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

Great White! Not what you think . . .

Great White!
Not quite what you were expecting?  

These are Great White Dorids. Yes, they are a species of nudibranch and the individuals featured here are mating, prowling for sponges AND succeeding in laying their astounding egg masses.

Mating Great White Dorids: Reproduction of nudibranch species is always right-side-to-right-side; attached by structures called “gonophores”. As reciprocal hermaphrodites, both parents become inseminated and lay eggs.

EACH dot you see in the egg masses (photos below) contains 8 to 12 fertilized eggs. They are laid by both parents because it makes a lot of sense to be a hermaphrodite when you are a sea slug and your eggs hatch into the sea. More fertilized eggs = more chances of some young surviving.

Even after so many years, I find the intricacy and diversity of sea slug egg masses something of jaw-dropping wonder. Not such a good thing when you are supposed to hold a regulator in your mouth while diving. 🙂

Scientific name of this species is Doris odhneri. They can be up to 20 cm long and their egg masses can be at least that size too.

Body design is classic for the sub-classification of nudibranchs that is “the dorids”. Those tufts on their hind ends are the gills and the projections on their heads (which all nudibranchs have) are the sensory rhinophores (rhino = nose). It’s how they smell their way around to find mates, food and whatever else is important in their world.

Notice in the next photo how dorid species are able to retract their gills when disturbed by the likes of an annoying underwater photographer.

Gills retracted.

Amazing too to think of the importance of smell in the sea isn’t it? Why is the individual in the following photo reared up like that? I believe it allows a better position to smell / detect the chemicals of food and/or a mate. Maybe they are even releasing pheromones? Note that is me musing. There is no research I know of to support this.

Same individual as in the first photo in this blog. I asked super sea slug expert, Dave Behrens, about this behaviour years ago and his response was: “I will agree the “rearing” is unusual in this group of dorids. Rearing is common amoung phanerobranch dorids (those that cannot withdraw their gill) . . . Although we will never know for sure, the behavior is thought to be a way for the slug to elevate itself above the substrate in search of chemical clues for its favorite prey.”

In featuring this species, the Great White Dorid, you see that not all nudibranch species are super colourful. But they are all super GREAT.


Species is also referenced as the GIANT White Dorid or Snow White Dorid, or White Dorid or White-Knight Nudibranch . . . etc. Known range is from southern Alaska to California but it’s a species I don’t see often where I dive around northeastern Vancouver Island. 

Another perspective on a Great White Dorids astonishing egg mass.
Prowling for sponges, a mate, or both. 🙂
Poor photo (because my camera housing had moisture in it that condensed in front of the lens) BUT this image shows a Great White Dorid laying an egg masss. It’s one of the times I caught a Great White Dorid in the act whereby I could know what the egg masses look like for this species (albeit that there are some closely related species of nudibranch that lay very similar looking egg masses).

All photos taken in Kwakwaka’wakw Territory, NE Vancouver Island ©Jackie Hildering.


Mask Squeezed and Lessons Learned

This is a personal post.

The photo above is of me 21 years ago, about a week after I got “mask squeeze” on my 37th birthday. I came across the image while preparing for an Ocean Day talk last week. It was taken as a staff photo when I had the joy of teaching children with special needs.

I found myself staring at the photo, at younger me, and thinking of how much has been learned since then. I am sharing with you because . . . because why? Sure, there’s a lesson in physics here but that’s not it. There’s also maybe something of value in how the most important things in life sometimes don’t come easy. But more than that, it’s about sharing some of what I have learned in these years, what I strive to put into the world, and why. 💙

It won’t surprise you to know that you can’t be the same after you’ve been punched in the face by the Ocean. So here goes . . .

Mask squeeze happened on my 20th dive when I did not know enough to realize how little I knew. It was my second birthday back in BC after my many years of teaching in the Netherlands.

I was on a dive trip to some of the most challenging conditions on our coast. The accident happened during one of my first dives in a dry suit. I now know it was madness to be doing my first dives in a dry suit in such challenging conditions. But it was the result of some human chaos and unreliability whereby the suit was not ready when it was supposed to be. Thereby, I could not sufficiently practice with the dry suit before the dive trip and get used to the change in buoyancy from my Dad’s old, thin wet suit.

On that 20th dive, when I rolled into the water off the boat, my fin slipped off my suit. My mask flooded. I did not realize I was holding my breath as I tried to grab the fin. I continued to descend whereby the pressure in my mask did not equalize. BOOM – the pressure of Mother Ocean pushed against my mask and blew out every capillary in my eyes.

From my dive log back then: “ Whatever it took, it was SO worth it. Astounding, astounding life. So grateful to my dive buddies who helped me and who decided the dive site should now be named Shiner Rock.”

It was a powerful lesson in shaping me on this path . . . the vital importance of humility, respect and knowing one’s place in the natural world.

Since then, I have metaphorically faced equivalent injuries, usually inflicted as a result of human ego and disconnect from understanding how our actions impact future generations.

The resulting process has been the same: learn, heal, surface, and repeat.

I will admit too that this photo makes me reflect on the few who say to me “You’re so lucky” or who have had the need to try to blow out my fire. I am lucky in many, many ways but, as much as I do not know the journeys of others, very few know my path – some very difficult choices made and painful lessons learned. We’ve all had those and how very easy and privileged indeed my path has been compared to that of so many others.

I’ve written about having mask squeeze once before, after my 800th dive over 7 years ago. There I reflected: “The Ocean is the source. The battle force. She is my inspiration. She is the beginning and she is the end. She is where I hide and where I am fully exposed. She has taught me my most valuable lessons and . . . . I know it’s not over yet. Not by a long shot.”

I thank all who carry me forward – from my dive buddies to you, the readers, who signa shared values and understanding. . Please know how much direction you give.

Onward, fuelled by lessons learned and knowing what matters most.


See this link for my previous blog about mask squeeze and lessons learned:
“My 800th Dive. From Shiner to Shining?” from January 2014.

Submerge With Me . . .

Come into the dark and colour with me.

This 1.5 minute video is my attempt to bring the astounding biodiversity of the cold, rich waters of the NE Pacific Ocean to the surface.

If there is one thing I hope to achieve, it is to shatter the perception that — because you can’t see to the bottom — there must not be much life in these waters.

The opposite it true.
 
The reason you can’t see to the bottom is because there is SO much life.

Enjoy. Share! And please join me for Ocean Day on June 8th. Details below. 

 
Please see the two webinar opportunities for Ocean Day, June 8, 2021 at www.mersociety.org/events.  

With GREAT thanks to Dawn Dudek for her support in reworking this slide show and to Hunter Molnar Stanton for her help with the first version.

Marine Murmuration – Pacific Herring

Rapturous. That’s a word I do not use easily, but it captures my feelings about today.

I saw the shimmering in the distance . . . Pacific Herring near the surface, scales reflecting the sunlight, the school mercurial, its members seemingly moving with a collective consciousness.

I hung back and tried to drink in the beauty. I knew my bubbles would disturb them and that I could therefore never capture the beauty in a photo.

But then . . . suddenly a river of flashing silver was streaming in my direction. Something had startled them on the opposite side of where I was. I held up the camera and repeatedly depressed the shutter release button while I lived the seconds of hundreds of herring bolting past. Then, they were in the distance again; a marine murmuration; the life’s blood of this ecosystem.

Cropped image.
 The school in the distance again, such beauty with flowing Bull Kelp and the sun streaming down.

Survival against so many odds. These little fish have survived against so many odds and so vital to so much life on our coast; not just in the Ocean but also to predators from sky and land.

Shorebirds, bears and wolves feed on the fertilized eggs. Hungry Humpbacks target giant mouthfuls to gain back weight lost in the breeding grounds. Bald Eagles deftly snatch talons’ full and then feed in the air. The Pacific Herring also feed the Chinook Salmon that sustain endangered Orca.

They have also fed human cultures and commercial fisheries and debate and demonstration.

May the feed precaution and reflection on what will sustain future generations.

Long live herring.

This image is from a previous chance to see Pacific Herring in the distance while diving – January 31, 2021, Telegraph Cove.

An Octopus Hunting

A female Giant Pacific Octopus hunting . . . photos brought to the surface for you on April 4, 2021.

This individual lives north of Port Hardy, in Browning Pass.

She’s a giant among other giants.

The Giant Plumose Anemones stand tall above her, at up to 1 metre in height.

Her arms feel between the rocks to flush out prey, her mind processing all she detects from her eight limbs, her vision, and the further stimuli upon her skin.

A China Rockfish is hovering nearby, likely often accompanying her when she is hunting to benefit from what prey emerges when touched by her arms.

Her colours change, flashing white at times. Then, again camouflaged among the boulders covered with the pink of coralline algae species, and studded with Orange Cup Corals and the plumes of feeding tentacles of Orange Sea Cucumbers.

Two humans are in awe at chancing upon her and being able to hover, navigating the space between not wanting to disturb and also wanting to amplify the wonder above the surface, hoping it somehow contributes to being better humans.

We’re aware too that we are limited by how much air remains in our tanks; the nitrogen building in our blood; and the cold creeping in through our dry suits (despite the adrenaline surge of watching her).

But she, she is limitless here.

She is perfection.

This image provides a clue about her gender. See information near end of the blog.

Please note that photos are cropped.
Our presence was certainly not undetected but wanted to minimize disturbance.
The China Rockfish that was following her as she hunted.
Her eyes are closed (likely due to the annoying light coming from me) but she can still detect light. Read below.

Octopus Gender:

I know this was a female because the third arm on the right does not have a “hectocotylus”. Male octopuses have a specialized arm with no suckers at the tip called the “hectocotylus arm” by which they hand off spermatophores to the female. In Giant Pacific Octopuses, the hectocotylus arm is the third on the right. See more in my recent blog “Giant Pacific Octopuses, How Do They Mate?” at this link.


Octopus Vision:

You can see that the pupil’s shape is very different from ours. Their retina is very different too.

Octopuses and other cephalopods have only one kind of photoreceptor cell while we have rod cells and three types of cone cells allowing us to see in colour. So how can cephalopods discern colour when they have only one kind of light receptor in their eyes? And they must be able to discern differences in colour. Consider how they signal with colour and how they camouflage.

Research from 2016 puts forward that their uniquely shaped pupils act like prisms, scattering light into different wavelengths (chromatic aberration), rather than focussing the light into a beam onto the retina.  The hypothesis, tested with computer modelling, is that cephalopods can then focus the different wavelengths onto their retina separately by changing the distance between the lens and the retina, thereby separating the stimuli and discerning colour. Note that the sharpness of their vision is believed to be different for different wavelengths / colours.

Even with their eyes closed, octopuses can detect light with their skin. This is tied to their ability to camouflage with the photoreceptors in their skin responding to specific wavelengths of light (different wavelengths = different colours).

Note too that octopuses do not have eyelids. They have have a ring-shaped muscular fold of skin around the eye that closes in the way of an eyelid (especially when some annoying human is taking photos).


More Octopuses Hunting

Here’s the link to another experience where we saw a Giant Pacific Octopus hunting AND interacting with a Wolf-Eel (includes video).


Sources

Katz, I., Shomrat, T., & Nesher, N. (January 01, 2021). Feel the light: sight-independent negative phototactic response in octopus armsThe Journal of Experimental Biology, 224.

Stubbs, A. L., & Stubbs, C. W. (July 19, 2016). Spectral discrimination in color blind animals via chromatic aberration and pupil shapeProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 113, 29, 8206-8211.

B-Earthday 2021 and the Ark Video 1988

April 22nd.

It’s Earth Day. It’s also my birthday.

One of us is 4.543 billion years old. One of us in 58.

I’ll let you decide which is which. 🙂

So . . . it’s B-earthday.

My head just after a dive on April 21, 2021.

And while everyday is an earth day for those of us on this blue planet, April 22nd is a day to increase resolve to live knowing our place IN the environment, because that’s where greatest well-being lies.

With this also being my birthday, maybe there is even greater reflection and taking stock – the lessons learned; the how-did-we-get-here; what has changed; what has not; the way forward; how much time is left . . . you know, the big stuff.

The privilege of reaching this age includes that there is more knowing of what has been, which helps inform how to move forward. There is greater understanding of the pushes and pulls on human values, and a greater ability to see over greater timelines, and know common solutions.

Yeah, my head does not spin as much at this age.

THAT was my clumsy segue to the following. For a long time, I’ve wanted to share “The Ark Video” which dates back to 1988. I found it so powerful at that time and believe it still has value and “deserves” to live on the internet, where it may still have positive impact.

The video features Dawn French as Mother Earth, scolding humanity, her children. You know Dawn French. She’s the fabulous British comedian of the “French and Saunders” duo, the “Vicar of Dibley”, the “Fat Lady in the Painting’ in Harry Potter, etc.

Look! The video is so old, it was on VHS and I had it converted to DVD. A reminder that 1988 was pre-internet and before most of us had computers.

There’s that reflection again: How quickly some things change, while others do not, and . . . why?

Watch the video with that in mind?

Note that the organization being promoted, The Ark Environmental Foundation, never proceeded with the promise this video provided. They faded out by the early 1990s. I don’t know why. There were big names involved. Kevin Godley of the rock band 10cc was the director of the video and I believe David Bowie was associated with Ark too.

Wanting words aimed at inspiring the way forward?

Please see my “Ocean Voice” post at this link.


For film details about The Ark Video, see this link.

Gunnel, Gunnel, Gone!

Meet the Penpoint Gunnel, another fabulous fish face and master of camouflage.

The colour of Penpoint Gunnels varies as much as the colour of seaweed . . . from olive green, to golden brown to red. In fact, the colour of Penpoint Gunnels is generally such a perfect match to their seaweed habitat, that they sometimes seem to disappear into it. Presto – gone!

I recently met the individual in the photo above. We were in the surf zone at about 3 metres depth, the water above our heads crashing against the rocks. One of us was way better adapted to go with the flow. It wasn’t me.
Penpoint Gunnel is Apodichthys flavidus to 48 cm long.

There’s a great paper from 1966 by Don Wilkie on the colour of Penpoint Gunnels. An interpretation of the paper by FISHBIO includes: “The coloration of adult penpoint gunnels typically matches the dominant algal community of their habitat. Green individuals are found in the upper intertidal zone where green algae (and eelgrass) is most common, brown specimens most frequently occur in the mid-to-lower intertidal zone where brown algae mainly occurs, and in deeper water where red algae become increasingly prevalent, penpoint gunnels tend to be red as well.”

Here’s a mystery. Penpoint Gunnels CAN’T change their colour to match their surroundings. So how can they have the variety of colour and be so well-matched to their habitat, as is evident in my photos below? Read on!



How can they be such a match to the algae when they cannot change their colour? Is colour determined through the genetics of their parents? Research suggests not! Is it determined by their diet when they are adults? Also no!

It appears that the colour is determined by (1) the vegetation upon which the transparent / colourless larvae settle and/or (2) by which amphipods the larvae eat.

From Wilkie: “Field and laboratory studies were undertaken to examine the ecological role of colouration in the penpoint gunnel Apodichthys flavidus . . . A. flavidus was found to prefer cover under rocks to that within vegetation, but when provided with vegetation alone chose that which it matched. The colour phases observed in A. flavidus were found to be determined directly by the pigments they contained not by differences in stages of chromatophore expansion . . . . Colour change experiments showed that A. flavidus cannot undergo complete changes of colour phase in response to environment alone. Diet has an influence on colour, but complete colour changes were not produced experimentally.

Larvae were reared from the eggs of green and brown individuals. All developed colouration more similar to that of the Artemia [brine shrimp] upon which they were fed than to their parental type . . . It is suggested that the colouration of A. flavidus has a cryptic function which is of importance primarily during food seeking. It is hypothesized that the vegetation upon which A. flavidus larvae settle in conjunction with early diet primarily determines the colouration of individuals.

So, while Penpoint Gunnels cannot change colour, they appear to be able to recognize and select the vegetation for which their colour is a good match. What this also suggests is that the depth where an individual started of his/her life as a larva, will be the depth where they would/should live out their life.

As described above, because of the limits of how deep wavelengths of light can travel, there are zones of seaweeds / algae. Green seaweeds are in the shallows, then there are brown seaweeds, and then red seaweeds are the deepest (their pigment can best absorb the blue-green light that can penetrate to greater depths). If a Penpoint Gunnel started off as a larvae feeding on amphipods that are well-matched to green seaweed, the research supports this is what would make them green coloured. If that individual moved deeper into the brown or red zone, they would not have the appropriately coloured seaweed to match their colour.

ID Challenges

It can be wonderfully difficult to discern Penpoint Gunnels from the other gunnel species off the coast of British Columbia (6 species total).

If you get a really good look at the back end of a Penpoint Gunnel, that really helps in IDIng the species. The “penpoint” refers to the first spine of the anal fin. It’s large and grooved like a fountain pen point. Yes, I know that most often that ID tip is not really going to help with a live individual. 🙂

I find it the most difficult to discern Penpoint Gunnels from Crescent Gunnels (Pholis laeta to 25 cm) and Saddleback Gunnels (Pholis ornata and 30 cm). Those species also have a wide variety in colour and have the black bar by their eye and, Penpoint Gunnels also can have markings along their backs. I don’t believe it is known how their colour of Crescent and Saddleback Gunnels is determined.

Then there are also Rockweed Gunnels, Longfin Gunnels, and Red Gunnels off the coast of British Columbia. Oh, and there are other elongate fish found in similar habitats, like species of prickleback and cockscomb!

The next six photos are included to maybe help with IDing gunnels. They are all NOT Penpoint Gunnels.

Then, at the end of the blog, there’s a fun fishing finding venture for you.

Who goes there? I initially had this individual identified as a Penpoint Gunnel but was thankfully corrected by Andy Lamb. He pointed out that this is either a Crescent or Saddleback Gunnel because there are pale bands adjacent to the dark ones through the eyes.
Crescent Gunnel – common name is for the crescent-like markings along the back.
Another Crescent Gunnel. You can see the crescent-like markings better with this perspective.
Ths is another Crescent Gunnel and here you can see that there are very tiny pelvic fins in front of the pectoral fins (that little bump). Penpoint Gunnels do not have those.
This is NOT a Crescent Gunnel. Andy Lamb let me know this is a Saddleback Gunnel because Saddleback Gunnels have darker stretches between the markings along their backs and because these markings are more saddle-shaped than crescent-shaped. Sure, that should help! You say saddle. I say crescent!
Er sorry – things are even more fun. This is not a Penpoint Gunnel, nor Saddleback Gunnel, nor Crescent Gunnel. It’s a Longfin Gunnel (Pholis clemensi to 13 cm long). How to know when colour and the markings along the back are similar to other species? There are those little dots along the midline of the fish. Yes, it’s often a combination of features that help determine the ID.

Find the Fish!

Many of you may know that every Friday I do a “Find the Fish Friday’ challenge and have two children’s books by the same name. These are the “Where’s Waldo” of the fish world with the intent being that, when people search for the fish in my images, they are also absorbing what the life looks like in the dark, rich Northeast Pacific Ocean.

Below are two such challenges where there is one fish to be found in each photo and it is a Penpoint Gunnel. At the very end of the blog I reveal the location of the fishes. Enjoy!


Summary for Penpoint Gunnels

Species information from “Certainly More Than You Want to Know About the Pacific Coast” by Dr. Milton Love includes:

Maximum length to 46 cm. The Ranges: Kodiak Island to Santa Barbara and Gaviota (Southern California). They are abundant from at least Prince William Sound (northern Gulf of Alaska) to Central California. Intertidal to 8, including tide pools. Most fish live int he intertidal or barely subtidal . . .

Penpints are long, thin, and eel-like, distinguished by a deeply grooved spine on the front of the anal fin (hence the name “penpoint”), a line extending downward through the eyes, and no pelvic fins. The body colour is highly variable: orange, red, and magenta, bright green, olive, or bronze. While usually a solid colour, the body can be highly mottled, with a row of dark or light spots along the midline . . .”


Answers to the two Find the Fish challenges above

This was the very same fish as in the first photo in this blog. I photographed him/her in April 2021 in Browning Pass.
This little guy/gal was in only about 2 metres depth beside a boat ramp in Port Hardy. This is one of the challenges included in my first Find the Fish book.

Sources

Jacques and Jackie?

I have reached the pinnacle of what I could have hoped for in my life. The apex! The summit! ☺️

A finger puppet has been made of me AND it has been coupled with Jacques Cousteau.

Yes, it’s the Jackie / Jacques finger puppet set made with love for our Marine Education & Research Society online auction by dear Kerri Reid.

I am sharing this with you in part to make you smile but also, to let you know about this auction that is so essential to the work we do as the Marine Education and Research Society.

Please see ALL the unique, marine-themed, sustainable goodness in the online auction at this link.

And to Kerri, one billion thank yous for all the joy this brings. 💙

#LifeGoals
#selfmockery

______________________________

About Kerri:

Kerri Reid is a visual artist living in Sointula where she co-runs the Sointula Art Shed, a small artist residency/window gallery/project space. She has a BFA from Emily Carr and an MFA from the University of Guelph; has participated in shows and residencies nationally and internationally; and has taught art at OCAD, the Toronto School of Art, and the University of Guelph. She is also a mom who works part-time from home for the Living Oceans Society.

Her descriptor of the finger puppets: “That’s Jacques Cousteau casually smoking his pipe and wearing his signature and very stylish red toque, hanging out with the one and only Jackie Hildering aka The Marine Detective in her scuba gear with her infamous green tutu. ☺️ ”

On the Radio . . .

I am so grateful for having been interviewed by Sheryl Mackay for CBC Radio’s North by Northwest and for how she captured the messaging for conservation.

This has led to a significant spike to my website and to social media channels which means . . . more reach of this work.

Welcome to all who have found their way here through their interest in, and love and concern for, the life-sustaining Ocean. 💙

 

Please click to hear the episode.


Social media links. 

World Whale Day 2021

Today is World Whale Day.

The following is what I wrote for our Marine Education and Research Society social media.

I am sharing it here too in the hopes that it is of value to you in thinking about our giant neighbours, how far we come in overcoming fear and disconnect but  . . . read on. 💙

[And welcome to all those landing here as a result of the recent CBC interview. It would be wonderful if you follow along on social media with The Marine Detective and the Marine Education and Research Society. Links are at the bottom of this post.] 

 

Take but a few minutes to reflect on the giants; how they enrich life on earth and how endure human need?

They inspire awe, capture carbon, fertilize the ocean upon which our lives also depend, and remind us of our capacity for change.

So many were driven to the brink as a result of whaling, which only ended in British Columbia in 1967. They have survived the breadth of human impacts from harpoons and guns, to overfishing and ignorance of ecosystems, to capture and the selfie absorption of believing wild whales put on shows.

Some populations may topple still.

Now they swallow the consequences of our disconnect and consumer crazed lifestyles – climate change, plastics, toxins, continued overfishing, noise, collision, entanglement, etc.

The leviathans, may we truly understand how they are barometers of our value systems, indicators of environment health, ambassadors of the marine ecosystem that sustains life on earth, and reminders of how little we know and that we are but small . . . in the world of the whale. 💙


Photo is of Cirque the Humpback with scarring testifying to being a survivor of collision. See the scarring from a boat propeller?

©Kate Holmes, Straitwatch 2019. Photo taken with a telephoto lens and has been cropped.


World Whale Day dates back to 1980 and originated from Maui’s Whale Fest to honour Humpback Whales.

Social media links. 
Thank you so much for your interest!