Join me in the cold, dark, life-sustaining NE Pacific Ocean to discover the great beauty, mystery and fragility hidden there.

Who Goes There? Dizzying tracks in the sand.

Let me take you on a little mystery that filled me with big wonder, inspiration and happiness.

It goes back to July of 2017 when I was naturalist around Haida Gwaii with Maple Leaf Adventures.

Let’s make it a photo essay.

To set the stage, here’s the boat and the crew.

Crew from left to right: Mate -Lynsey Rebbetoy, Deckhand -Terese Ayre, Naturalist -You-Know-Who, Captain- Ashley Stokes, Chef -Yasmin Ashi.

You’ll note that the beautiful, historic sailing ship was operated by an all female crew on this trip. Important to note? Yes, but let me not digress.

Here’s the beach at Woodruff Bay near Cape St. James.

The discovery was made by the child I was so glad was on the trip.

Meet Kay from Germany.

Like any smart, curious and observant young person would, she asked what had made the crazy, convoluted patterns in the sand.

Here’s a closer look . . .

. . . and an even closer look.

I didn’t know what species had made those remarkable, dizzying tracks. But, the best things had come together – a mystery, a child, and the chance to discover the answer together.

We struck out to solve the mystery and found lots of little clam shells near the tracks.

We looked more closely at the tracks.

And found the tiny clams IN the tracks.

And then we noted what they were doing. They were licking the sand!

We had found the animal that was making the tracks and concluded the tiny clams must be feeding on organic material in this way. It is known as “deposit feeding” whereby the bivalves use their inhalant siphons to sweep the sand for detritus and microbes = snacks.

We were in awe at thinking of how much sand they must process to leave such long individual tracks and that they must be doing this quite quickly.

Upon returning to the ship, I was able to use the resources there to determine that the tiny clam was some species a “Tellin”.

However, it took my emailing my mollusc expert friends to have the species of Tellin confirmed.

Naturalist supreme, Bill Merilees, let me know I had “met British Columbia’s most beautiful clam Tellina nuculoides, the Salmon Tellin.” He also shared the results of his work to study their growth rings (imagine the dedication needed to count the growth rings of a large sample of tiny clams.) Bill’s research suggests Salmon Tellins can live to age 11 or 12.

Armed with their species name, I was able to find out a bit more.Their maximum size is 2 cm and their range is from southern Alaska to northern California. I presume the “salmon” in their common name refers to their beautiful colour.

I became even more awe-inspired to learn that research supports that bivalves like Tellins select particles based on physical and/or chemical properties that are poorly understood! (Source:

Imagine THAT while you watch my blurry video of the Salmon Tellins licking the sand.

To conclude, I will resist all the puns I could be using to be “tellin” it like it is. (Oops, clearly I am not entirely successful in resisting.)

Rather, I will share the quote with which mollusc expert Rick Harbo responded when I asked him about the species and their tracks.

He reflected on the tracks made by mollusc species who feed in this way with the words of Gandalf from Lord of the Rings  . . .

“All who wander are not lost”.


The happiness that comes with connection to nature and making discoveries – Kay with a boa of “Feather Boa Kelp” that had washed onto the beach. Be on the lookout for Salmon Tellins on a fine sand beach from Alaska to California. Note that other mollusc species (and worms, some sea slugs, etc) also leave tracks in the sand. More on other trail-blazing species in the future. 

What’s it Going to Be? Fight or Flight?

I learn a lot from social media.

Screen grab from SeaLegacy video of
emaciated Polar Bear. See post below.

The reactions to recent posts I’ve made have given me much to think about.

These include two horrifically compelling videos: (1) a fish full of ingested plastic; and (2) an emaciated Polar Bear.

These videos are included at the end of this blog. I hesitated to share them on social media because I know that at the heart of my “The Marine Detective” community, there are people as aware and motivated as I am. It’s not educating you really need.

Screen grab from video of a Mahi Mahi with
plastic in its intestines. See post below.

You need confirmation of solutions and protection from despondency.

But I did share the videos and you’ll notice in my text on the posts (also below) that my decision to do so was because I believed they were powerful resources for others who may not yet fully “get it”.

I am very aware that it’s a delicate dance. To engage, connect, inspire and educate for the sake of more people undertaking positive action. Graphic imagery can help motivate but it can also lead people to disengage, succumb to eco-paralysis and eco-phobia; and/or disappear into the pit of despair.

It’s about fight or flight.

When faced with a threat that’s what we do*.

And climate change, plastics pollution, lack of security – these are threats.

There are many who flee (or freeze). It’s too much. They deny. They try for alternative explanations. They turn away. They shut down. They need to believe there is somewhere to flee to.

Then there are those who fight. Who become further motivated. Who become even more resolute in their actions and intentions.

What makes the difference? In the work I am compelled to do, I need to understand as best as I can.

What do the fighters need to keep fighting?

And what could motivate those who flee to turn around? To see the way forward?

Of course there are many variables at play but what has been further solidified for me as a result of these recent social media posts is that the difference between flight and fight can be  . . . knowing its worth the fight.

We run from what is overwhelming, terrifying and what is perceived to diminish our quality of life.

We fight for what we know is right and are more inclined to do so when we know how to fight and who and what we are fighting.

Who and what are we fighting?
We are being manipulated by the consumer / disposable / fossil fuel paradigm to be fearful and to continue in the way that will ensure their continued power. We are to value acquisition above time and relationships. We are to equate success with stuff. We are meant to feel discontent and that with further purchasing, life will be enhanced. Not only does this paradigm thrive on fear, it grows fat on inequality (sexism, racism, etc).

How to fight?
Realize there’s so much potential for positive change when we remove fear and recognize there are common solutions to socio-environmental problems.

It’s not climate change vs. plastic pollution vs. poverty, etc.

It’s not life depreciating.

There is great gain in:

  • Understanding our connectedness (through ecosystems and through our purchasing and voter behaviour).
  • Valuing human ingenuity but not as an exit strategy and never without true precaution.
  • Using less (less fossil fuels, less disposables, less harmful chemicals).
  • Not being about perfectionism and absolutism and righteousness and bipolarity e.g. “environmentalist” vs. “resource user”.
  • Working for equality. Empowering our fellow humans reduces poverty, violence and even overpopulation.
  • Embracing our power to make positive change.

Really, it’s no surprise that empowered people are happier people.

To you, the fighters who have read this, I hope it has been of use to you.

To those who are inclined to flee, my understanding to you and respect that you have read this far. May this have a roll in your choosing to reject fear and embrace action that leads to greater happiness and purpose. We need you.

For me, the exercise of writing this has been affirming of the path forward.

Because we are even more inclined to fight when we better know how to win.

Text I posted with the following video: “I expect very few people here need further motivation to reduce plastic use but – maybe of use in your circles? Mahi mahi (fish) in Puerto Rico full of plastic. Of course, what we can’t see is the micro-particles of plastic that enter our food chain. Don’t be despondent. Be deliberate.”

Text I posted on Facebook regarding the following:
“I have waited with sharing this. Again, because I believe so many of us here “get it” and I do not want to contribute to eco-phobia and eco-paralysis. But also again, this is so compelling and powerful to be shared with those who do not YET get it. This is what a starving Polar Bear looks like. Is it a certainty that THIS Polar Bear is starving because of climate change? No. Is it a certainty that reduced sea ice makes it far more difficult for Polar Bears to hunt and that they will starve? Yes. And THIS is what a starving Polar Bear looks like. Gutting to watch.
Adds to my motivation to reduce carbon through my consumer and voter behaviour.
Don’t be despondent. Don’t turn away. Mobilize your sorrow and outrage. Reduce carbon footprints.”
For more detail please see CBC “As It Happens” information by clicking here. The article also addresses concerns about why the bear was not fed.

* What further catalyzed this blog is the podcast by Ashley Ahearn in which fight and flight are discussed as reactions to climate changes.
See “You probably have eco anxiety. You just don’t know it.”


Find the Fish – The Book!

It’s a monumental day in my world and many of you here have provided the sense of community and support that have made the following a reality.

My first book can now be ordered.

My  . . . first  . . . book!

Find the Fish cover. Book is softcover 8.5″ wide x 11″ high (21.5 cm x 28 cm) with saddle-stitch binding (two staples).  

It’s “Find the Fish” – an eye-spy style book. It’s the “Where’s Waldo” of the marine world aimed at increasing awareness of the life in the NE Pacific Ocean.

In addition to being fun, the book is intended to add to the knowledge of just how diverse and colourful life is in these cold, dark waters. Text provides background on the images and invites children to look for other species as well as the featured fish.

It is soft-cover and features eleven searches for fish. Each search is spread across two pages to be 17″ by 11″ (43 cm x 28 cm). Answer pages are included showing the location of the fish with additional labeling of other species. Please see example pages below.

Example 1 of the Find the Fish challenges in the book. ©2017 Jackie Hildering.

Example 2 of the Find the Fish challenges in the book. ©2017 Jackie Hildering.

Example 3 of the Find the Fish challenges in the book. ©2017 Jackie Hildering.

Two of the four answer pages providing the location of the fish and labelling of additional species. ©2017 Jackie Hildering.

All photos and text are by yours truly with illustrations of the featured fish generously provided by Andy Lamb of Coastal Fishes of the Pacific Northwest. Fish ID help was also provided by Gregory Jensen of Mola Marine.

Find the Fish is aimed at children ages 5 to 10 and the adults who love them!

The books are $18 each (tax included). YOU CAN ORDER BY CLICKING HERE 🙂 . 

Again, thank you for YOUR role in making this a reality.


  • Shipping in Canada $3/book; USA $6/book; international airmail $10/book.
  • No shipping charge if picking up in Port McNeill. Please contact me by clicking this link before placing a local order.
  • Softcover 8.5″ wide x 11″ high (21.5 cm x 28 cm).
  • Saddle stitched binding (two staples).
  • Cover + 32 colour pages which include:
    • Introduction to the fish and the importance of camouflage.
    • 11 Find the Fish challenges spread across two pages.
    • 4 answer pages.
  • Self-published as Marine Matters Publishing. 

Product testing! 🙂


It’s been quiet here for a while with it having been a very busy spring . . . summer . . . and fall with presentations, surveys, and other trips taking me to other places on British Columbia’s beautiful coast.

Now, I’m back. I’m solidly back for the winter to the little place on the planet where I have the extraordinary privilege of knowing individual fish to individual whales. This place that drew me in so many years ago. This place I love more than any other.

I thought I would share today’s photos taken while going out for a dive from Telegraph Cove.

Photos of home.

At the Surface

Bull Kelp Forest at slack tide. NE Vancouver Island in the background. ©2017 Jackie Hildering.

The World Below

Mountain of life just below the surface. Includes an Orange Peel Nudibranch feeding on Red Soft Coral. Nudibranch species to 50 cm. ©2017 Jackie Hildering.

Colour. Beauty. Fragility. Mystery. Right below the surface. ©2017 Jackie Hildering.

Holdfasts of Bull Kelp. ©2017 Jackie Hildering.

The Forest

Sun streaming through the Bull Kelp forest. ©2017 Jackie Hildering.


Dive buddy Callah McCarroll during our safety stop. ©2017 Jackie Hildering.

Dive boat at the surface. ©2017 Jackie Hildering.

Returning to Shore

Was able to ID Humpback Whale “Hunter” on the way back. Known to us at the Marine Education and Research Society since 2011 when s/he was already an adult. ©2017 Jackie Hildering.

2018 WILD Calendar

They’re ready – my 2018 Wild Calendars.

The selected images are below. All photos are from around NE Vancouver Island, BC, CANADA.

Great thanks to all who helped in the selection of the images. The aim is that these represent the biodiversity of life in the cold, dark NE Pacific Ocean and be compelling in creating a sense of connection and humility about the Ocean upon which our lives also depend.

This may be the only calendar ever to have a Wolf Eel on its cover thanks to people like you. People unified in what the words and photos of “The Marine Detective” are aimed at: Connection. Humility. Inspiration. Wonder. Empowerment. Understanding that there are common solutions to socio-environmental problems. Caring More. Consuming Less. Voting for the future and . . . . knowing our place IN the environment.

Further information on the WILD calendars can be found after the calendar images below. If you would like to purchase please click here.

Cover WILD Calendar 2018 ©Jackie Hildering

January image 2018 WILD Calendar ©Jackie Hildering.

February image 2018 WILD Calendar ©Jackie Hildering.

March image 2018 WILD Calendar ©Jackie Hildering.

April image 2018 WILD Calendar ©Jackie Hildering.

May image 2018 WILD Calendar ©Jackie Hildering.

June image 2018 WILD Calendar ©Jackie Hildering.

July image 2018 WILD Calendar ©Jackie Hildering.

August image 2018 WILD Calendar ©Jackie Hildering.

September image 2018 WILD Calendar ©Jackie Hildering.

October image 2018 WILD Calendar ©Jackie Hildering.

November image 2018 WILD Calendar ©Jackie Hildering.

December image 2018 WILD Calendar ©Jackie Hildering.

2018 WILD Calendar back cover ©Jackie Hildering.

These are large calendars printed on sturdy paper. They are coil bound, and there is a hole to hang them. Dimensions are 33 x 26.5 cm closed and 33 x 53 cm open (13 x 10.5″ closed /13 x 21″ open). They are mailed in biodegradable, transparent plastic envelopes.

Click here to purchase on-line.

Shipping: $5.50/item in Canada; $10/item for USA; $12/item for additional countries.

And yes, these images are available as canvases. 🙂 I can be contacted via this link.


Not a Show. Not a Breach. Not a Surprise.

There’s another viral video showing a Humpback Whale very close to a boat.

Here it is, posted on YouTube on June 23rd, 2017.

Media coverage includes statements like the following:

– “Humpback breaches next to boat”. This whale is not breaching. This whale is feeding; using a strategy called “lunge feeding”.

– “Boaters in the right place at the right time”. No they are not.

– “Whale puts on a show for boaters”. Whales do not put on shows for humans in the wild. They are carrying out their lives. In this case, a whale is trying to engulf as many small schooling fish as possible. At this time of the year, the whales are particularly hungry. Likely this Humpack is recently back from the breeding grounds where there is little to no food for them.

– “Whale surprises boaters”. This cannot have been a complete surprise. As you can see, their cameras were at the ready. This suggests they knew there was at least one whale in the area and likely the whale had already been feeding at the surface. Maybe there were also a lot of active sea birds as a clue that there was a density of fish in the area.

[Update: Via various media sources, it is confirmed that the boaters knew the whale was in the area and that they chose to move closer e.g. “Paul Ziolkowski told WABC his family and friends had been fishing for a couple of hours . . . . and saw the whale a couple of times. The whale was about 60 yards away when they decided to move a little closer to get a better view . . . ” Longer versions of the video also show they had a fishing line in the water when doing so.]

It can only be hoped that the result of this video going viral leads to increased awareness of how unpredictably Humpbacks can surface; that they can be astoundingly oblivious of boats; and that they really need their space. Toothed whales like Orca have biosonar. So many boaters are not aware that baleen whales like Humpbacks do not have this biosonar. So many are not even aware that Humpback Whales are now very commonly encountered close to our coasts, having made a remarkable and very recent return from the brink of extinction.

For the sake of whale AND boater safety,  please click here for the Marine Education and Research Society’s “See a Blow? Go Slow!” campaign to reduce the risk of collision with whales.

See to reduce risk of collision with whales.


Key points include:

Oh sigh! “The Dodo” put this into the world on June 26th, 2017 with the text “Whales Surprise Guy on Kayak | This guy had the cutest reaction when whales surprised him up close.” No. Just no. This too could not have been a surprise. The birds are an indicator and the whales would have surfaced previously, feeding int he area. This is a boater getting in the way of feeding whales and putting himself at risk. This is another case of the media rewarding boater bad behaviour. 

Enough is enough! Your help needed to stop disturbance of marine mammals in Canada

You’ve seen it haven’t you, the video of the little girl getting pulled into the water by a sea lion habituated to people feeding him?


And  . . . you’re likely baffled and outraged that there has been no penalization for those humans misguided enough to cause this habituation?

Please then, while there is so much public attention on this “incident” and the limits of the current Canadian Marine Mammal Regulations, let’s make it count.

Let’s ensure that the amendments that would much improve these regulations are FINALLY passed into law. It will take less than 5 minutes of your time to help, I promise. But I need to provide a bit of background to maximize our chances of succeeding. If you are already aware of the limitations, click here to go directly to “This Is How We Create Change”.

The Problem:
Currently, the Marine Mammal Regulations under the Fisheries Act (Section 7) state “No person shall disturb a marine mammal  . . .” but there is no definition of disturbance. Thereby, there are significant limitations to prosecuting people whose behaviour puts marine mammals at risk e.g. an expert witness is needed to testify that a marine mammal was indeed “disturbed”.  

KW_2016-09-08_JH_Wastell Islands-12598

Vessel under power and almost on top of a member of the A30 matriline of Northern Residents (Threatened population). Photo: ©Jackie Hildering.

The Solution:
The solution has been available since 2004 but has yet to be entered into law by the Federal Government.  That’s right, 13 years ago, the “Regulations Amending the Marine Mammal Regulations” were drafted. I was part of the process. They have twice gone through a public review process and still  . . . no action.

They are incredibly solid and will allow for b
etter prevention, enforcement and understanding of threats to Canada’s marine mammals because they: 

  • Define “disturbance” as “approaching the marine mammal to (a) feed it; (b) swim with it or otherwise interact with it; (c) move it or entice or cause it to move from the immediate vicinity in which it is found; or (d) tag or mark it.”
  • Specify minimum approach distances to marine mammals for boats and aircraft e.g. that boats must stay at minimum of 100m away.
  • Require reporting to DFO of any accidental contact with a marine mammal (e.g. entanglement or collision).

These regulations would of course also reduce risk to humans e.g. the girl being pulled into the water by a habituated sea lion and injury to boaters as a result of colliding with a whale.

Vessel at high speed near Northern Resident Orca (Threatened population). Did not slow down while clearly aware of the whale’s presence, and presumably, the potential of other whales being in the area. Photo: ©Jackie Hildering.

Here’s How We Make Change

Please, now while there is so much focus on acts of disturbance like feeding sea lions, contact your Member of Parliament and insist upon these regulations being passed into law. 

You can find their contact information by clicking this link.

In case it is of help, here is sample text that could be used:

“I am aware of the limitations of the current Marine Mammal Regulations and that, for more than a decade, amendments have existed that would much improve the protection of Canada’s marine mammals (many of which are at risk). It is unacceptable that the Federal Government has yet to pass these into law. Thereby, I ask you, as my Member of Parliament, to urgently undertake action to enable the “Regulations Amending the Marine Mammal Regulations” to come into force. If further background is needed to understand why there is such urgency, see this link”

Please also share this information so that more will contact their MPs.

How’s this for astoundingly misguided behaviour? Boats are to remain at least 100m away from seal and sea lion haulouts and rookeries. Steller Sea Lions are protected under Canada’s Species at Risk Act.

Male California Sea Lion being hand fed. Photo: ©Jackie Hildering.

HW_2016-09-29_JH_White Cliffs-13974

Boat at high speed in proximity of Humpback Whales “Slash” (BCY0177) and her 2016 calf (on left). Collision is a serious risk for whales AND boaters. Photo: ©Jackie Hildering.

A video went into the world on May 20th, 2017 entitled “Killer Sea lion drags girl into Steveston waters” (Steveston, British Columbia). When it was brought to my attention, I posted the following on social media:

“NOT a “Killer Sea Lion”. Rather – misguided humans. Please help educate around why a mature male California Sea Lion grabbed a child that was allowed within a metre of him. This is absolutely not natural behaviour. THIS is indisputably a sea lion that has been fed and habituated to humans. This is predictable. By humans not respecting the wild, the wild loses wariness, associates humans with food (or some other “reward”), and most often . . . loses entirely. THIS is yet another reason why the amendments to the marine mammal regulations should finally be passed by our government. They define “disturbance” and enter into law . . . no feeding, no swimming with, no touching, stay 100m away, etc (they have been drafted since 2004!).  Please, if you witness marine mammal distress or disturbance (includes feeding) call the Incident Reporting Line 1-800-465-4336.” 

The resounding response of outrage to the incident is what has led to my believing that we can make this count; that we can ride this wave of awareness to have the amended regulations passed.

Thank you so much for caring as you do and helping to ensure the protection of Canada’s marine mammals.

For best practices to avoid disturbance of marine mammals see

Close passes like this contribute to habitation; animals losing their wariness; and the disruption of life processes like feeding, nursing and resting. Photo: ©Jackie Hildering.

Shelled Sea Slug! A small mystery solved.

Here’s a bit of a mystery that took me more than a year to sort out.

On April 27th, 2016, I found this egg mass while diving in Browning Pass with God’s Pocket Resort. This is to the north of where I live and is somewhere I only have the joy of diving a couple of times a year.

Mystery sea slug egg mass among horseshoe worms. (From Neil McDaniel re. worm ID – “they are Phoronids most likely Phoronopsis harmeri” – April 2016. ©Jackie Hildering.

I recognized it was likely a sea slug egg mass but did not know the species.

More than a year passed. On May 7th, 2017, I had a chance to dive the same site again and so hoped to find the species who laid the eggs. We quickly swam to where I had found the egg mass the year prior, into the shallows (~5m), and hovered over the ocean bottom strewn with bits of shell remains.

And I found these . . .

Tiny snail-like animals, plowing through the bits of shell and urchin remains. One, two, three . . . six of them!

I tried to calm myself down, to get photos, and to watch how, despite their soft bodies and the sharp bits of shell, they were able to even push under the surface.

They were Stripe Barrel Shells (Rictaxis punctocaelatus with shells only to 2 cm long)!

A “Striped Barrel Shell” beside an urchin spine, giving a sense of how small these animals area. ©2017 Jackie Hildering.

These are often mistaken as being a marine snail (prosobranch) like a whelk but they are a type of “bubble shell” sea slug. They are also not nudibranchs. They have a thin shell and do not have “naked gills”. Therefore they do not belong in the “nudibranch” sub-group of sea slugs (opisthobranchs).  For the classification super nerds, see this link or the graphic at the end of this blog for my attempt at offering clarity.

Plowing down into the shell debris! ©2017 Jackie Hildering.

Please know that I am not suggesting that this is a rare species. Rather, they are hard to find. Their size makes them hard to see; divers often do not target the sand or shell-covered bottoms where they live; AND . . . . they are often just under the surface.

I was incredibly fortunate therefore to find them out and about – maybe feeding on algae and/or trying to smell where a mate might be (and we think WE’RE challenged in finding a partner!)

And how about those eggs? Are they a match?

Yes, they are! I was able to confirm this thanks to the knowledge and brilliant documentation of Jeff Goddard on the Sea Slug Forum (see below).

Source: Sea Slug Forum; Jeff Goddard. 


Another little mystery solved.

Another big influx of wonder about the life in the NE Pacific Ocean! 🙂


Attempt at sea slug classification ©Jackie Hildering.

Giant Siphonophore (Prayja species)

Here’s another fabulously unique jelly-like drifter for you. It’s a “Giant Siphonophore” which can be up to 50 metres long. That’s right – 50 metres – albeit the sightings near the surface are usually much smaller like these two I saw north of Port Hardy (around 2 to 3 meters).

They are not usually common off the coast of British Columbia but, like the recent sightings of many pyrosomes, their presence indicates that there must be warmer waters. They are regulars off the coast of central California.

Paired swimming bells and long stem of a Giant Siphonophore (aka Bell-Headed Tailed Jelly) ©2017 Jackie Hildering.

Siphonophore jellies are so remarkable. While they appear to be a single animal, they are a colony of individuals (“zooids”) with very specialized jobs. The paired bells aid the propulsion of the colony (pneumatophores).  The units of the long stem are known as “cormidia”. Can you discern the individual units in the image below? Each of these segments has parts for reproduction (gonozooids), cacthing prey and digestion (gastrozooids), and defence (dactylozooids)by having stinging cells (nematocysts). While this species does deliver a bit of a sting, it packs no where near the punch of the most well-known siphonophore – the Portuguese Man o’ War.

Tail segment of a Giant Siphonophore with dive buddy and his video light in the background. This one did not have the swimming bells. The bright yellow colour of the “zooids” in the stem is distinct in this species of siphonophore. ©2017 Jackie Hildering.

What had me quite confused when I first saw the species, is that Giant Siphonophores often do not have the swimming bells – just the stem of individuals. These apparently have a role in reproduction (and are known as eudoxids) but cannot regenerate the whole colony. (Added bonus to this blog – more words for the next time you play Scrabble!)

Another perspective on the paired swimming bells (pneumatophores). ©2017 Jackie Hildering.

In what little information I could find on this species, there was this fabulously, dramatic descriptor: “The giant gelatinous predator moves silently through cold, dark waters, propelled by a pair of expanding and contracting swimming bells. Its rope-like body is actually a colony of almost a thousand individual subsections, each performing a specific task. Some provide propulsion, others, reproductive functions; but most specialize in capturing and devouring prey. When hunting, these sections deploy thousands of slender, stinging tentacles to capture drifting krill, copepods, small fish, and other jellies. Almost anything blundering into this deadly net of tentacles soon finds itself stuffed into the nearest waiting mouth.” (Source: The Ecology Center).

And just in case this all is not fascinating enough, the species is also bioluminescent. It produces a bright blue light when disturbed, briefly illuminating our dark, mysterious, life-sustaining sea.


Decorator Crabs! The best-dressed in the NE Pacific Ocean.

Are you ready? I’ve been collecting these photos for a long time. Now, finally, I think I have enough to deliver this marine fashion show to you – the best dressed of the NE Pacific Ocean!

Decorator crabs are camo-crabs. They pluck bits of life from their surroundings and attach it to themselves. AND, if their surroundings change, they change their outfit.

Graceful Decorator Crab covered with hydroids including the “Raspberry Hydroid” which was only recognized as a new species in 2013 and is only known to live near Telegraph Cove (Weynton Pass) and Quadra Island (Discovery Passage). ©Jackie Hildering.

This is highly functional fashion. Not only does this covering of life allow the crabs to hide from potential predators, it also apparently changes the way the crabs feel and taste in a way that deters their predators. Sponges taste bad or are even toxic to many predators and animals like hydroids and other “cnidarians” have stinging cells. Thereby, if you cover yourself with sponges or cnidarians, predators be gone!

Graceful Decorator Crab adorned with “Strawberry Anemones” (not actually an anemone species but a “corallimorph”. ©2017 Jackie Hildering.

Indeed, even though decorator crab species look like walking gardens, often what they attach are not algae but other animals – hydroids, sponges and bryozoans.

Additional bonuses of carrying other organisms on your back may be:

  • You have potential snacks within a pincher’s reach.
  • Your camouflage allows you to get closer to your prey.
  • You are carrying weapons!

From A Snail’s Odyssey: “Apart from passive camouflage from potential predators, other functions of the behaviour may include disguise for closer approach to prey, and provision of tools for active defense, such as a branches of hydroids containing functional stinging cells or pieces of sponges or tunicates containing toxic chemicals.”

Graceful Decorator Crab with snippets of sponge attached to his/her carapace (Hooded Nudibranchs in the background). This individual realized it had been seen and switched to the defence strategy of looking big since “so many fish predators are limited by the size of their mouths” (Source: Crabs and Shrimps of the Pacific Coast); ©Jackie Hildering.

Note too that not all growth on the back of crabs is the result of decorating and remember that crabs moult, crawling out the back of their shells in order to grow. Also from A Snail’s Odyssey:  “In some cases these camouflagings result from settlement of spores and larvae . . . . Passive buildup of growths is greater with increasing age as moulting frequency decreases.  Also, in many species there is a final or terminal moult which, if the species’ exoskeleton is receptive to settlement of larvae and spores, leads to an even greater build-up of cover.”

Graceful Decorator Crab adorned with (and atop of) Glove Sponge. ©Jackie Hildering.

“Spider crab” (superfamily Majoidea) species are the ones that most often adorn themselves. From Greg Jensen‘s Crabs and Shrimps of the Pacific Coast: “Many spider crabs . . . mask themselves with algae or encrusting organisms so that they can hide in plain sight. The decorator crabs are equipped with curved setae much like the hook part of Velcro fasteners: after shredding material a bit with their mandibles, they press it into place. The largest species tend to stop actively decorating once they outgrow most of their predators.”

Crab predators include the Giant Pacific Octopus and fish species like Cabezon, some rockfish, Surfperch, Wolf Eel and the Staghorn Sculpin. Of course, at low tide, birds and mammals are also predators.

Hoping this adds to the wonder, connection and respect for our marine neighbours. Enjoy the rest of the show!

[For research on decorator crabs with great diagrams explaining how how attachment occurs see this link.]

Well that’s unique! Decorated with Sea Vases (species of tunicate). ©2017 Jackie Hildering.

Try not to smile!

Another Graceful Kelp Crab adorned with Raspberry Hydroids.

Here you can even see where the Graceful Decorator Crab has clipped off bits of sponge. AND s/he’s in the act of attaching clippings. ©Jackie Hildering.

Longhorn Decorator Crab. ©Jackie Hildering.

Heart Crab (I THINK) – not likely to have decorated itself but rather this is the result of the settlement and accumulation of organisms = a walking ecosystem. ©Jackie Hildering.

Graceful Kelp Crab with adornment of Sea Lettuce. ©Jackie Hildering

Graceful Decorator Crab in front of a Painted Sea Star. S/he had just moved from being camouflaged among kelp to moving in front of the sea star. ©Jackie Hildering.

This Graceful Decorator Crab has adorned him/herself with bits of Barnacle Nudibranch egg masses for camouflage. You can see the egg masses behind the crab.

Decorator crab species in the NE Pacific include:

  • Graceful Decorator Crab – Oregonia gracilis
  • Graceful Kelp Crab – Pugettia gracilis 
  • Longhorn Decorator Crab – Chorilia longipes
  • Other species too will sometimes put a bit of camouflage on their rostrum e.g. Northern Kelp Crab – Pugettia producta