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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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!
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.
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.
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 . . .”
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. 💙
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. ☺️ ”
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?