The habitat was composed of large pinnacles and boulders, jutting out of a sandy seabed. Nestled in the cracks and crevices were china rockfish, gopher rockfish, and treefish, while we encountered several schools of black rockfish hovering at the tops of the reefs.


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A Trove of Marine Life in Monterey Bay

jellyfish

© Oceana

This is part of a series of posts about our Pacific Hotspots expedition.

California Leg, Day 2

This morning after we passed the barking sea lions on the breakwater at the end of the harbor, we traversed through fog so thick there were no signs of land anywhere to be seen. We pushed trough swells upwards of 6 feet to get to our fist dive site of the day. A mola mola (aka ocean sunfish) we passed along the way didn’t seem to mind the intense swells as it basked on the ocean surface.

After motoring out 20 miles across Monterey Bay (north of the Monterey Canyon), we deployed the ROV at the former California halibut trawl grounds. As a direct result of the work of Oceana, this area has been closed to bottom trawling since 2006.

The seafloor here is primarily soft sediment and ranges in depth from 50-250 feet. The areas were teeming with signs of life, including burrows, tracks, and holes. Some places had a lot of juvenile fish and crabs suggesting these areas may be a nursery ground for fishery species. Overall, we were surprised by the diversity of habitat formations and creatures.


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Exploring the Monterey Shale Beds

sunflower star

A sunflower star feeds on the Monterey Bay seafloor. © Oceana

This is part of a series of posts about our Pacific Hotspots expedition.

Day 1:

Today, in beautiful Monterey, Oceana kicked off the first part of a three-week research cruise. This week we are aboard the research vessel Derek M. Baylis, focusing on Important Ecological Areas (ocean hotspots) in Monterey Bay.

Today’s goal consisted of conducting trial runs with the Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) called Video Ray Pro IV as well as allowing the Oceana crew from South America, Alaska, Oregon, and California to get our sea legs and refine our on-board duties. With a small High Definition camera on the ROV, we recorded about an hour of footage at each of the four sites we visited.

At the Monterey Shale Beds, at depths up to 125 feet, we observed a myriad of life in the nooks and crannies including sea cucumbers, anemones, gobies, juvenile rockfish, kelp rockfish, sculpins, gorgonian corals, an octopus, a wolf eel, and a metridium (an anemone that looks like white cauliflower). We watched a sunflower star feeding and a sheep crab that was not so ‘sheepish’ as it instigated a wrestling match with the ROV.


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California Assembly Protects Forage Fish

humpback whales

Humpback whales feeding in Monterey Bay. © Richard Fitzer

 Yesterday afternoon, the California Assembly acknowledged the critical role that forage species play in maintaining a healthy marine food web by passing Assembly Bill 1299 (AB 1299), sponsored by Oceana and introduced by Assemblymember Jared Huffman (D-San Rafael).

Forage species, like sardines, herring, and market squid, are truly the “heartbeat” of the ocean forming the foundation of the food web – which in turn benefits everything else that eats these small fish.  

AB 1299 provides a much needed change in the way California manages its fisheries by establishing a state policy that will for the first time consider how much forage should be left in the ocean. This is not just an environmental issue, but largely an economic one; forage species help support California’s recreation and tourism economy, which is worth over $12 billion annually, providing more than 250,000 jobs in the state.


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Will California Make a Slam Dunk to Protect Sharks?

Chinese NBA basketball star Yao Ming hopes so. As center for the Houston Rockets, Ming is spreading the word to “Say no to shark fin soup” with his new ads sponsored by Oceana and WildAid.

Ming’s message is traveling through San Francisco by bus, including those on Chinatown routes to support legislation (AB 376) to ban the possession, sale, trade, and distribution of shark fins in California.


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Rachael Harris at Sea Turtle Symposium

Rachael Harris at Sea Turtle Symposium

Rachael Harris, actress and sea turtle advocate.

Oceanography legend Jacques Cousteau once said “The Sea, once it casts its spell, holds one in its net of wonder forever.” This spellbound wonder is certainly true for our fascination with the 7 species of sea turtles that have inhabited the world’s oceans for four million years and, sadly, which are all now threatened or endangered with extinction. These awe-inspiring ocean reptiles were the focus of the 31st Annual Symposium on Sea Turtle Biology & Conservation in San Diego.

Actress and sea turtle advocate Rachael Harris (“The Hangover”) presented at our Friday reception. She shared a special connection she made with a green sea turtle named Esmeralda while touring a sea turtle rehabilitation center in Mexico with Oceana last year.

Harris was captivated by how expressive Esmeralda was despite her flippers being mutilated after becoming entangled in fishing line and being attacked by a dog while on a beach to nest. Harris’ enthusiastic support for sea turtle protections is shared by fellow sea turtle advocate Angela Kinsey (“The Office”). The two will storm the nation’s capitol in early May to educate Congress about why we need to get turtles off the hook and the need for more sea turtle protections throughout our nation’s waters.  


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A Win for California!

California voters successfully defeated Proposition 23 that would have essentially repealed California’s landmark climate change legislation. The Wavemakers of California sent a strong message to Texas oil companies Valero and Tesoro and the California Legislature that we want clean air, clean energy, and we want to protect our oceans.

Thanks to you, California can continue to move forward to reduce the state’s greenhouse gas emissions-ultimately, keeping the world on the right path to reduce the impacts of ocean acidification and other climate induced effects including sea level rise, changes in species distribution, and loss of ocean habitats.


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A Proposition to Protect California’s Parks

The California coast near Monterey. (via Wikimedia Commons)

California’s Parks System faced collapse last year and the picture for the coming years looks grim.

Enter Proposition 21, a statewide ballot initiative that offers hope to help ensure our 278 state parks and beaches stay up and running and our wildlife and marine resources are protected. Prop 21 establishes a stable, reliable and adequate funding source through an $18 increase in the California vehicle registration fee. These funds will be directly deposited into a State Parks and Wildlife Conservation Trust Fund and can only be used for operation of state parks and protection of ocean resources and wildlife.


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