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

Five Fish

Five fish. One Dive.

Here are just five fabulous fish faces from my dive on July 12. These are just the fish who tolerated my taking photos. I am sharing with you to add to the sense of biodiversity hidden in these waters.

Also, I really value what I feel is mirrored back from these fish . . . the “What the hell are YOU and what are you doing here?” It’s good to feel like a visitor in others’ habitat rather than than a human at the epicentre of the universe. It’s below the waves, with the fish, that I best know my place and where I best feel humility. I also feel apology, not just for the disturbance of taking photos but as an ambassador for my species.

Sometimes I think as I look at the life below the surface “I’m trying. Please know, I’m trying”.

Thank you for caring and for trying too.

[Please note that I did not realize when compiling these photos that I have a blog on every species represented here. I suggest that the most insight would be gained from reading this blog first and then accessing the further links I provide here showing video, etc.]

Fish #1
Male Kelp Greenling with a Striped Sunflower Star to his right.


This species seems to so often be chasing one another and they have extraordinary courtship where the males change colour. Males will guard the fertilized eggs.

Video of the courtship is in my blog “Kelp Greenling Colour and Courtship” at this link.

Photo above is another perspective on the same fish. Note that the bright orange life you see here are animals, not plants. They are Orange Hydroids. The soft coral beside the Kelp Greenling’s head is Red Soft Coral.

Fish #2
Quillback Rockfish

Quillbacks, like so many of BC’s 34 rockfish species, have been over-exploited.

Rockfish are slow to mature, and are very localized in where they live. Therefore, they are particularly vulnerable to overfishing.

As divers, we’ve seen how Rockfish Conservation Areas can make a real difference for the number, diversity and size of rockfish.

There is no egg-guarding in this species because the young develop inside the females and are born into the water i.e. they are viviparous.

Please see my previous blog “Rockfish Barotrauma” at this link on the importance of Rockfish Conservation Areas and also on how to reverse what happens to rockfish when they are brought up from depth i.e. how to easily reverse barotrauma.

Quillback Rockfish = Sebastes maliger to 61 cm.

Fish Face #3

Lingcod males also guard the fertilized eggs. They are extraordinary large masses that look like Styrofoam. We survey for the egg masses each year to get a sense of potential recovery since this species was overexploited. It’s believed the same males guard eggs in the same spot year upon year. This again helps understanding of how many fish have homes whereby fishing intensely in one area can lead easily to overexploitation. My blog “Fastidious, Fanged Fathers” at this link shows the egg masses with information on Ocean Wise’s Lingcod Egg Mass Survey. 

Lingcod = Ophiodon elongatus, females larger, to 1.5 m.

Fish Face #4
Buffalo Sculpin

Yes, this is a fish, not a rock with eyes.

There is so little understanding about how species like this can change their colour as they do.

It won’t surprise you that the most research is done on “commercially important” species with regards to stock management. Males also guard the fertilized eggs in this species.  See my blog “Buffalos Mating Underwater” at this link for photos showing the diversity of colour / camouflage and for photos of the eggs.

Buffalo Sculpin = Enophrys bison to 37 cm long.

Fish #5
Red Irish Lord


I must have disturbed this Red Irish Lord with my bubbles for him/ her to be easily visible like this. They are usually fully camouflaged.

Note the shell the Red Irish Lord is on. This is a Giant Rock Scallop whose shell has been drilled into by Boring Sponge. Astounding isn’t it to think that Giant Rock Scallops (Crassadoma gigantea to 25 cm across) start off as plankton; are free-swimming to ~2.5 cm; and then attach to the bottom with their right side and can grow to 25 cm. They may live as long as 50 years but there have been problems with human over-harvesting.

Red Irish Lord parents take turns caring for their fertilized eggs (Hemilepidotus hemilepidotus; up to 51 cm).

Please see my blog “In the Eye of the Lord – the Red Irish Lord That Is” at this link. 

Lingcod = Hemilepidotus hemilepidotus, to 51 cm long. 

And the final photo and thoughts for you dear reader:

Same Red Irish Lord as in the photo above.


Under the canopy, beams of light shimmering through as they would in a forest of trees, bringing energy to the algae which feed the depths. This is all at only 5m depth. This is life you could imagine when you close your eyes and think of the dark sea off our coast. This is the world where Humpbacks feed, where families of Orca follow the same lineages of Chinook Salmon generation after generation, where species exist without our knowledge let alone our respect. This is their world. This is the world to which all life on earth is connected.

Five fish. One dive. A world connected.

What on Earth is “Alternation of Generations”?

Bull Kelp forest, July 4, 2020 near Telegraph Cove.

Have you ever wondered how it can be that Bull Kelp forests largely die off in the winter but then reappear in the spring?

Have you ever wondered about the light patches in the fronds of Bull Kelp as seen in the three images below?

I hope that’s enough of a hook for you to want to know more about the remarkable reproduction of most algae / seaweeds (and ferns and mosses).

Their reproduction involves two versions of the same species. The parent generation looks nothing like their offspring but DOES look like their great-offspring’s generation i.e. there is alternation of generations.

Those light patches are spore packets in the fronds of Bull Kelp!  They drop to the bottom of the ocean, release spores which create a completely different, very tiny version of Bull Kelp (asexually) which then makes the big, long version of Bull Kelp (sexually).

Below you have my attempt at further explaining this aided by a really good graphic.

And for the super science nerds (I see you), more detail from Wernberg et al regarding reproduction in kelp forests: “Recruitment involves multiple microscopic stages (i.e. gametophytes and juvenile sporophytes). Because the sperm has to find an egg, male and female gametophytes must settle in close proximity at densities of ca. 1 square millimetre in order to secure fertilization (Reed, 1990). Gametophytes and microscopic sporophytes can persist in the kelp forest understory for weeks to months, where they serve as a ‘seedbank’ (Hoffman & Santelices, 1991). Microscopic sporophytes start growing once stimulated by high light (Reed & Foster, 1984) .  . . Recruitment into the adult population takes anywhere from a few months to 2-3 years depending on the species and local conditions (Pedersen et al, 2012, Teed, 1990). Most juvenile plants succumb to predation, stress, or self-thinning within the first year, but some individuals can remain viable for years without growing (Sjotun, Christie, & Helge Fossa, 2006) until space and light become available.” 

And you thought  your sex life was complicated! 🙂

Note that of the giant kelp species found off our coast from California to Alaska, Bull Kelp (Nereocystis luetkeana) is an annual whereby most sporophytes die off every year. Giant Kelp (Macrocystis pyrifera) is perennial whereby the sporophyte does not die off at the end of the growing season.

If you have read to this point, congratulations! You are amongst the few humans who may have a good comprehension of alternation and generations. You know what is in the photo below.

Spore packet in the frond of Bull Kelp that washed up on the beach. It always makes me smile to see them while diving, knowing that they will make the forest grow anew. 

You also know how it can be that Bull Kelp forests reappear in the spring. There were never really gone. The species was there all along, but just in a different version  / generation.

With regard to growth rate, the stipe (stem-like structure) of Bull Kelp can grow up to a maximum height of 36 m. The stipe would have to grow an average of 17 cm a day to reach this length in the 210-day growing period (Druel).  If you include the growth of the fronds (the leaf-like structures), the maximum growth rate has been documented to be at least 25 cm per day (Duncan). Giant Kelp grows even faster and bigger = up to 30.5 cm at day to heights of 53.4 m.

Do know that there is concern about diminishing kelp forests due to impacts of changing ocean conditions  / climate change  / Sea Star Wasting Syndrome. Some sea star species are recovering but the Sunflower Star is not whereby there are more of their prey, including urchins which graze on kelp forests.

Sporophyte of Bull Kelp photographed yesterday. It’s the time of year when the Ocean is all the more soupy with life. It means that the more typical photos of beautiful kelp forests are difficult to obtain because the water is thick with gametes, phytoplankton, larvae and other zooplankton. Bu this is the time of year that the kelp forests are at maximum productivity – as habitat, food, oxygen producers and carbon dioxide absorbers. When it is colder, there is better visibility because there is less sunlight for phytoplankton growth and reduced cues for reproduction of marine invertebrates.


More good sources to understand alternation of generations:

Red and White

Some red and white for you on Canada Day.


May we celebrate all that is wild, good and free.

May we truly know the privilege of it all.

May we be the neighbours and stewards who are as open-eyed and open-hearted as this land is large.

Photo: Two Rose Anemones touching, different colours, same species.
Aka Fish-Eating Anemone, Urticina piscivora to 30 cm across.

A Lone Giant

[If you are coming here from Instagram, please see this link for background on Sea Star Wasting and where to report sightings.]

Endangered? I gasped when I saw this adult Sunflower Star on my last dive and hung nearby for a little while. I found myself thinking in a way that could be interpreted as prayer.

Did you realize Sunflower Stars are now so rare – these giants that should be abundant on the coast from Alaska to Mexico?


Endangered? Many of us who have been monitoring Sea Star Wasting Disease since 2013 certainly think so and there is a campaign in Washington State to have them recognized as such.

There has been such misunderstanding and “ocean blindness” about what has been going on. Even reputable news outlets have put into the world information about the Disease that speaks of sea stars as if they were one species and hence, if some sea stars are sighted, well then everything is fine.

It’s not fine. At least 20 species of sea star have been impacted by Sea Star Wasting Disease. Some are recovering well but . . . this the world’s largest sea star species, the Sunflower Star, Pycnopodia helianthoides, is NOT.

We sometimes see waves of juveniles, maybe resulting from more adults being at depth who are close together enough that when they broadcast spawn,  fertilization results (broadcast spawning is when males and females release their sex cells into the water on cue). But, ultimately these juveniles disappear.

Sea Star Wasting Disease (SSWD) is the largest wildlife die off in recorded history. That be truth. But because it is happening below the surface there is less engagement, funding, and knowledge.

Does it matter? Yes, it matters a lot, ecologically and with regard to what the Disease may teach us.

Sunflower Stars have a similar ecological niche to Sea Otters re. grazing on urchins and maintaining kelp forests (see video below). You know that if Sea Otters were dying en masse we would certainly be engaged, invest in research, and want knowledge.

A close-up of the same individual.

What is the cause? Specifically for Sunflower Stars, it is known that there is a virus that has been around for more than 70 years that, since 2013, is having an unprecedented impact .

Why would a virus that is not new be able to have a greater impact? Due to stressors and yes, these are believed to be related to climate change.

To those wonderfully engaged humans who have read all of this, please know this is not an additional problem that requires novel solutions. You are the last people who I wish to burden, you who care as you do. The plight of Sunflower Stars is a symptom of what is the same set of problems re. short term economies, absence of precaution, fossil fuel use, and consumerism.

Reporting sightings? I have reported the sighting of this lone, adult Sunflower Star to add to the knowledge of the impacts of SSWD. Citizen science is so important to understanding. Further information on the Disease and where to report sightings of sea stars can be in my blog at this link. 

And to you dear Sunflower Star,
May you find another of your kind for the sake of biodiversity, ecology, human learning and understanding, and so that your species will not disappear from children’s drawings of life on our coast.

May it not be that we continue on a path where Sunflower Stars slip away from our memories, or that we end up talking to children about “There used to be these giant, colourful sea stars . . .”



Sighting was made on June 15th, near Port McNeill.

Video below re. Sea Star Wasting Disease and ecological impacts.


How to Love the Ocean – Daily Actions for Future Generations

Here’s a whole lot of information, and entertainment, about ocean education.

First, it’s the video of my presentation “Ocean Wonders” provided on Oceans Day 2020.

The text below is supporting material to motivate and enable Ocean Education, especially for children.

It includes:
Ocean Inspiration (why it is so important to teach about the ocean)
Action for the Ocean (detail on the many ways we can reduce impacts); and
Guidelines for Beach Walks.

For my “Find the Fish” challenges, also provided for Oceans Day, please click here. 

Now, to further get in the mood, please view my brief slideshow below (and forgive the “breathe” typo).


Ocean Inspiration

Why is it so important to educate and help others love the ocean?

Chances are that if you have the interest and motivation to read this, you already have that knowledge. May the following then provide you with affirmed purpose and inspiration.

The ocean is the life-sustaining force on the planet. It is where life began. The ocean’s algae produce at least 50% of the world’s oxygen, buffering carbon dioxide in the process. As water cycles around, over 90% at any time is ocean. The ocean is the largest surface on earth, whereby it has a significant impact on climate regulation. The ocean is also a source of food, energy, inspiration, transportation, and healing.


Human psychology so often puts a divide between land and sea. There is not enough understanding that life on land cannot survive without the ocean, no matter how far you are from her shores. As a result of this perceived divide, assaults upon the ocean include persistent organic pollutants, agricultural runoff, warming and ocean acidification, disease organisms, and plastics and further marine debris. Consequently, the ocean so often testifies to socio-environmental problems first.

This “ocean blindness” is especially true of the perception of dark oceans where the rich plankton soup means we cannot see the marine life easily. Thereby, many of us form biases to thinking there is more life in warmer waters with less plankton. This is exactly backwards. Less plankton means there is less food at the bottom of the food web. Thereby, if you can easily see through water, there is less life in it.

This bias and blindness is exacerbated because, so often, the imagery we are fed in everything from documentaries, to children’s books and movies, is of life in warmer seas. If we do not know how extraordinary our marine neighbours are, and how important the ocean is, how can we be the teachers, parents and voters we need to be?

By helping others love the ocean, you are not only helping marine life, you are helping the future of our own species as well.

Power to you.


Ocean Action 

First there’s a summary. Then, there’s depth.

1. Learn about the ocean. Enjoy the ocean.
It is especially important to learn about species that live closest. No matter how far away the ocean is, we are connected to the life there through the cycling of water.

2. Care, knowing how important the ocean is to life on land and how amazing our marine neighbours are. We need to be especially careful because we still know so little about life in the ocean which means we could make big mistakes.

3. Use less because it helps so many. By making sure there is less garbage (includes less disposables and less consumerism) and less bad chemicals, there is less pollution in the ocean AND on land. By saving energy and helping use less oil and gas (fossil fuels), there is less change in temperature and climate. By using less water, less chemicals are added to it at the sewage treatment plant.

4. Teach and share
with others about the importance of the Ocean and how easy it is to do good things that help the ocean AND ourselves.



1. No Problems Without Solutions
Yes, it is important for students to know of environmental problems. But, there is the potential of creating overwhelm, fear / paralysis, disconnect and the perception that nature and/or the ocean is sick. It is vital to ensure that solutions are provided; that those doing the teaching are modelling those solutions; and that the common denominators between socio-environmental problems are made clear i.e. most problems have the same causes whereby there are the same solutions. Examples are the connection between Sea Star Wasting Disease in Sunflower Stars and warming seas; over-harvesting being related to inequality in the world and the lack of precaution in favour of short-term economic gain; and plastic pollution being the result of consumerism, overuse of disposables, and disconnect with the environment.


2. Connect / Learn / Respect
No matter how far you are from the ocean, you can connect to the ocean. I emphasize again the value of prioritizing learning about the most local ocean (and species) so that the biases and blindness I referenced above are not exacerbated. For example, turtles are amazing and engaging but what is most valuable for Canadians is connecting to the Leatherback Turtles that belong off both Canada’s east and west coasts.

Understanding of the water cycle is such an effective way to connect to the ocean from any distance i.e. the ocean is on top of mountains as snow, it flows through rivers and groundwater, and it comes out of the tap. Therefore it is impacted by what we do to water even when far away from the ocean. Including sewage treatment in the water cycle is of great value.

I find it helps to reference local marine life as “neighbours” as this suggests that we live together and are connected. Beach walks, if possible, certainly aid this if conducted as a study and with respect. Please see my  guidelines for good beach walk practices below.

It is so valuable too to teach from a perspective of adaptations, allowing students to deduce why species look the way they do, live where they do, and/or behave as they do. This allows for the understanding that nature is not “random” but that organisms are connected, evolved, and have fulfilled niches to fit into the puzzle of life.

Please, do not limit learning to the species at the surface i.e. the charismatic marine megafauna like whales. To understand why there are these big animals, requires an understanding and valuing of the biodiversity and interconnectedness below the surface.

Please too do not encumber yourself with feeling you need to know a lot about marine species in order to aid love and action for the ocean. By not knowing, you give even more space for students to form connections and hypotheses about adaptations, and to own their knowledge. One of the most vital things in loving and learning about the ocean, is to emphasize how little is known about life in the ocean and, therefore, that it is essential to have the appropriate humility and precaution in how we “manage” the ocean.


3. Reduce
This is the single most important solution to reducing socio-environmental problems, including impacts to the ocean.

So many students believe that recycling is the best thing they can do (and our consumer paradigm of course favours this). It shows, in part, that understanding has been lost that the three “Rs” are a hierarchy. By far the most important is to REDUCE. Next is to re-use. And if reducing and reusing are not  possible, then  . . . recycle.

Reduce what?

It is very important to approach this from the perspective that reducing is not about loss, but about gain and that the following are also the solutions for so many other problems.

Reduce the use of harmful chemicals that can flow or condense into the ocean. Which chemicals are bad? The easiest with younger students it to show the skull and crossbones on the label of products like bleach. Older students have curriculum content about pesticides and other persistent organic pollutants. It is valuable of course to discuss how the human-made bad chemicals are not essential and/or that there are alternatives that are not harmful.

Reduce fossil fuel use because of the impacts on climate change. The ideal is to enable students to think in terms of carbon footprint and, thereby, to know how many ways we are empowered to reduce fossil fuel use in our every day actions and how smart and innovative we become when we care more.

Never too young to learn about animals as individuals.

Reduce waste. This goes far beyond beach clean-ups. Understanding is needed of why there is so much garbage and how easily this can be solved when we learn and care. This includes using durable and reusable things, not buying so much, being aware of how much packaging things have and, here’s the BIGGY, to understand the difference between biodegradable and non-biodegradable. If something cannot rot away there is no “away”.  It cannot be  flushed “away” or thrown “away”. Non-biodegradable chemicals enter the water and food webs. Plastics that cannot rot will entangle, or get mistakenly eaten by animals, and/or break down into smaller pieces that enter the food web.


4. Empower

Sharing good news stories, especially of innovative and ethical thinking and technologies that create positive change, allows students to know about human social evolution, that we learn from our mistakes, and make huge steps forward when empowered with knowledge and caring. It will help make them feel there is space in the world for their ideas and that every generation learns from the ones before. It is tricky though to ensure that hope and human ingenuity are not perceived as exit strategies.

Empowerment too means providing students with the opportunity to participate in decision-making and respectful dialogue about practices and decisions made at home and at school. It will involve discussions about ethics and how we cannot be perfect. We have to use resources and make some garbage but can make decisions that reduce impacts. It invites critical thinking. It can lead to learning about who and what we support with our money and effort is like voting, and the importance of that.

Again, power to you. 💙

Below is my presentation on Ocean Wonders.



Black Prickleback father guarding eggs. Were he to be moved by those who think he does not have enough water, the eggs would be eaten by predators.


Good Beach Walk Practices Include: 

No Taking and No Touching (with exceptions)

There are exceptions when you know for sure a species is hearty or truly in trouble. Hearty species like sea stars can gently be touched with one’s pinky. By using your little finger, you can’t apply much pressure and this very act instills greater understanding and respect in children for the life they are visiting and learning from. It is also the case, that what is one our hands, may not benefit other animals. I am sure there is heightened awareness of transmission of pathogens in  our current COVID world

Collecting animals does not model respect (e.g. Shore Crabs). Even taking shells does not allow for the understanding that there are animals that will use these (e.g. hermit crab species) and that, as the shell breaks down, nutrients are returning to the Ocean. There are exceptions here too where a few “treasures” (non living) can be taken for further study.

Moving animals, even with the best of intentions, can lead to unintended consequences like displacing fish fathers from the eggs they were guarding. There are fish species that are very well-adapted to surviving with little water at low tide.

Another exception is, of course, that you DO want to remove garbage that you are sure IS garbage and that has not become habitat (has life living on it).


Another  fabulous example of where the well-intentioned are not helping. These are not garbage. They are moonsnail egg collars. They are wondrous constructions to house and protect moonsnail embryos. There’s more information about them at the end of this blog.

Rock Rules
Only lift rocks that you do not need to pivot and that you can put back very carefully. If you pivot big rocks, animals will rush to hide at the leverage point and will be crushed when you lower the rock.

A good rule is to only lift rocks smaller than your head, and that clearly have space under them (this means there are likely to be animals there and that you can better return the rock to its position). I have found it really helps to explain to children why life under a rock lives there and not on top of a rock (i.e. teaching about habitat). Children seem to understand well that lifting a rock is like lifting the roof off a human’s house.


Walk Carefully
This is not only for human safety but seaweed and Eelgrass are habitat to so many animals.
Barnacles too are living animals.


No Squealing and No YUCK!
This is negative and can perpetuate a physical reaction of disconnect and disrespect for the natural world. It is “rejection” and judgement of another organism being “wrong” rather than understanding the perfection of adaptations and evolution. Beach walks are about visiting organisms in their habitat and the gift of being able to learn that everything is the way it is for a reason. I find it helps to let children know, when about to lift a rock, that we are disrupting animals in their home so that we can learn and that, of course, the animals are going to be startled i.e. so they anticipate the potential of things like fish flopping about.

YES to pictures, learning and contributing to knowledge. 💙


Below, an exception to the rule. This Gumboot Chiton was upside down and could not have righted itself. They are tough organisms and provided a wonderful opportunity for students to feel how this is a living animal that responded to their gentle touch.

More about Moonsnail Egg Collars
Yes, I really have to do a blog on moonsnails but for now:

The female moonsnail forms one layer of the egg collar by gluing together sand grains with mucus; then the fertilized eggs are laid on this layer and THEN she seals them in with another layer of sand and mucus! The female forms the collar under the sand and then forces it above the sand when done. The 1000s of eggs develop in the the sand-mucus matrix. The process of making the egg collar takes 10 to 14 hours (and reportedly starts at the beginning of a flood tide). As long as conditions are good, the egg collars found on beaches are likely to have embryos developing inside them (if they are still rubbery and moist).

When the egg collar is intact like those in the photo above, the young have NOT hatched out. The collar disintegrates when the larvae hatch. The larvae are plankton for 4 to 5 weeks and then settle to the ocean bottom to develop further.

There is contradictory information on how long it takes the eggs to hatch (one reliable source relays about 1 week while another reports up to 1.5 months).

The moonsnail species in the photo above is a Lewis’ Moonsnail whose shell can be up to 14 cm wide (referenced too as the Northern Moonsnail).

Related posts: 

Find the Fish for Oceans Day 2020 (student activity)
More of my blog items on Ocean Inspiration and the importance of the Ocean.

Rose Star – No Two Alike

One species. So many colours.

That’s beauty. That’s biology.


Rose Stars have such diversity in colour and pattern, that the species is also known as the “Snowflake Star”; a name suggesting that no two are alike.

Am I trying to make some sort of point as it applies much more broadly? Why, whatever would make you think that? 😉

Surely we humans rejoice in the beauty of diversity?


Notice that above this Rose Star, there is another local, marine ambassador for diversity of colour within a species.See the Blue-Line Chiton (Tonicella undocaerulea)?

Please see additional photos (and slideshow) below to get a further sense of the diversity, the beauty, and the perfection.

Species information:

  • Crossaster papposus to 34 cm but in British Columbia the maximum size is believed to be 17 cm.
  • They can live to at least age 20. Species is slow growing. Maximum size is reached around age 10.
  • Even the number of arms varies. Most Rose Stars have 11 arms but number ranges from 8 to 16. From personal communication with zoologist Neil McDaniel: ” I did counts of 63 images I had on file [all from British  Columbia’ and nearly 90% (87%) had 11 arms, about 10% had 10 and 3% had 12.”
  • They are SPEEDY! Zoologist Neil McDaniel clocked them at 50 cm/min. Larger individuals were documented to travel over 5 meters in 12 hours. They are speedy because they are serious predators.
  • Diet is known to include sea pens, nudibranchs, bryozoans, bivalves (e.g. clams), juvenile urchins and tunicates. Their diet is likely broader than this as they are not picky eaters. I often see them in rocky habitats covered by coralline algae species (see photo below) and believe that is, at least in part, because the prey there include Orange Social Tunicates. They are one of the few species of sea star known to feed on nudibranchs.
  • How they feed: When they feel their prey, and are hungry, they retract their sensory tube feet (tube feet at the tips of their arms), and then stretch up on their tippy toes (extending their terminal tube feet) to be higher and able to “pounce” on their prey when on the ocean bottom. Smaller prey are swallowed whole. Larger prey are held with the tube feet and, as is the case with other sea star species too, they evert their stomach OUT OF THEIR BODIES and into or over their prey.
  • Research supports that Rose Stars can sense potential prey and other sea stars by smell (distance chemoreception).
  • In the photos below you will also see the intricacy of the surface of sea stars. You will see:
    • Spines
    • Pedicellaria = amazing little structures that can nip off the tube feet of other species of sea star e.g. the predatory Morning Sun Star (Solaster dawsoni).
    • The tufts are “papulae”. They are the gills / respiratory organs of the sea star. They can retract into the surface of the sea star’s body.
  • Range: Bering Sea to Puget Sound; Arctic Ocean, North Atlantic Ocean, North Sea, western Baltic Sea.
  • Depth: Found from the shallows of the intertidal to ~1,200 m. Believed to more often be in low current areas.
  • I saw little impact on this species from Sea Star Wasting Disease around NE Vancouver Island BUT Rose Stars were hit very badly in 2014 in other areas e.g. Sechelt Inlet, British Columbia (McDaniel, pers. comm.). See photo at the end of the blog. The species seems to be rebounding, unlikely Sunflower Stars which remain devastated across their range.





Rose Star and retracted Orange Zoanthids. Some are likely being snacked upon.







Very typical habitat for where I find Rose Stars. I believe their prey on these coralline algae covered rocks include the small orange animals you see = Orange Social Tunicates. Notice too that there is another Blue-Line Chiton. 

The next 3 images are of the same individual.




One of many Rose Star ravaged by Sea Star Wasting Disease near Sechelt, British Columbia.
Photo ©Neil McDaniel.
See Neil’s information about SSWD at this link.


Find the Fish for Oceans Day 2020

Here you have five Find the Fish challenges for Oceans Day 2020.


Photo to give a sense of the equipment needed to dive in cold water. Yes, that includes a tutu. 

You may be aware that I post one such search on social media every Friday (i.e a “Find the Fish Friday” challenge)
and that there are two Find the Fish children’s books as well.

The reason I am also posting here is so that there is more ready access to some Find the Fish for teachers and children in the lead up to Oceans Day which is on June 8th.

The aim of these “Where’s Waldos” of the fish world, is to help create awareness of what it looks like below the surface of the dark, cold NE Pacific Ocean. So often we are presented with marine imagery from warm waters, not realizing that it is the cold, current-rich waters of the world that have more oxygen dissolved in them. More oxygen means more life and the resulting plankton soup makes this ocean appear dark. Thereby, the colour, beauty and fragility are hidden.

Often even adults do not realize they have a bias to thinking the marine life is “better” and more abundant in warmer water. But if it is easy to see deep into the water as it is in the tropics, this is because there is less plankton. If there is less plankton, there is less food to fuel the food web and there is also less oxygen production and absorption of carbon dioxide.

So here we go.

I will first show what the fish species looks like. I will then provide the challenge and then, a link to the answer.

Challenge #1:

This is a Red Irish Lord.

They can be 51 centimetres long and are incredibly good at camouflaging.

How is that possible when they are red, yellow, pink, orange and/or white? Because that’s how colourful the life around them is, so they blend in. They can be so many different colours and even their eyes have spots on them to help the camouflage.

Can you find the Red Irish Lord in the kelp forest in the picture below? If you click the photo you can make it bigger.

Click to enlarge.

Ready for the answer? Click here. 

Challenge #2:

You are searching for another Red Irish Lord in the picture below. Those anemones you see are the biggest in the world. They are called Giant Plumose Anemones and are up to 1 meter tall. Because there is so much oxygen and food in this ocean, there are many of the world”s largest marine species.

Click to enlarge.

If you are ready for the answer, click here. 

Think about why the Red Irish Lords are camouflaged and are most often motionless, not swimming around the ocean in schools like other kinds of fish. What advantages does it give them to behave like this.

You probably realized that it helps them hunt. They are ambush hunters which means they wait for a fish or crab to come by and then they grab it. I have even seen crabs walk right on the face of a Red Irish Lord.

In the picture below, see what the crab is doing? By making itself really big by spreading its claws, the Red Irish Lord will not be able fit the crab into its mouth!

When an animal is camouflaged, it has a better chance of being hidden from: 

1.  The animals trying to eat it (predators); 

2.  The animals it hopes to eat (prey); and

3.  Others of its kind that might compete for food or mating. 

Challenge #3:

This is a Longfin Sculpin. See the amazing colours and textures. It’s a smaller fish. Maximum size is to 15 centimetres.

Can you find a Longfin Sculpin in the photo below?
All those orange circles are animals. They are Orange Cup Corals.
The rocks are covered with species of coralline algae. Yes, this is a pink type of seaweed that forms crusts all over the rocks. 
The two white animals close together are a species of sea slug. They are called Yellow-Rimmed Nudibranchs. They are mating and the spiral you see is a ribbon of  their eggs. There are hundreds of tiny little eggs in that spiral and the babies will hatch into the ocean.

Click to enlarge.

For the answer showing where the Longfin Sculpin is, click this link. 

Longfin Sculpins look very different at night. They are among the local fish species that darken to match their night surroundings. This is called “nocturnal colouration”. You can see how very different Longfin Sculpin’s night colour is by going to my blog here. 

Challenge #4:

This is a Blackeye Goby.

They are up to 15 centimetres long.

In the picture below. There are two Blackeye Gobies. One is easy to find but you will likely have to search quite hard to find the second one. As you search, notice the Giant Nudibranch. Yes, another GIANT. This kind of sea slug can be 30 centimetres long. They can swim and they are also amazing predators. I have lost of information about them in my blog at this link.

There are also more Orange Cup Corals, some Tube-Dwelling Anemones and Purple Urchins.

Click to enlarge.

Answer time? Click here. 

Extra information about Blackeye Gobies:  They ALL start off as females and under the right conditions, will become male. The males are tidy housekeepers, cleaning out the sand form their den. They are highly territorial and come out of their tidy homes to attract multiple females. After mating, the father fish will guard the eggs of the multiple females: ~1,600 to 27,000 eggs at a time for10 to 30 days!.

Blackeye Gobies also change colour at night to blend in better with their background.

Challenge #5 – The SUPER CHALLENGE:

This is a Scalyhead Sculpin.

They are a small fish with maximum size being only 10 centimetres. They can be a lot of different colours and the mature males have what look like big bushy eyebrows (cirri).

They are INCREDIBLE at camouflaging. There can be so many is just one small area.
Think about how big the top of a school desk is. The photo below is of an area much smaller than that and there are TWELVE Scalyhead Sculpins here!
The crab you see is a Pygmy Rock Crab. They usually hide out in the old shells of Giant Barnacles and do not get bigger than about 5 centimetres.
If you can find even six of them you have done very well.

Click to enlarge .

The answer for the locations of all twelve of the fish is at this link.

I am hoping now that when you think of the bottom of the Northeast Pacific Ocean, you have a better idea of just how colourful it is. To be sure, please see the pictures below.

There are NO fish to find in these photos. 🙂

WILD 2021 Calendar – Looking forward

Yes, we’re not even half way through 2020. But you too might be looking forward to when hindsight IS 2020.

What’s helped me with that is finalizing my WILD Calendar for next year.

Calendars are now for sale via this link.

I’ve made these calendars for more than a decade with the intent of creating further awareness about the diversity and fragility of life hidden in our cold, dark, life-sustaining seas.

Thank you to all who put these calendars into the world and what that might mean for education, connection and conservation.

Below, please see my images for the 2021 WILD Calendar. The selection process for which photos end up in the calendar includes voting on social media. But I also reflect on the biodiversity that must be represented.

For the WILD, for the lessons learned, and for the moving forward.

Above: January image, 2021 WILD Calendar.
Caption is: “Otherworldly: This stalked jellyfish (Stauromedusae) is believed to be a new, yet-to-be-described species. A close relative is the Oval-Anchored Stalked Jelly (Haliclystus sp. max size 3 cm). Stalked jellies never become free-swimming, bell-shaped medusa. Their stalk is sticky to attach to Eelgrass, seaweeds or rocks in the shallows.  Their 8 arms each have a “pom-pom” of 30 to 100 tentacles. These have stinging cells. They catch small crustaceans and bring this food to their mouth in the centre of the 8 arms. They are remarkably mobile. If a stalked jelly becomes detached, it can hold on by its tentacles and quickly reattach by its stalk.”

Above: February image, 2021 WILD Calendar.
Caption is: “Trifecta: One = Nudibranch species the Pomegranate Aeolid (Cuthonella punicea to 2.5 cm). Two = Their only known prey, the stinging celled animals Raspberry Hydroids (to 5 cm) with the astounding scientific name Zyzzyzus rubusidaeus. Three = This nudibranch species’ egg ribbons laid atop of their prey, as is most often the way with nudibranchs. The egg ribbons are the little, white masses on the left. To date, this species and its specific hydroid prey have only been documented near Telegraph Cove and Quadra Island. The research putting forward that these hydroids are a new species was only published in 2013.”

Above: March image, 2021 WILD Calendar.
Caption is: “Life-sustaining algae: In spring, the young “sporophyte” of Bull Kelp grows so fast. For the stem-like structure (stipe) of this alga, Nereocystis luetkeana, to be up to 36 m long, it has to grow an average of 17 cm/day over its approx. 210-day growing period. If you include the growth of the leaf-like structures (fronds), the maximum growth has been documented to be at least 25 cm/day. Note how green the water looks due to microscopic algae. The marine algae produce at least 50% of the Earth’s oxygen; they buffer carbon dioxide; they serve as carbon sinks; they fuel food webs and the kelp forests are habitat for so many species.”

Above: April image, 2021 WILD Calendar.
Caption is: “Endangered: Northern Abalone belong in the shallows, at <10 m depth. This made intense harvesting easy. Illegal poaching continues. The ruffle of tissue with tentacles allows them to sense their way around. They have a strong escape response to some sea star species; striving to outrun and out-twist them! The holes in the shell are to bring oxygen-rich water to the gills. They are often near coralline algae (pink crusts here) but do not feed on them. They feed on kelp. Larval abalone respond to a chemical in coralline algae to settle atop them, grazing on diatoms there until they can eat larger algae. Haliotis kamtschatkana to 18 cm.”

Above: May image, 2021 WILD Calendar.
Caption is: “Tail-lobbing giant: This is Frosty the Humpback (BCX1188), nicknamed for the white “frosting” on her dorsal fin. We first documented her in 2007 and recently learned from colleagues in SE Alaska that she was there as a first year calf in 2006. She has returned to NE Vancouver Island to feed almost every year since and had her first known calf in 2017 (nicknamed Wheat). Frosty sometimes uses the novel feeding strategy we have called “trap-feeding”. There’s so much to learn from our marine neighbours, even the well-documented giants easily visible at the surface. “We” = the Marine Education & Research Society,;

Above: June image, 2021 WILD Calendar.
Caption is: “Absolutely amazing:  Young Basket Stars so often are on Red Soft Coral (Alcyonium sp). Why? Basket Star embryos develop INSIDE the polyps of the soft coral! It’s also thought the embryos feed on the soft coral’s eggs which brood inside the parent. When juvenile Basket Stars emerge from the coral’s polyps, they hang onto the outside till about 3 mm in disk diameter. Then, they crawl onto an adult Basket Star, shuffling off when approx. 5 cm. When adult Gorgonocephalus eucnemis’ 5 seeming infinitely branched arms are fully outstretched, width is up to 75 cm. Age is up to 35 years. Hermit crab may be a Whiteknee Hermit.”

Above: July image, 2021 WILD Calendar.
Caption is: “Juvenile Wolf-Eel:  While I was being carried by the current, drifting along a wall, I had the good fortune to chance upon this Wolf-Eel peeking out of her den. Such a marvel of a fish – beautiful, gentle, reclusive, long-lasting pair bonds and, not an eel at all. They are perfection for a life of crushing urchins with their strong, bony jaws. Even their palate is ossified. Wolf Eels’ long tails can wrap around their egg masses, and their heads look like the rocks amid which they make their dens.“Apple-converted-space”>  Mature male Anarrhichthys ocellatus to 2.4 m. Note too the tiny Basket Star hanging on to Red Soft Coral (as per last month’s featured photo).”

Above: August image, 2021 WILD Calendar.
Caption is: “Let in the light: Black Rockfish at only approx. 5 m depth near the world’s biggest polyp, the Giant Plumose Anemone (Metridium farcimen to 1 m tall). Colder, high current and oxygen rich waters like these have more plankton. This plankton soup makes the water look dark whereby too many believe there is less life than in warmer seas.  But the opposite is true. More plankton = more life and more giants including many of the world’s largest species. May awareness increase whereby we can be the voters, consumers and parents we need to be. Black Rockfish life expectancy is 50 years. Sebastes melanops to 69 cm.”

Above: September image, 2021 WILD Calendar.
Caption is: “Scent in the sea: This tiny neighbour is a White-and-Orange-Tipped Nudibranch. Note the incredible surface area of the “rhinophores” – the two feathery structures extending from the nudibranch’s head. Different nudibranch species have different shapes to the rhinophores but the purpose is the same. They are sensory organs to detect chemicals to find food and potential mates and possibly avoid predators. The white and orange tipped structures are the “nudi” “branchs” = the naked gills. Species is known to feed on bryozoans. Antiopella fusca up to 2.5 cm. This individual is crawling on kelp (Agarum sp).”

Above: October image, 2021 WILD Calendar.
Caption is: “A life in sand: The Northern Moonsnail’s foot can inflate up to 4 times the size of what it is when in the shell through uptake of seawater A big foot is needed to dig for clams. They drill round holes into the clams with their radula (whelk species do this too). Moonsnail egg masses are amazingly constructed. Females lay1000s of eggs between 2 layers of sand glued together with mucus, forming a ~15 cm “collar”. They build this under the sand in 10 to 14 hours and then push it to the surface. Neverita lewisii’s shell is up to 14 cm. The little, white anemone is a Twelve-Tentacled Burrowing Anemone (Halcampa crypta to about 2.5 cm).”

Above: November image, 2021 WILD Calendar.
Caption is: “Hermit home: Blackeyed Hermit Crab in a shell home made, and previously inhabited, by a moonsnail (see previous month’s image). It’s the preferred home for this hermit crab species. Note how the right claw is bigger in Blackeyed Hermit Crabs (and many other species of hermit crab who live in shells). This allows the crab to “close the door” when inside its shell. See too the intricacy of the mouthparts and sensory organs. The hair-like structures on the first antennae (highest structures in this image) have large surface area to sense smells / chemical signals in the water. Pagurus armatus’ carapace to 5 cm.”

Above: December image, 2021 WILD Calendar.
Caption is: ” In the dark: This species of anemone has the appropriate common name, the “White-Spotted Rose Anemone”. It belongs in the Urticina genus but, to date, is “undescribed”. This means it has not been assigned a species name. That would result from peer-reviewed, published research providing a detailed description and contrasting it to closely related species. This is an indication of how little we know even about common species found in the shallows. Considering the life-sustaining importance of the Ocean, may our decisions be guided by intergeneration vision and precaution rather than only potential for short-term economic gain.”

Above: The back cover with my head, tutu and a scene showing life JUST below the surface. You can even see the trees above the surface. The life here includes a Painted Anemone, Green Urchins, Split Kelp and, wafting like prayer flags, Ribbed Wing Kelp. 🙂

The image below shows the layout of the calendar pages.


In a Galaxy Far, Far Away . . .



In a galaxy far, far away . . .

Oh wait no, this was yesterday, diving in a soup of Red Eye-Medusa.

Imagine the water thick with plankton to the extent that it actually feels soupy, and throughout, these jellies are suspended . . . like little, living fairy lights in the dark.

When the visibility is poor like this, it of course limits what else can be seen. But, when you’re in the dark, that’s where you are and that’s where there is still much learning to be done and beauty to be seen.

Yep = life metaphor.

Polyorchis penicillatus are up to 10 cm in size and they are “sink fishing” when hanging like this (detail below).

Look at the bottom of the bell for the red “eyes” (eyespots / ocelli). These can sense light intensity, helping the jelly know which way is up.

The stomach is in the middle and the gonads are the elongate organs surrounding that. Species has up to ~160 tentacles (more often around 100). This jelly species makes “hopping” motions. In part, this is believed to help when feeding near the seafloor by stirring up prey (true story).

More detail on feeding from the University of Oregon:
They feed in both the water column and on the bottom, using different methods for each (Mills et al. 2007). On the bottom, they perch on their tentacles and eat benthic organisms by touching the sediment with their manubrium [stomach with mouth at tip]. Sometimes, they will hop on the sediment, likely to stir up possible prey or move to a new location (Mills 1981, 2001). In the water column, they use “sink fishing” to find their prey. During sink fishing, the medusae extend their tentacles out from their bell and let the distal ends sink downward. They either maintain their position in the water column or sink slowly and catch prey with their tentacles. When a prey item touches a tentacle, the medusa will use that tentacle to bring the prey to the manubrium, though large prey sometimes require more tentacles; this process causes cessation in swimming and crumpling (Arkett 1984).”


Another Red-Eye Medusa at the same site in Port Hardy.
Species of sea star on the anchor chain is a Leather Star.

Source of annotated diagram below and ALL you wish to know about the species:

Polyorchis penicillatus, A publication of the University of Oregon Libraries and the Oregon Institute of Marine Biology Individual species.

Living Gems #2 – Longfin Sculpin

To follow up on yesterday’s blog about Candy-Stripe Shrimp and their association with Crimson Anemones, here’s another ambassador from my last dive who shatters the notion that these waters do not explode with colour and biodiversity.

This little Longfin Sculpin was at only 1 m depth. I saw him/her immediate when I descended and had such good fortune that the fish did not dart away. It’s usually what they do.


Longfin Sculpin = Jordania zonope to 15 cm long. May 20th, 2020 near Telegraph Cove.


May 20th, 2020 near Telegraph Cove.

JUST LOOK at the colour, the patterns, the texture . . . and the gossamer fins.

Here’s another individual from a different dive to give you a sense of the variation in colour and patterns. This colouration and banded pattern often helps them camouflage because so much of the life in these waters is brightly coloured.

June 9, 2019 Hanson Island


BUT Longfin Sculpins are among the local fish species that change colour at night. They darken to match their nocturnal surroundings so they have a better chance of   . . . seeing another day.

The photo below shows how extreme this colour change is. 

March 5th, 2013 Port Hardy.


This is known as “nocturnal protective colouration” and this adaptation is not unique to species of fishes but is also found in birds, mammals, insects, etc

The males are apparently also darker when courting females and protecting eggs. They are very territorial when egg-guarding. 


A Longfin Sculpin in “Spider Man” mode. September 9, 2011 Pearse Island. 


Further information from Dr. Milton Love’s Certainly More Than You Want to Know About the Fishes of the Pacific: “Young settle out of the plankton when around 2.3 to 3 cm long and then live a life where they are mostly solitary (other than to mate and egg guard) and rarely swim more than 0.5 m off the bottom. They use their pectoral fins to crawl around and hang on, even able to kind of “Spider Man” it by hanging on to vertical walls, head oriented downward. They are reportedly highly territorial with domains being from 0.3 to 0.5 metres squared / individual) . . . There have been some observations of the species cleaning the mouths of Lingcod, amid their many and very sharp teeth.”

Below, is one of Jan Kocian’s amazing captures (and cartoons) of a Longfin Sculpins serving as a cleaner fish to a Lingcod.

Scalyhead Sculpins have also been documented by as cleaner fish to Lingcod.


More often than eating snacks found on Lingcod 🙂 , Longfin Sculpins’ diet is “benthic arthropods” which include crabs, hermit crabs, isopods and shrimp. This is the diet of many sculpin species but one study found that Longfin Sculpins take bites out of their prey where other species like Scalyhead Sculpins swallow them whole.


Demetropoulos CL, Braithwaite LF, Maurer BA, Whiting D. 1990. Foraging and dietary strategies of two sublittoral cottids, Jordania zonope and Artedius harringtoniJ Fish Biol 37:19–32.

T J Buser, D L Finnegan, A P Summers, M A Kolmann, Have Niche, Will Travel. New Means of Linking Diet and Ecomorphology Reveals Niche Conservatism in Freshwater Cottoid FishesIntegrative Organismal Biology, Volume 1, Issue 1, 2019, obz023.