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

Posts from the ‘FISH – NE Pacific Ocean’ category

Fish Have Homes!

This week, I found back the same Tiger Rockfish in the same spot after eight years.

 

Yes, on top of cataloguing Humpback Whales, I catalogue Tiger Rockfish. I can’t stop myself.

There’s so much that may be learned when you can recognize animals as individuals. There is more conservation value too when people realize that even individual fish have homes.

The markings in this species of rockfish are so distinct that it is easy to recognize them as individuals IF they are not tucked away deep in a crack which is often their way. See below to compare the markings of this mature female to two other individuals for whom I also have repeat sightings at this location.  I will clearly have to hand off this cataloguing to a younger biologist since these fish are likely to outlive me. They are known to be able to live to age 116.

I was already very excited when I found back this individual after 6 years. Now I can show that this fish was documented in the exact same location after least 8 years. This shows how strong the site fidelity is and why Rockfish Conservation Areas can have such success. Please read more on Rockfish Conservation Areas, barotrauma and rockfish reproduction in my previous blog at this link.

Tiger Rockfish = Sebastes nigrocinctus to 61 cm (35 cm by 17 years of age).


Below, pages from my Tiger Rockfish ID catalogue for this site.

The fish above is “Tiger Rockfish 1”. Note how distinct the markings are and how easy it is to recognize these individuals. I will end up nicknaming these fish for distinctive features as we do with the Humpback Whales. Suggestions are very welcome but for DISTINCTIVE features  i.e. not names like “Stripy. 😉 Update: Tiger Rockfish #1 is now “Papillon” for the bowtie like marking on the right side of her head.

 



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

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.

Find the Fish for Oceans Day 2020 – REPOST

 I am republishing this blog item because, through mysterious technical problems, the first post had disappeared from my website.

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

Background:

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 of 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. 🙂

Find the Fish for Oceans Day 2020

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

Background:

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 of 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. 🙂

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.


Sources: 

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.

What’s With the Flat Face?

Seadate April 11th, 2020, Port McNeill.

Suddenly I realized the bottom of the Ocean was staring at me.

It has happened before and . . . oh how I stared back!

These flatfish or flounders are a particular marvel.

In this case, the species of flounder was a big Rock Sole (Lepidopsetta bilineata up to 58 cm long).

Be sure to read below about the “ba-boing” of their eyes! Yes, I am a scientist but that may not be a fully appreciated scientific descriptor. 🙂

 

Rock Sole are a “righteye flounder” species. All flounder species start off, when larvae, with eyes on either side of their heads. They are anything but “floundering”. They are astounding adapted for life on the sand. (I include photos of additional NE Pacific flatfish species at the end of this blog).

As the larvae develop, the right or left eye (depending on species) migrates across the top of the head to the other side of the body changing some skull bones in the process. This adaptation “allows flatfish to exploit a common habitat – flat sandy bottoms . . . Many fish avoid this habitat because of the lack of rocks or other features that would provide a hiding place. Flatfish can hide from predators by burrowing [and/or camouflaging], leaving only their eyes above the surface . . . the habitat is home to an abundance of prey such as worms and shrimp. With both eyes on the upper side they can use 3D vision to hunt and detect predators. There has been considerable controversy over the origin of flatfish, but recent discoveries of several fossil intermediate forms show that eye migration evolved gradually some fifty million years ago.” Source: Puget Sound Sea Life.

The series of photos show this metamorphosis (images by Dr. Alexander M. Schreiber):

Also, flatfish change colour to match their surroundings. But how is this possible when their eyes are positioned where they are?

The answer via National Geographic: “All flatfish have eyes on the end of stalks, so they pop out of the head “kind of like the eyes we saw in cartoons—ba-boing!” says George Burgess of the Florida Museum of Natural History. Thanks to those pop-up peepers, “they can’t see the bottom directly underneath them, but they can see the bottom around them,” notes Jackie Cooper of the National Aquarium in Baltimore. Once flatfish eyes get the lay of the land, they message the brain, which in turn sends signals back to the skin. This organ contains color-changing cells such as melanophores, which either expand or contract according to the background the fish is trying to match . ..”


At this time where so many are striving to educate children at home, I want for my blogs like this to be of all the more use.  For example, I am hoping the photos allow for children to reflect “if the fish looks like this, what advantages does that provide” , leading to greater deductive reasoning, connection to life in dark seas, and ultimately the appreciation that organisms are the way they are for a reason i.e. the understanding of adaptations.


More fabulous flatfish faces below.

(Note that  this NOT a comprehensive showing of ALL the flatfish / flounders of the NE Pacific Ocean. Rather, it’s just some of the species I have had the opportunity to photograph.

Some Lefteye Flounder Species
Now more commonly called the “Sand Flounders”
Family Paralichthyidae:

October 16, 2013: A Pacific Sanddab (Citharichthys sordidus to 41 cm).

 

November 12, 2019: Speckled Sanddab (Citharichthys stigmaeus to 17 cm). This one is only about 5 cm long. At first I thought it was an Alder leaf.

Other Righteye Flounder Species
Family Pleuronectidae:

September 15, 2012. Sand Sole (Psettichthys melanostictus to 63 cm). This little one was only ~2.7 cm. I found this little guy/ gal in a tideline and photographed it in my dive mask. See the blog I wrote about this “find” in my “Plankton Got Sole” item at this link

 

 

August 8, 2015: C-O Sole (Pleuronichthys coenosus to 36 cm). This one has more pink colouration than usual as it is living around pink coralline algae. Named the “C-O” Sole for the reverse “C” and an “O” shape on the tail. 

April 22, 2020: Another C-O Sole to give a sense of the variation in colour. A big dot in the middle of the body is typical in this species. For this individual, you will note it is purple. 

And more Rock Sole photos because you can never have enough:

Rock Sole – September 23, 2012.

Rock Sole October 11, 2015.

Rock Sole July 1, 2019. Note that the tube worm species here is believed to be an invasive – Chaetopteridae or Spionidae (as shared by expert Leslie Harris).

Rock Sole September 4, 2016.

Rock Sole October 25, 2015.

Same individual October 25, 2015. 


Sources:

Big Skate Egg Case / Mermaid’s Purse

In a complex time, it made me smile today to receive two ID requests from the same area of the same thing.

This  . . . .

 

And this . . .

 

I’ve got your attention don’t I? (Insert cheeky smile here).

These are the egg cases of the Big Skate (Beringraja binoculata) and there are babies growing inside. Such egg cases are known as “mermaids’ purses”. But, as cleverly commented by a friend, these “purses” are so big for this species they should be called “mermaids’ carry-on bags” (Thanks for that Erin Johns Gless).

My compilation below shows the various mermaids’ purses you can find on our coast.

 

The Big Skate is unique in that it can have more than one embryo growing inside each egg case. Up to a maximum of 7 embryos have been reported but more often it is 3 or 4 per egg case. Jared reported that he could feel movement in the case before he put it back in the ocean. Each embryo has its own yolk sac providing the nutrition for growth. See above for what the embryo of a Longnose Skate (different species) attached to a yolk sac.

Two Big Skate embryos developing inside an egg case. A “window” has been cut into the egg case to allow development to be observed. Photo Kelcie Chiquillo.

You can imagine that it should not be common to find fresh egg cases floating or washed up on the beach. That would not offer the best chance of survival for the babies. The various egg cases of rays, skates and sharks are “designed” to hopefully hook onto substrate / remain on the ocean bottom.

What is also so interesting about the reproduction of the Big Skate specifically is that research (Jang, 2019) supports that the embryos in one case can have different fathers (multiple paternity). Say what? Yep, research conducted on Big Skates in captivity have found that the females can store sperm for up to 3 months and then fertilize the eggs prior to laying the egg cases (they are oviparous).

And how long will the babies grow inside the egg case? For this species, it is around 9 months. At that time, they will “hatch” by releasing an enzyme that breaks down the binding of the case. They swim away and that’s when we more often find the egg cases, when they have done their job and are dried up on the beach.

The babies in the cases that Jared and Tina found today could survive to become up to 2.44 metres long (more commonly around 180 cm long). It’s big alright – the biggest skate species in North American waters.

Below are photos of adult Big Skates.

Source and photo: Joseph J. Bizzarro; Friday Harbour Laboratories; How Can There Be So Many Skate Species … and Why Should We Care?

 

Next two photos source: NOAA – Alaska Fisheries Science Center. 

 


 

Related blog: “Sharks Among Us – The Brown Cat Shark” providing detail on how the Brown Cat Shark embryos can take up to TWO YEARS to hatch from the egg case.

 


Sources:

Back to Ground – Reflections on the vital importance of salmon.

How powerful to see salmon spawn; to know their importance; to reflect on their journey and the perfection of their lifecycle that holds together so much life.

Back to ground.

Back they come from the sea to the rivers in which they were born, guided by forces we humans do not fully understand. Those that did not perish along the way (nourishing marine species) fight their way upstream but only once the river runs high enough.

More succumb along the way, the journey made all the more onerous when waters are too warm to supply sufficient oxygen.

The way home.

Males fight to mate, genes invested in future generations in a way we humans cannot replicate with salmon enhancement. Then they die where they were born, following the pattern of thousands of salmon generations before them.

Through death they deliver the nutrients from the sea even hundreds of kilometres upstream to fuel the ecosystem in which their offspring will be born – feeding trees, bears, insects, rodents, song birds, deer, human cultures, etc. etc.

Circle of life.

Through the death of the adults, the viruses, bacteria and parasites they carry will not be transmitted to their offspring. For that is Nature’s rule – that salmon smolts will not be in contact with adult salmon (a rule that is broken with open-net salmon farming).

To grasp the perfection and fragility of what has sustained this coast for so long, is to do better by our own future generations.

For the flow of salmon is . . . the flow of life.

All photos are of spawned Pink Salmon near Squamish; ©2019 Jackie Hildering.


Related blog with further detail on the importance of salmon, their lifecycle, how salmon feed trees (and other vegetation) and my attempts at a Seussian style poem is at “A World Without Salmon?” at this link. 

For the Love of Fish – Bilz Rockfish

What on our blue planet is going on in this photo?!

 

Well, this is William van Orden aka “Bilz Rockfish” of Quadra Island. Since 1995, he has been driven to make replicas of NE Pacific Ocean fish species and other marine life. It was my great fish-nerd joy today to spend some time with him and his wife Barb.

Above, William is holding the mould from the exact fish in the image below. This is the King-of-the-Salmon that died near Oak Bay on September 21st, 2017 (Photo is from the Oak Bay News). For more on this remarkable species, see my blog item at this link.

By making moulds of fish and marine invertebrates that have died as a result of bycatch or washing up like this, William can then make exact replicas for the purposes of education, conservation and art. Incredible care is taken to ensure that every detail is captured in the cast and that the painting is as accurate as possible for the species.


Replica of the head of the September 21st, 2017, Oak Bay King-of-the-Salmon.

 

Replicas of the head of the same King-of-the-Salmon. As a result of this, I learned that the nose can push outward as you see by contrasting the top and bottom casts (from the same fish). Presumably this would be to hunt prey which include “variety of fishes, amphipods, copepods, euphusiids [krill species], fish larvae, polychaetes [bristle worms], squids and octopuses.” Source: Love, Dr. Milton. Certainly More Than You Want to Know about the Fishes of the Pacific Coast: A Postmodern Experience. The fish you see in the background is a 71 cm long Opah (Moonfish). These are fish species that belong in the NE Pacific Ocean but we so rarely get to see them and their awe-inspiring adaptations. 


From the Bilz Rockfish website: “Every scale, pore and wrinkle is duplicated. The cast fish are then coloured with acrylic paints using an extensive collection of photos and notes. The quest is to create a permanent three-dimensional record of every fish [species] found along the Pacific coast. With over 400 different molds cluttering his shop, it would appear that the quest has turned into an obsession.

Indeed, the detail is remarkable (as is his wonderful ichthyology obsession). For example, today I realized why Starry Flounder must be called STARRY Flounder. See all the tiny star patterns on the fish’s skin?

Cast of a 64 cm Starry Flounder.

I also learned something more about the “design” of female anglerfish.

Likely you know that anglerfish females have a lure that contains bacteria which create light (bioluminescence) to attract prey in the deep, dark depths that they dwell. This lure is marked “A” in my image below. What I learned from William is that the lure can be reeled in closer to the female’s mouth and  . . . as “A” is drawn inward, “B” gets longer i.e. “B” is the counterweight to the lure appendage!

 

 

Speaking of appendages, see the little male attached to the female anglerfish? The male bites onto the female and fuses with her. He gets her nutrients. She gets his sperm. I have included a National Geographic video clip at the end of this blog that shows a mated anglerfish pair.

Below, is a cast of 90 cm Rougheye Rockfish determined to be at least 150-years-old. The age was determined by scientists counting the annual growth bands on this individual’s otoliths (ear bones). Research has determined that the species can even get to be 205-years-old!

Other fish in this image are a Decorated Warbonnet (facing left below the Rougheye Rockfish) and, on the right, a deep-dwelling fish (a clue being the huge eyes to pick up on very low light) with the enchanting common name of Ox-eyed Oreo.

 

The fish in the image below is a cast of a 137 cm Longnose Lancetfish (who you calling long nose?!). The species is thought to most often be in the depths off our coast. However, William has found shallow dwelling species like sticklebacks and Pacific Spiny Lumpsuckers in the stomachs of individuals he has cast. This suggests that at least those individuals were in the shallows. An additional great quote by Dr. Milton Love is “Longnose Lancetfish are another species for which the term “little is known” fits like a snug shoe.”

137 cm long Longnose Lancetfish. To the left, a male Steelhead (spawning stage). To the right, the Opah (Moonfish). And below, a 10 cm Pacific Spiny Lumpsucker. See him/her?

I have wanted to see William’s workshop for a long time. We’ve been in communication over the years as we have just a few interests in common. 🙂 I have used some of his casts for educational purposes (e.g. his replicas of salmon species) and I might even have a few casts hanging near the shower. Hey! All the cool kids are doing it (at least we marine biology / diver types).

But of course, there is also solemness to seeing the replicas of these awe-inspiring marine neighbours. They are the result of animals who have died.

This struck me the most powerfully with what you see in the image below. These are Ochre Stars with Sea Star Wasting Syndrome, cast by William in an attempt to bring more awareness to the plight of the sea stars.

 

He had also made a cast a of the species most impacted by the Syndrome off our coast – the Sunflower Star. It made me clench my teeth and hold back tears, understanding fully why he made this replica. Because, it is conceivable that this could become the only way we see this species, once so common off our coast. For more on Sea Star Wasting Syndrome, please see this link. 

Deepest of sighs.


Below, more images of Willam’s work and the promised video showing a mated anglerfish pair.

To contact William / Bilz Rockfish, click here. The ideal for rare fish finds (deceased) is that they be of use to science and be cast for the purposes of education and conservation.

Underside of a 51 cm Black Skate.

 

Grunt Sculpin (species to 9.3 cm).

 

Close-up on the mould for the King-of-the-Salmon.

 

Below, National Geographic video of mating anglerifish. Species is the “Fanfin Sea Devil” (Caulophryne jordani). 

Sharks Among Us – The Brown Cat Shark

Here’s a mystery shared (and solved) by Farlyn Campbell.

This was found in May of 2018 north of Port Hardy.

Photo: Jared Towers. Brown Cat Shark egg case found on May 30, 2018 near Doyle Island off NE Vancouver Island, British Columbia. Found by Jared and Farlyn when they came upon a rope with buoy drifting in the ocean. They removed the rope due to its potential to entangle animals and of course placed the egg case back in the ocean. 

It’s the egg case of a Brown Cat Shark (Apristurus brunneus) with an embryo developing inside and it’s mind-blowing how long it takes before it hatches. Read on!

The Brown Cat Shark is a common species of shark off British Columbia’s coast but, here we go again . . . very little is known about it.

Most sharks (about 60%) have “viviparous” reproduction where the young develop inside the female and hatch out when fully developed.

However, Brown Cat Sharks have “oviparous” reproduction where the eggs hatch outside the body of the female. The embryo develops inside the egg, feeding on the yolk. Yes, this is how birds develop too. The egg cases of oviparous sharks are not shelled however, as you can see above. They have distinct shapes per species but all have this tough “leathery” membrane. The egg cases are also known as a “mermaid’s purses”. (See the end of this blog for further information on reproductive strategies in sharks).

Female Brown Cat Sharks lay one egg case at a time that contains a single embryo. Each egg case is around 5 cm long and 2.5 cm wide. In the case of Brown Cat Sharks, the embryo develops inside for more than 2 years! In our cold waters, maximum known incubation period is 27 months. The size of the hatched pup is 7 to 9 cm. (Source: Love). Development is shorter where temperature is warmer.

The distinctive “tendrils” on the egg cases of Brown Cat Sharks are believed to help anchor them to hard surfaces.

In British Columbia, the females carry (and deposit) between 1 to 16 mature eggs most often between February and August. (Source: Love and McFarlane). Further to the south in their range, they females apparently lay egg cases year round.

Little is known about what feeds on the egg cases but bore holes suggest that gastropods like whelks drill into them.

Brown Cat Shark – Details 

See below for more information on the 16 species of shark known to be off the coast of BC. Image source:  Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Sharks of British Columbia. 

Cat sharks (Scyliorhinidae) are the most diverse and largest family of living sharks. There are ~157 species worldwide. Their common name may be in reference to their cat-like eyes.

Brown Cat Sharks are harmless to humans. They feed on small true shrimps, pelagic red crabs, euphausiids, mysid shrimps, isopods, squids, and small fishes (Source: Love) Off the coast of BC, maximum documented size for the Brown Cat Shark is 70.4 cm for males and 65.1 cm for females (Source: Wallace et al).

The Brown Cat Shark is a cold water species, found in waters from 5 to 8°C in the Eastern Pacific. They appear to be most common from British Columbia to northern Baja California, Mexico with their known range extending from Alaska to Columbia in South America. They are probably also off Panama, Ecuador, and Peru.

Known global range of the Brown Cat Shark. Source: IUCN. 

 

Brown Cat Sharks are a deep-dwelling species, often over mud/sand and on the outer continental shelf. Known depth range is 33 to 1,298 m. They are most often found at depths of 137 to 360 m in the cold waters off the coast of British Columbia. Where it is warmer, they are likely to be deeper e.g. most often at depths of 656 – 932 m off southern California (Source: IUCN).

Distribution of Brown Cat Shark off the west coast of Canada from 1965 to 2007. Source: McFarlane.

As aforementioned, the Brown Cat Shark is one of the most common shark species off the coast of BC but so little is known about it and there have not been the recommended efforts to fill knowledge gaps.

Risks to the Brown Cat Shark include that it is commonly taken as bycatch in deepwater trawl fisheries (Source: IUCN). The Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) reported in April 2007 that there was not enough information known about the species to evaluate how at risk it was =  Data Deficient. MarFarlane et al, 2010 determined that the Brown Cat Shark was among those shark species off the coast of BC that was a high priority for further study.  This has not yet happened. Reportedly, there are no management measures currently in place for the Brown Cat Shark anywhere in the world (Source: IUCN).

Shark Reproduction 

Unlike most fish, sharks have internal fertilization, where the eggs are fertilized inside the female’s body. The males have reproductive structures known as “claspers” (modified parts of the pelvic fins). Claspers are appropriately named as, not only do they transport sperm into the female’s oviduct, they also anchor into the female.

Most sharks are viviparous, giving birth to fully developed young. As mentioned above, Brown Cat Sharks are not. They are oviparous.

Shark egg development modes in further detail:

Oviparity = egg-laying. After fertilization, the egg cases are deposited into the ocean. There is no development of the embryo inside the female. The embryo develops inside the egg case feeding on the yolk. The only oviparous shark off the coast of BC is the Brown Cat Shark. The skates off our coast are oviparous as is the Spotted Ratfish. (See the image at the end of this blog contrasting their egg cases / mermaid’s purses).

Viviparity = after fertilization, the embryo develops inside the mother and the young are fully developed when born. There are two types of viviparity:

  1. Placental viviparity:
    We humans and most other mammals and reptiles also developed via placental viviparity. The embryos develop inside the mother, attached to her placenta (in the case of viviparous sharks, the umbilical cord is between the pectoral fins). Through the placenta, the mother’s blood delivers nutrients and oxygen to the embryo and waste is transported away. Examples of sharks off the coast of BC who develop by placental viviparity: Sixgill Shark, Sevengill Shark, Blue Shark, Pacific Sleeper Shark, Spiny dogfish.
  2. Aplacental viviparity (Ovoviviparity): In this case, there is no placenta to nourish the embryo. The young develop inside the eggs while in the mother’s oviduct and are born fully developed. They feed from the yolk as well as from glands in the oviduct walls (there are varied ways this “uterine milk” is delivered). The embryos hatch into the oviduct and finish development feeding from gland secretions and unfertilized eggs (known as being “oviphagous”). In some species, the first pup to hatch eats their developing siblings. This is referenced as being “embryophagic” or “adelphophagic” (translates literally into “eating one’s brother”) and is not known in any other animals other than some species of sharks. You can imagine that final litter size is small in sharks with this “intrauterine cannibalism”. Examples of sharks off the coast of BC who develop by aplacental viviparity are: Tope (Soupfin) Shark, Pacific Angel Shark, Spiny Dogfish, Common Thresher Shark, Bigeye Thresher Shark, Shortfin Mako Shark, Basking Shark and Salmon Shark. Those whose embryo development is known to include embryophagy are the: Common Thresher Shark, Bigeye Thresher Shark, Shortfin Mako Shark, Basking Shark and Salmon Shark (Source: Elasmo-Research).


Sharks off the Coast of British Columbia

Image source:  Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Sharks of British Columbia. Click to enlarge.

In BC waters there are 16 species of shark from 11 families.

Brown Cat Shark (Apristurus brunneus)
Spiny Dogfish (Squalus acanthias)
Sevengill Shark (Notorynchus cepedianus)
Salmon Shark (Lamna ditropis)
Blue Shark (Prionace glauca)
Pacific Sleeper Shark (Somniosus pacificus)
Common Thresher Shark (Alopias vulpinus) ICUN status: Vulnerable
Bigeye Thresher Shark (Alopias superciliosus) ICUN status: Vulnerable
Shortfin Mako Shark (Isurus oxyrinchus) ICUN status: Endangered
Green-Eye Shark (Etmopterus villosus)

Protected under Canada’s Species at Risk Act:
Basking Shark (Cetorhinus maximus) – Endangered (and ICUN status: Vulnerable)
Sixgill Shark (Hexanchus griseus) – of Special Concern 
Tope (or Soupfin) Shark (Galeorhinus galeus) – of Special Concern (and ICUN status: Vulnerable)

Incidental:
Great White Shark (Carcharodon carcharias) ICUN status: Vulnerable
Hammerhead Shark – 2 known sightings up to 2016 (Source: Royal BC Museum)
Pacific Angel Shark  – 1 known sighting up to 2016 (Squatina californica) ICUN status: Near Threatened

Contrast of egg cases commonly found along coastal British Columbia. Only the Big Skate can have more than one embryo per egg case. Reported to be up to a maximum of 7 embryos but more often 3 to 4.

Sources: