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

Take a Stand for Giants – 15 minutes or less of your time

[To jump directly to providing your input into the public consultation survey, click here.]

The first Fin Whale I ever saw was killed by a large vessel.
Please don’t stop reading.

There’s urgency about what will happen with the protection of Fin Whales in British Columbian waters. And, there is something Canadians can do to take a stand that takes very little time.

Right now, it is being put forward that the protection of Fin Whales be REDUCED under Canada’s Species at Risk Act.  This is being considered when so little is known about them and their threats are increasing.

– We whaled them up to 55 years ago and it is not known how many there are now or if there is more than one population.

It is known that their threats are increasing. Fin Whales are particularly vulnerable to being hit by boats. They feed where there will be increased large vessel traffic, including LNG tankers. This will also increase disturbance from noise. Further, the changing climate will impact their prey. There has also already been an “Unusual Mortality Event” where is it is believed that warmer water led to more toxins being in the whales’ prey (domoic acid from Red Tide Algae).

The process determining if the protection of Fin Whales will be reduced in Canada or not involves an opportunity for public comment. This is not a petition. It is using YOUR voice to be part of the federal process that will determine the fate of Fin Whales. The deadline for comment is December 2nd, 2022. It is a short survey.

I share the above graphic showing the fate of that first Fin Whale I saw because I think it helps make clear how the second biggest animal in the world can be so vulnerable. Nature versus human technology, efficiency, ingenuity and, disconnect.

The reality of that first Fin Whale I ever saw is known because he got hooked up on the bulbous bow of the cruise ship after being hit. Apparently, no one on the vessel felt the impact. The fate of the whale was only known when the cruise ship came into the harbour in Vancouver.

It must have been the same Fin Whale we saw that day near Telegraph Cove because Fin Whales are such a rarity on the inside of Vancouver Island. We first saw the Fin Whale, and then we saw the cruise ship. And yes, this is the Fin Whale whose skeleton with shattered vertebrae now hangs in the Whale Interpretive Centre in Telegraph Cove.

Standing under the skeleton of the first Fin Whale I ever saw. Photo by Phil Stone Photography.


It’s so important to understand that the evolution (or creation) of toothed whales like Orca, required them to have biosonar / echolocation to detect their prey, etc. Baleen whales like Fin Whales and Humpback Whales do not have this biosonar. So often these giants are oblivious of boats, and many boaters are oblivious to how different these whales are. 

You may never have seen a Fin Whale. In fact, the only one known to be in the Salish Sea this year was killed by a boat. I’ll spare you the photos of him but you can see more detail at this link.

Fin Whales are more often off the Central and North Coast, Haida Gwaii, or in BC’s vast offshore waters. In having the privilege of doing surveys in these areas, I’ve seen them, and the overlap with large vessel traffic.

If the protection of Fin Whales is reduced, one of the most dire consequences is that there will be no determination nor protection of their habitat needs. There will also be far less priority for research into how many there are and how to reduce threats.

So about that short survey to provide your input.


The questions in the survey are simple.
Below, I provide the three main questions and answers that may be of use to you.

For more detail, see this link for the media release we did as the Marine Education and Research Society and the North Coast Cetacean Society.


The survey for public consultation is at this link.

My answers are below.

You will note that the survey only allows for brief answers which is why I have pointed to our media release which provides detail about the concerns.

1. Do you think the reclassification of Fin Whale (Pacific Population) from Threatened to Special Concern under the Species at Risk Act would have economic, environmental, cultural and/or social BENEFITS for you or your group/organization?

No. There would be no benefits to reducing protection for a species for whom threats are increasing and for which too little is known to justify reducing protection.

2. Do you think the reclassification of Fin Whale (Pacific Population) from Threatened to Special Concern under the Species at Risk Act would have economic, environmental, cultural and/or social COSTS for you or your group/organization?

Yes. There are significant societal costs to choosing to reduce protection for a species for which not enough is known about their population while threats are known to be increasing. This includes that it is acknowledged how vulnerable Fin Whales are to being hit by boats; that it is not known how many there are; and that it is certain that there will be increased vessel traffic and that increasing temperatures can impact their prey.

3. Should the Government of Canada reclassify the Fin Whale (Pacific Population) from Threatened to Special Concern under the Species at Risk Act?

No.
It is the antithesis of precaution to reduce the protection of Fin Whales when there is so much that is not known about their population and when threats are increasing due to climate change, noise, and risk of collision.

As above, the limits on the length of answers in this survey (at only 500 characters for this question), did not allow for the appropriate opportunity to provide feedback. Therefore, reference this link for my concerns https://mersociety.wordpress.com/2022/11/03/protection-should-not-be-reduced-for-fin-whales.

4. Please provide any other comments about this reclassification consultation that you would like us to consider.

As above, it is not sufficient that the limits on the number of characters/words in this survey (at only ~500 characters / 80 words), did not allow for the appropriate opportunity to provide feedback on concerns. Thereby see the following link for my concerns https://mersociety.wordpress.com/2022/11/03/protection-should-not-be-reduced-for-fin-whales.

It’s not a show . . .

I wrote the following in my role with the Marine Education and Research Society to accompany the graphic below. Our efforts include workshops on Marine Mammal Regulations and the ethics of imagery and language used by mainstream and social media.

It is so jarring and unfortunate when wildlife encounters are described with language like “the whales put on a show for us”. No, they didn’t.

How I hope my words resound with you.

“It’s not a show.

Wildlife does not perform for humans.
Whales do not “put on a show” for us.

Words matter.
Words reflect, and perpetuate, our values and actions.

Thankfully, society has come a long way in understanding our connection to the natural world.

May our words reflect that we know the privilege of observing wild animals, living wild lives.

Not “for us”.
Not “up close and personal”.

Rather, may we value most that what we observe in the wild happens . . . as if we weren’t there.”


The graphic is available as a sticker or card at our MERS Ocean Store. The card includes the above text.
All sales support our research and education efforts.

Illustration made by friend Dawn Dudek based on a photo I took of Humpback Whale Inukshuk (BCZ0339) while conducting research for the Marine Education and Research Society (MERS) under Marine Mammal License MML-57.


Related posts:
Whale Watching – Not “Up-Close-and-Personal!” How to make a good choice?

To Think Before We Click



Amber Forest

Sob! I am having a moment.

The photos you see here are from the new exhibit “Seaweed: Mysteries of the Amber Forests” at the Shaw Centre for the Salish Sea. Those are my kelp photos. 💙

I am choking up at typing that. I have never seen my photos printed that big and am massively moved that they are part of this education aimed at increasing awareness and action for algae.

Mayor Cliff McNeil-Smith cutting the Bull Kelp stipe to open the exhibit yesterday 🙂 .
In green – friend and Director of Exhibits & Engagement, Leah Thorpe.
On right, Executive Director of the Centre, Pauline Finn. On left, Director Allan Lane.

Also featured is the art of Josie Iselin. She scans seaweeds with her flatbed scanner and then often places the photos atop historical images from when that species of seaweed was first described.

Executive Director Pauline Finn pointing to some of Josie Islelin’s art.

I am so grateful to Leah Thorpe, Director of Exhibits & Engagement, for all of her work to make this real.

I have NOT seen the exhibit in person but am now strangely compelled to go to 9811 Seaport Pl, Sidney, southern Vancouver Island. How about you? Show me photos when you go?

You will be thrilled to see there are also some my Find the Fish challenges in the exhibit but in BIG photos WITH answers. 🙂

Yep, choking up at seeing this. That’s my photo associated with all this vital messaging.

How to Help the Kelp, and Why?
The Ocean’s algae, from the microscopic and to the giant kelps:

  • Produce at least 50% of the Earth’s oxygen.
  • Another result of their photosynthesis is that they absorb very significant amounts of carbon dioxide – a very significant climate-changing gas.
  • The algae / seaweeds are producers, converting sunlight to food to fuel the food web. They offer we humans so much nutrition too.
  • Kelps are habitat for hundreds of species.

Kelp Is in Trouble
Where every species lives is, of course, because the conditions are right. For example, the temperature is not too cold. It’s not too hot. It’s just right. Yes, this is referenced as the Goldilocks Principle. Changing temperatures are impacting the health of kelp forests, as are other variables involved with climate change such as more frequent and stronger winds ripping away more kelp.

Also, there are far fewer Sunflower Stars due to Sea Star Wasting Disease which is believed to be associated with climate change. Sunflower Stars are predators of Green Urchins. Green Urchins graze on kelp. With less Sunflower Stars, there are more Green Urchins. More urchins leads to more grazing on kelp. In the extreme, this leads to “urchin barrens” where the kelp forest has been grazed away.
Less kelp = less food, oxygen, habitat and buffering of carbon dioxide.

Green Urchins grazing on kelp.

Don’t Despair!
This is not an additional problem. It’s another symptom of the same problem. Whatever you do to reduce fossil fuel use (from consumerism to how you vote), will help the kelp and all that depends on them.

May the knowledge motivate, not lead to fear and paralysis which perpetuates the problem. It truly is the case that if you are not contributing to solutions, you are part of the problem.
Care more. Connect more. Consume less.


Finding Fish at the Exhibit! ☺️

The exhibit “Seaweed: Mysteries of the Amber Forests” will be at the Salish Sea Centre for about a year.

See my other blogs about the importance of kelp at this link.

There’s seaweed in that! Display showing products containing algae. Hello Arlen!


Nakwakto Goose-neck Barnacles

Please tell me these made you gasp?

These are barnacles that live in only a very few places on the planet. The most are at Nakwakto Rapids, north of Port Hardy. The red is hemoglobin!

I think these are one of the most achingly and extraordinarily beautiful animals I have ever seen.

They are Nakwakto Barnacles. They need really strong current and that was very clear during the dive where I photographed these, even on a small tidal exchange). The dive site was Turret Rock, also known as Tremble Island because of the appearance that the island shakes in the tidal exchange (apparently up 39 kilometers per hour during its largest tidal exchanges).

Nakwakto Goose-neck Barnacles with Split Kelp wafting behind.

The next photo shows you the SAME species but in shallow water where you can’t see the hemoglobin because, near the surface, the gooseneck barnacles need a protective black pigment against sun exposure. How’s that as a metaphor for how your environment influences your beauty?

These barnacles are perceived to be a variant of Gooseneck Barnacles with the same species name, which is Pollicipes polymerus.

The barnacles’ stalk can be 15 cm long and body to 4.5 cm long.

An attempt to show you the density of this species in this extraordinarily high current area.

From Hanby and Lamb’s Marine Life of the Pacific Northwest: ” . . . the spectacular formations of the Nakwakto goose-neck barnacle, a large and colourful variation of the goose-neck barnacle – found in Nakwakto Rapids, Slingsby Channel, c. BC. The glorious red colour is actually the hemoglobin in the barnacle’s blood. The blood is obvious in subtidal specimens like these, which do not have the black pigment that protects the sun-exposed populations inhabiting shallow or intertidal zones . . . this unique and isolated population must be preserved via a No-Take Marine Protected Area.

From Rubidge et al 2020; “A unique subtidal variety of the Gooseneck Barnacle, Pollicipes polymerus, forms large aggregations at Nakwakto Rapids (Lamb and Hanby 2005). The “Nakwakto variety” of P. polymerus, is bright red as the hemoglobin in the barnacles’ blood is visible. Subtidal populations do not need the black pigment found in the sun-exposed intertidal populations (Lamb and Hanby 2005). The red “Nakwakto variety” of P. polymerus has been recently reported in other subtidal areas including a sea cave on Calvert Island on the central coast and Race Rocks near Victoria. Because of its slow recovery rate after perturbations and its ecological role as a habitat-forming species, P. polymerus was identified as an Ecologically Significant Species and conservation priority for the Marine Protected Area network planning process in the Northern Shelf Bioregion (DFO 2017).

Photos: September 17 and 18, 2022, near the Nakwakto Rapids in Gwa’sala-‘Nakwaxda’xw Territory ©Jackie Hildering.

Sources:

Rubidge, E., Jeffery, S., Gregr, E.J., Gale, K.S.P., and Frid, A. 2020. Assessment of nearshore
features in the Northern Shelf Bioregion against criteria for determining Ecologically and
Biologically Significant Areas (EBSAs)
. DFO Can. Sci. Advis. Sec. Res. Doc. 2020/023. vii +
63 p


You Never Know . . .

I am daring to share the following with you, with Hannah’s permission. I do so because, we are all educators and, as I often express, education is like throwing seeds into the wind. Usually, we don’t know how, or even if, the seeds take root.

Hannah has gifted me an example of how a simple act from 22 years ago may have contributed to someone’s path. Yes, I cried upon reading this. I am crying again now.

“Dear Jackie,

I wanted to give you this memory you so appreciated hearing. If I were an artist, I would draw or paint or somehow physically create this moment for you. Instead, as a linguist, I will do my best to describe it.

A flurry of sensory information was hitting my not-yet-developed brain, so I don’t have many specifics for this memory. I know two things: this memory is one of my first, and I was on the Gikumi, so I felt safe. [Gikumi was the beautiful wooden boat then used by Stubbs Island Whale Watching].

Sight: I sat facing one of the doorways, so my view of the outside was framed. Strangers swiftly appeared and disappeared as they walked along the deck. The land gently rose and fell when some wake hit the boat. It wasn’t too bright for my young, blue eyes. I know now that a slightly cloudy day makes for better nature watching…enough light but no glare.

Sound: The radio blared with voices and static. Captain Jim lowered the volume. Boats engines hum in the distance. A dozen strangers’ voices chatter, so there must not have been whales yet. Something about whales makes us go silent. I’ve always liked that. Even my busy, loud brain goes silent with them.

Smell: Coffee. Mom always had coffee. The breeze never quite made it around that doorway, so the smell of the ocean would arrive later.

Touch: Mom had on a rain jacket, so the arms that surrounded me felt a bit loud for my fingers. Some people understand that a feeling can be loud. It is like how linen is not smooth or rough, but somehow loud to feel. My life jacket provided me with consistent, surrounding pressure, like a hug. I never minded wearing it. Sitting on Mom’s lap, I didn’t have to worry about balance. She held me tightly as the waves made the boat rock. This is a comforting feeling for me, like a vertical rocking chair.

Taste: Captain Jim gave me a cookie. Yum.

The boat continued to glide forward. Suddenly, there was a pickup of chatter and movement. My eyes darted around. Too young to listen to or understand a naturalist talk, I didn’t really know the kinds of creatures that could appear or nature I could experience.

Then, a familiar face appeared in the doorway. It was your kind, sociable, empathetic, and passion-filled face. Your face had excitement in it. Not on it, like a painter choosing an emotion for the subject or a reaction learned through customer service. The excitement was in it. It was true. You said something to Mom, and she plopped me down from her lap and lifted me over the door frame.

This is the vivid moment in my memory. I don’t have much of a mind’s eye. I can’t “see” anything when I read books, and I always thought “picture this” was a metaphor, not an actual instruction. But in my mind, I can see blue-grey sky with your hand reaching down for mine. I take your hand, and it feels warm. You guide me to the bow and position me by the rail. You squat down so you can talk to me, not over me. Your left arm is around me, holding me safe and steady. Your right hand switches between holding the rail and pointing to the water. You brought me out to see the Dall’s Porpoise riding Gikumi’s bow.

This is when I feel the cool wind on my face and smell the slightly salty water. It smells green and blue. The open ocean just smells blue to me, but where we are also smells green. I now know it is the lower salinity, but you intelligently didn’t try to educate me on that fact. Instead, you instruct me to look at how the porpoises glide through the water and move up and down for air. I see the water turn white when they disturb the surface. I hear the puffs of them breathing. You point to their tails and tell me to look at how fast they can go.

I don’t have the ability yet to “wonder” in the sense of pondering or thinking, but I do have the ability to “wonder” in the sense of awe. This new information could have skidded past my brain as unintelligible data too complicated to process. But you took the time to help me see it and help me learn it. You crouched down to my physical and mental level to help me see what you see in this incredible world.

This moment sparked the joy that began my passion for cetaceans. It isn’t the joy that is synonymous with happiness. It is the Joy that C.S. Lewis talks about: an unsatisfied desire for and lifelong pursuit of God. He describes Joy as a longing that comes to you in pangs as you head in the right direction toward God. At this point in my life, I simply consider God to be the ultimate source of goodness. My pangs of Joy are when I feel like I am heading in the right direction toward whatever meaning my life is supposed to have. I believe it is good to pursue knowledge of the world around me, even if it is just for knowledge’s sake. At least, it is good to pursue finding meaning. I think I found my purpose in killer whale research. You sparked that Joy, and I thank you.

Be well,
Hannah Cole”

Hannah is clearly an extraordinary writer, and human. Her undergraduate degree is in Computer Science and Computational Thinking with a minor in Philosophy, she is pursuing a Master’s in Linguistics. From Hannah: “I want to combine these into a PHD in Natural Language Processing, studying the language of killer whales. Dr. John Ford discerned their linguistic variation, and I hope to use artificial intelligence to discern any meaning that may be present.”

Found! Cryptic Nudibranch

I finally observed some of the most cryptic nudibranchs on our coast! 💙

The Cryptic Nudibranchs you see here are only about 1 cm long and look at how astoundingly evolved they are! They are virtually invisible on the Kelp-encrusting Bryozoan which is growing on Bull Kelp at this time of year. This species of nudibranch is also known as Steinberg’s corambe (Corambe stinbergae to 1.7 cm).

You can see in the photos here that we found some of the nudibranchs mating and there were many of their egg ribbons (each of those coils has a lot of eggs that result from both parents becoming inseminated and laying eggs).

You can also see where they have been feeding on the bryozoans (colonies of animals).

I have looked for them for years knowing their range is from Alaska to Baja California, Mexico.

Mating: Right-side-to-right-side attached via the gonophores. Both hermaphrodite parents lay eggs.

What made the difference in now being able to find them:

(1) Getting the clue from Robin Agarwal to look at the kelp fronds that were REALLY tattered with the Kelp-encrusting Bryozoan colonies .

(2) Having a skilled dive buddy willing to join me in burying our heads in old, tattered kelp in the surge for 30 minutes instead of looking at all the big, colourful life at this dive site. Thank you Janice Crook!

(3) Once we knew what the egg ribbons looked like (those s-shaped little masses), we had a really good clue and knew better where to look even more closely for the nudibranchs.

Now on to finding the SECOND really cryptic nudibranch species that feeds on Kelp Encrusting Bryozoans – Corambe pacifica to 1.5 cm long and whose egg masses are tiny, flat coils.

For more photos and my previous blog on what Kelp-encrusting Bryozoans look like, please see my other blog “Kelp Lace? Bryozoans”.


Photos: September 19, 2022, Browning Pass ©Jackie Hildering, The Marine Detective.

Happy dive buddies
– Janice Crook and yours truly.

What on earth . . . and its tail is a snorkel!

Here’s one of the best mysteries I’ve been gifted recently.

It started with videos sent to me from Leesa Flynn that she had taken at Cordova Bay, southern Vancouver Island, British Columbia. Just look! What powers of observation Leesa has. This animal is less than 6 cm long and what’s with that tail?!

I did NOT know what this animal was and how my interest was piqued. I did suspect it might be an organism found in non-marine environments since it was so high up in the intertidal zone. Likely the water was not very salty where it was found.

The mystery had to be solved
I am very fortunate to have quick access to expertise far greater than my own. Those I reached out to included Rick Harbo, author of many ID guides for marine life of the Pacific Northwest. Rick did not recognize this animal, so off the videos went further into the web of expertise, intriguing many biology experts along the way.

To the relief of all, the identification came back through Hugh MacIntosh of the Royal BC Museum and Kevin Kocot of the University of Alabama. They recognized that this was a larval stage of a species of Hover Fly. The larvae are not known to be in marine environments so the water near this organism must have been from a creek flowing on the beach or highly diluted by rain.

One of the many species of Hover Fly – an Orange-spotted Drone Fly, Eristalis anthophorina.
Photo by Jimmy Dee via Wikimedia

Larva of a bee-like insect
The long tail of these larvae functions like a snorkel. It’s a breathing tube whereby larvae of Hover Flies can be underwater feeding while breathing from the surface. What a remarkable adaptation!

There are MANY species of Hover Fly and they are really important to the environment. The adults are important pollinators and the larvae recycle nutrients and some feast on pests like aphids (which parasitize on plants / crops).


But what species of Hover Fly specifically was the larva that Leesa observed? I think this mystery organism is a species of Drone Fly of genus Eristalis. I provide detail about that at the end of this blog. First let me address . . . Rat-tailed Maggots.

Rat-tailed Maggots and Bum Breathers?
I learned that the broad grouping of larvae in the family of Hover Flies appears to be referenced as “Rat-tailed Maggots”.

There’s an increased chance that you’re cringing now – right? Many of us have negative associations with the words “maggot” and “rat”.

That wonderful adaptation of the long breathing tube allows these larvae to live and feed in environments that may poor water quality e.g. sewage. As described by Real Monstrosities: “Since Rat-tailed Maggots breathe air, they have no use for gills, which in turn means they’re not particularly reliant on water quality. Thus, there’s many a Rat-tailed Maggot that lives in the squalor of cesspits, pools of sewage, watery manure or carcasses.

The one featured in this mystery is not likely to have been in water of poor water quality. It’s just that they could live and feed in those environments. They can also be terrestrial. They do tend to lay eggs in nutrient rich environments.


Here you have colourful text from IFLScience about this broad group of larvae to accompany the video above of a different species of Hover Fly larvae (not the species in this mystery).

“Rat tailed maggots are the larval form of some species of hoverfly, which can be terrestrial or aquatic. They start out life as a blob with a breathing tube, later dragging themselves onto land to pupate and turn into certain flies. Rat tailed maggots enjoy feeding on decaying organic matter which is why you’ll often find them in dank ponds and rotting trees, as well as anywhere there’s an open source of feces (including, one time, Glastonbury Festival).

They have a long breathing tube called a siphon attached to their rear end which is why some entomologists affectionately refer to them as “bum breathers”. They bulk up in their larval, rat tailed maggot form before pupating in soil or other dry material and emerging as several species of hoverfly.

You might think the rat tailed maggot is a little ugly, but they are champions for the environment both in their larval and adult forms. As rat tailed maggots, they encourage the turnover of nutrients by eating decaying matter and pooping it out again. They also predate on common plant pests such as aphids.

As adults, they’re hugely important pollinators which facilitate gene flow across isolate plant populations as they are big travelers. So, if you see a rat tailed maggot, do your bit by simply letting it do its thing.”

Screen grab from Leesa’s video.

But which larvae is this specifically?
I think that the larva in this mystery is a species in a subgrouping of Hover Flies (family Syrphidae), known as Drone Flies (genus Eristalis).

In what I was able to learn from the contributions to iNaturalist.ca, it appears there are 6 species of Drone Fly that have been found on Vancouver Island. I am hopeful that an etymologist reading this blog will be able to narrow down which one this larvae is.

The six are:
Common Drone Fly Eristalis tenax
Dusky Drone Fly Eristalis obscura
Orange-legged Drone Fly Eristalis flavipes
Orange-spotted Drone Fly – Eristalis anthophorina
Orange-spined Drone Fly 
Eristalis nemorum


Thank you so much for your interest in all creatures great and small, furred and maybe what some human brains interpret as a little freaky. These species are perfection with adaptations that ensure success in the web of life. A web to which we, of course, belong. 💙


Sources:

Screen grab of larvae from Eristalis genus from this source.

Above: Comic by UnderdoneComics.com which included the text: “Ever spend time outside and notice an insect that looks like a bee but has wings like a fly hovering near you? Well sir, that’s a hoverfly. And my favorite kind is the drone fly—because, as you can see from the comic—it has an amazing lifecycle.

Before they become bee-lookalikes, their larval stage resembles a deep sea diver. They breathe through a tube that comes out of their butt and they laze around eating plant particles. How crazy is that?”

Kelp Lace? Bryozoans.

And so it begins.
It’s the time of year when the annual kelps like Bull Kelp begin to break down. It’s then that Kelp-encrusting Bryozoans really get a chance to colonize the kelp as you see in these photos.

Every little box is an individual animal. It’s a “zooid”. The oldest member is in the middle and the others all originated from that one by asexual reproduction.

The zooids filter feed on plankton with the tentacles you see in this wonderful video by friend Karen Johnson. These crowns of tentacles are known as lophophores.


“Kelp-encrusting Bryozoan” (Membranipora membranacea) is also known as “Kelp Lace Bryozoan”. It’s no mystery how either common name was inspired. Each circular colony is approximately 20 cm wide.

If you are lucky enough to live near the Ocean, look at the kelp that washes ashore for these colonies. The colonies in these photographs where on Split Kelp (Laminaria setchellii) and Bull Kelp (Nerocystis luetkeana).

What on earth is a “bryozoan”?

From Beachkeepers: “Bryozoans are colonial animals that arrange themselves in circular (radial) fashion, often with the oldest (and first to settle) individual in the middle. . . . The ‘box’ of the zooid is made of either a tough protein (like what you would find in crab shells) called chitin, or what you would find in coral reefs, calcium carbonate. This body box has an opening where the bryozoans extend their feeding apparatus (that looks a lot like a sea anemone) called a lophophore. Yes, they have predators! [Some species of] nudibranch will eat them, though they can reproduce asexually to form the colony back to size after a nudibranch has been grazing on them. Sometimes, when they grow back, they’ll even grow chitonous spines on their body walls to discourage the nudibranchs from coming back. These spines usually form on the individuals on the outside edge of the colony.”

Adalaria nudibranchs feeding on the bryozoan.
Blue Turban snail feeding on Kelp-encrusting bryozoan.
Opalescent Nudibranch near a colony of Kelp-encrusting Bryozoan.

Detail about this bryozoan species – Kelp-encrusting Bryozoan.
From Invertebrates of the Salish Sea: “Bryozoans start from a single individual zooid (an ancestrula) which repeatedly reproduces asexually to form a colony. In this species, the oldest individual is in the middle. Colonies of this species usually begin to be noticeable in late spring and grow through summer into fall. By fall they may form extensive crusts on the kelp and many colonies have merged with one another. In many bryozoans there are various types of zooids but in this species there is only one type of zooid which serves for feeding, for reproduction, and for defense. The colony appears to be a simultaneous hermaphrodite, or male zooids may develop first. They do not brood their young. Eggs are fertilized then released, and quickly develop into cyphonautes larvae which may feed and develop as plankton for several months. The larvae settle when they encounter kelp such as Laminaria or water with an excess of potassium ions. The small white nudibranch Doridella steinbergae [reclassified to Corambe steinbergae] may be found living and feeding on these colonies but it blends in so well it is difficult to see . . .”
Note there is a second similar looking cryptic nudibranch that can found on these bryozoans and that is Corambe pacifica. Corambe pacifica has a notch at the back. Corambe steinbergae does not.
I have never managed to find these cryptic nudibranchs. Grateful to Karolle Wall and Robin Agarwal for their photos below.

What happens to the kelp?

It is the natural cycle of kelp species like Bull Kelp, that at this time of the year, the large version (the sporophyte) begins to break down. Spore packets drop to the bottom of the Ocean which create a different version of the kelp. It’s Alternation of Generations and here is my blog about that wonder. Other kelp species like Giant Kelp are not annuals. They remain year round.

Spore packets (in the centre of the kelp fronds).

All photos (other than those by Karolle Wall and Robin Agarwal) were taken in early August near northeast Vancouver Island in Kwakwaka’wakw Territory ©Jackie Hildering.

Additional information:

Hageman, Steven J., et al. “Bryozoan Growth Habits: Classification and Analysis.” Journal of Paleontology, vol. 72, no. 3, 1998, pp. 418–36. JSTOR

Note: Some report that this species of bryozoan is an invasive in the Atlantic. However, “recent genetic studies indicate that this species is a complex of a number of long-separated clades. The only verified invasion is its introduction from the Northeast Atlantic to the Northwest Atlantic” (Source: Nemesis).

Whorling Wizardry

Here’s a big dose of wonder for you.

It’s the time of year when female Oregon Tritons are laying their eggs. These are BIG, predatory marine snails at up to 15 cm long.

Look at how many fertilized eggs are in each “capsule” and marvel at the shape of the egg mass. These capsules are referenced as “sea corn” for this species. It takes each female about 2 weeks to lay her eggs in this wondrously shaped clutch. A friend referenced the shape of the egg mass as being reminiscent of Van Gogh’s “Starry Night”. Agreed!

See the “blank” egg capsules? They have likely been preyed upon e.g. by shrimp, hermit crabs or other snail species. You can even see hermit crabs and snails in these images feeding on the eggs. Some hermit crabs are even sitting on females as they lay eggs. Oh the cheek!

See the hermit crabs and “blank” egg capsules?
I could not resist providing a closeup on this Whiteeknee Hermit from the previous photo.
Look at those eyes!
Closeup on a Blue Turban snail snacking on eggs (from previous photo).

Almost every time I see Oregon Tritons lay eggs, they are doing so as a group. Reportedly, up to 30 individuals have been found laying eggs together.

Why are there so many eggs? Because chances of survival are so low when there is no parental care (other than the architectural marvel of the egg case) and the young hatch into the soup of the Ocean. Planktonic larvae hatch out of the eggs at about 2 weeks of age.

With it taking 2 weeks for the young to hatch, and 2 weeks for Mom to lay the whole mass, the first capsules could be hatching by the time she is finishing her work. I learned from aquarist Casey Cook from her microscopic observations at the Aquarium of the Pacific that, “By hatch time there are significantly less in the egg [capsules] than at the beginning of the lay. We presume the babies eat each other to gain nutrients for creating their first shell layers.”



One study found that, in an aquarium, the larval stage for this species was up to 4.6 years and they only began metamorphosis into their adult form when something was available for them to settle on e.g. rocks (Strathmann and Strathmann, 2007). Further “time from metamorphosis to first reproduction was 3.3 years” (in these conditions in the aquarium).

The scientific name for Oregon Tritons is Fusitriton oregonensis. That’s a whole lot of Oregon in their name and the species is the official seashell of Oregon state (there’s trivia for you). However the range for this species is well beyond Oregon. They are found from northern Alaska to northern Mexico, and Japan. They are common around northeast Vancouver Island. Depth range is reported to be from the intertidal to 180 m. In my experience they are rarely in the intertidal however.

They are also known as the Hairy Triton. “Hairy” for the bristly “periostracum” you see atop the shells which appears to stop attachment of marine organisms. Some loose this bristly covering and, resultantly, can have a lot of settlement and growth on their shells.

The brown structure you see at the opening of the shell is the operculum. This is hard and made of keratin and serves as the door to close the shell. More about that in my “Shut the Door!” blog at this link.

Predatory? Yes! They are among the marine snail species that drill holes into prey, sedate, and slurp. From Invertebrates of the Salish Sea: “Feeds on ascidians, urchins, bivalves, sea stars, brittle stars, chitons, abalones, and polychaetes [worm species] . . . It produces sulfuric acid in its salivary glands, which may help in boring through shells. A gland in the proboscis secretes an anaesthetic used for subduing prey. It feeds with biting jaws as well as a radula . . . Humans should not eat this snail because it carries a pathogen in its salivary glands which can be fatal to humans.”

I have also seen this species scavenge on dead crabs, anemones and fish and eat Lingcod eggs.

Oregon Tritons scavenging on the head of a Lingcod.
Oregon Tritons mating. I hope you appreciate the mood lighting.

All photos: ©Jackie Hildering, northeast Vancouver Island in unceded Kwakwak’wakw Territory.

Oh look! It’s a Scalyhead Sculpin (indicated with arrow).

Octopuses Have Arms

Big questions often come from little people and there are so many times that I have been asked by children why I reference the limbs of an octopus as “arms” and not “tentacles”.

Here’s why:
Arms have suckers down the full length of the appendage. Tentacles only have suckers near the tip. Thereby, all eight octopus appendages are arms while squid have two tentacles and eight arms. Further, the purpose of tentacles is generally limited to feeding where arms have more functions. Octopuses use their limbs for feeding, locomotion, reproduction (if male*), defence, etc!

Oh and why are they called “arms” vs. “legs”? Because octopuses’ appendages have more purposes than just locomotion.

Octopus walking on her arms (and you thought YOU were special 😁). How to know this is a female octopus? See below for the link to my blog* on octopus sex.

There are scientists who have put forward that some octopus species use two of the limbs mostly for locomotion whereby they would have two “legs” and six “arms” but let’s avoid that debate!

While we are on the topic of semantics and cephalopods, and anticipating that there will be those who question my use of the plural form of “octopus”, please note the origin of the word octopus is Greek, not Latin. Thereby “octopuses” or “octopods” is truly more correct than “octopi”. 😉 From a strict linguistic perspective, the most correct is “octopods” but I choose not to use that. I think if I were to say “octopods” it would distract what I am trying to communicate that is more important that grammar. I might also come across as pretentious and have fewer human friends 🐙.

There, don’t you feel much better armed to speak for our awe-inspiring eight-legged neighbours? Or, are you up in arms?


*Related blog: Giant Pacific Octopuses – How Do They Mate?