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

Posts from the ‘Jellies’ category

Giant Siphonophore (Prayja species)

Here’s another fabulously unique jelly-like drifter for you. It’s a “Giant Siphonophore” which can be up to 50 metres long. That’s right – 50 metres – albeit the sightings near the surface are usually much smaller like these two I saw north of Port Hardy (around 2 to 3 meters).

They are not usually common off the coast of British Columbia but, like the recent sightings of many pyrosomes, their presence indicates that there must be warmer waters. They are regulars off the coast of central California.

Paired swimming bells and long stem of a Giant Siphonophore (aka Bell-Headed Tailed Jelly) ©2017 Jackie Hildering.

Siphonophore jellies are so remarkable. While they appear to be a single animal, they are a colony of individuals (“zooids”) with very specialized jobs. The paired bells aid the propulsion of the colony (pneumatophores).  The units of the long stem are known as “cormidia”. Can you discern the individual units in the image below? Each of these segments has parts for reproduction (gonozooids), cacthing prey and digestion (gastrozooids), and defence (dactylozooids)by having stinging cells (nematocysts). While this species does deliver a bit of a sting, it packs no where near the punch of the most well-known siphonophore – the Portuguese Man o’ War.

Tail segment of a Giant Siphonophore with dive buddy and his video light in the background. This one did not have the swimming bells. The bright yellow colour of the “zooids” in the stem is distinct in this species of siphonophore. ©2017 Jackie Hildering.

What had me quite confused when I first saw the species, is that Giant Siphonophores often do not have the swimming bells – just the stem of individuals. These apparently have a role in reproduction (and are known as eudoxids) but cannot regenerate the whole colony. (Added bonus to this blog – more words for the next time you play Scrabble!)

Another perspective on the paired swimming bells (pneumatophores). ©2017 Jackie Hildering.

In what little information I could find on this species, there was this fabulously, dramatic descriptor: “The giant gelatinous predator moves silently through cold, dark waters, propelled by a pair of expanding and contracting swimming bells. Its rope-like body is actually a colony of almost a thousand individual subsections, each performing a specific task. Some provide propulsion, others, reproductive functions; but most specialize in capturing and devouring prey. When hunting, these sections deploy thousands of slender, stinging tentacles to capture drifting krill, copepods, small fish, and other jellies. Almost anything blundering into this deadly net of tentacles soon finds itself stuffed into the nearest waiting mouth.” (Source: The Ecology Center).

And just in case this all is not fascinating enough, the species is also bioluminescent. It produces a bright blue light when disturbed, briefly illuminating our dark, mysterious, life-sustaining sea.

Sources:

Sea Angels and Sea Butterflies?!

My dry suit has been hosed down and is drying in the sun; my regulator is soaking in fresh water; the washing machine is chug chug chugging with the clothes used over the last days of diving; and my head and heart are full of so much I want to share.

I’m back from another trip organized to God’s Pocket Dive Resort just beyond Port Hardy . . . more than 11 hours spent underwater over the last days. Such an escape. Such an immersion in wonder and that sense of humility that comes with submerging in the force that sustains this planet. Such an opportunity to learn.

I saw my first Sea Angel.

My buddy and I had been drifting along for about an hour. We had schooled with rockfish; hung next to Orange Sea Pens as they bowed in the current; and marvelled at the abundance of anemones and their babies, studding the forests of kelp. We had done our safety stop with a seeming snowfall of pulsing Aggregating Jellies streaming down around us in the sun’s beams.

 

Thousands of Aggregating Jellies aka Umbrella Jellies. Eutonina indicans to 3.5 cm across. Collective noun for jellies is "smack". ©2016 Jackie Hildering.

Thousands of Aggregating Jellies also known as “Umbrella Jellies”. Eutonina indicans to 3.5 cm across.
Collective noun for jellies is “smack”. ©2016 Jackie Hildering.

 

Close-up on Aggregating Jelly aka Umbrella Jelly. Eutonina indicans to 3.5 cm across. ©2016 Jackie Hildering.

Close-up on Aggregating Jelly –  Eutonina indicans to 3.5 cm across.
©2016 Jackie Hildering.

 

We had already been further awed by Sea Butterflies “flying” by our masks. Sea Butterflies are planktonic sea slugs!  They are “pteropods” – swimming shell-less molluscs whose “wings”(ptero) are their feet (pods). This genus does have an internal gelatinous “pseudoconch” (false shell) and the brown dot you see in my image is the gut.  Sea Butterflies feed by forming a mucus web up to 2 m in diameter in which they trap smaller plankton and bits of organic matter. Oh to see that. It was apparently first documented in the 1970s by researchers while SCUBA diving.

Sea Butterfly - Corolla spectabilis. Dark spot is the gut. ©2016 Jackie Hildering.

Sea Butterfly – Corolla spectabilis. Dark spot is the gut. See this link for more species information and a video (with excited diver vocals) of a swimming Sea Butterfly. 

 

All those jellies and Sea Butterflies pulsing around us and then, just when I was about to break the surface back into the world where gravity has such a stronger hold on me, I saw it! So small, tiny wings pulsing . . . a Sea Angel!

 

Image #1 of the Sea Angel - Cliopsis krohni to 4 cm long. Also known as a "Sea Cherub". ©2016 Jackie Hildering.

Image #1 of the Sea Angel – Cliopsis krohni to 4 cm long. Also known as a “Sea Cherub”.
©2016 Jackie Hildering.

 

Image #2 of the Sea Angel. ©2016 Jackie Hildering.

Image #2 of the Sea Angel. ©2016 Jackie Hildering.

 

Image #3 of the Sea Angel. ©2016 Jackie Hildering.

Image #3 of the Sea Angel. ©2016 Jackie Hildering.

 

This is another species of planktonic, “winged” sea slug (but the adults of this species are completely shell-less; they do not even have pseudoconch). Sea Angels are a rarity so far to the north and are only occasionally seen at the surface (found to depths of 1.5 km).  Their presence is likely due to warmer waters (El Nino and possible climate change) and a big northwest wind that had raged a couple of nights prior. The wonder of it, to see something so otherworldly, to know of its rarity in this area, and to get a sense of its planktonic fragility – surviving from a larval stage, escaping predation by fish, and to be carried by the currents in the vastness of the sea.

It may be hard to imagine but this species is a voracious predator! Cliopsis feeds on other planktonic snails by grabbing them with a long proboscis (which can be up to two times its body length), a sharp radula and hooks made of chiton!

 

Screen grab from the "Plankton Chronicles" showing a Sea Angel feeding! See amazing 1.5 min clip here http://planktonchronicles.org/en/episode/pteropods-swimming-mollusks/.

Screen grab from the “Plankton Chronicles” showing a Sea Angel feeding!
See amazing 1.5 min clip at this link.

 

And yes, their diet includes Sea Butterflies. Sea Angels can eat organisms up to three times their size!

When a Sea Angel comes into contact with a Sea Butterfly’s feeding web, it reels it in, dragging the Sea Butterfly with it. When close enough, the Sea Angel then uses its probosis to “cut” the Sea Butterfly from its psuedoconch and eats it.

The marvel of it all, the delicate balance of this planktonic world about which so few of us have knowledge but which can be so impacted by our activities. There is concern about the impact of ocean acidification (caused by our carbon use) on the development of these organisms.

As always, don’t be despondent. See the beauty, know your connection, and recognize the common solutions and great gains of caring more  . . ..  and consuming less.

Out There – Buoy Barnacles and Sailed Jellies? And a couple of blue whales.

Having finally recovered from having a crashed computer hard drive, I can now share with you some of the wonder and discovery from being on DFO’s offshore survey to aid the recovery of whales.

This past July, the Cetacean Research team went as far as 200 nm (370 km) off BC’s shore and it was a great success. The team sighted over 3,000 cetaceans including two endangered Blue Whales (the biggest animal that ever lived).

One of the 2 sightings made of endangered Blue Whales. Photo ©Brianna Wright.

One of the 2 endangered Blue Whales found on DFO’s offshore survey to aid the recovery of whales. The very small dorsal fin is a discerning characteristic for Blue Whales. Our research vessel the CCGS Tully is in the background. Photo ©Brianna Wright.

And there were around 150 observations of threatened Fin Whales (the second biggest animal that ever lived).

One of the +/- 150 sightings made of threatened Fin Whales. Photo ©Bruce Paterson.

One of the +/- 150 sightings made of threatened Fin Whales. Photo ©Bruce Paterson.

Threatened Fin Whale. Note the white lower right jaw. This is a discerning feature of Fin Whales. The lower right jaw is white (and the lower left jaw is black!) ©Jackie Hildering.

Threatened Fin Whale. Notice the white lower right jaw? This is a discerning feature of Fin Whales. The lower right jaw is white (and the lower left jaw is black!) ©Jackie Hildering.

There were so many Dall’s Porpoises out there; some Northern Right Whale Dolphins (I promise that, one year, I will get a good photo) and even a Pacific White-Sided Dolphin with very unique markings.

Pacific White-Sided Dolphin on the left has anomalous colouration - see the marking around his/her eye? ©Jackie Hildering

Pacific White-Sided Dolphin on the right has anomalous colouration – see the markings around his/her eye? ©Jackie Hildering

We had many sightings of threatened populations of Killer Whales –  Offshore Killer Whales (offshore fish-eaters); Resident Killer Whales (inshore fish-eaters); and Bigg’s/Transient Killer Whales (mammal-eaters). There was even data collected on some pelagic Bigg’s/Transients that have never before been identified in BC.

These are Bigg’s/Transient Killer Whales that have never before been identified in BC (or probably anywhere) due to their being among the mammal-eating killer whales that have a preference for pelagic waters. Jared Towers, in his role with DFO, is the authority in BC on mammal-eating killer whales and it is he who immediately recognized that these individuals have not been previously identified and who will assign identification names for them.  The data obtained on the survey builds on DFO’s 40+ years of population studies on killer whales in BC. ©Jackie Hildering

These are some of the Bigg’s/Transient Killer Whales that had never before been identified in BC (or probably anywhere) due to their being among the mammal-eating Killer Whales that have a preference for pelagic waters. Jared Towers, in his role with DFO, is the authority in BC on mammal-eating killer whales and it is he who immediately recognized that these individuals have not been previously identified and who will assign identification names for them. The data obtained on the survey builds on DFO’s 40+ years of population studies on Killer Whales in BC. ©Jackie Hildering

There were Sperm Whales, Cuvier’s Beaked Whales (!!!) and threatened Fur Seals . . .

Inquisitive Northern Fur Seal (Threatened). Many young Northern Fur Seals, after weaned,  remain at sea for 22+ months (really). ©Jackie Hildering

Inquisitive Northern Fur Seal (Threatened). Many young Northern Fur Seals, after weaned, remain at sea for 22+ months (really). ©Jackie Hildering

. . . remarkable pelagic birds;

Laysan's albatros (red-listed in BC). ©Jackie Hildering

Laysan’s albatros (red-listed in BC). ©Jackie Hildering

Mola mola and a variety of species of sharks.

Blue shark. ©Jackie Hildering.

Blue shark. ©Jackie Hildering.

To see the big marine animals was astounding especially considering how at-risk many of the species are due to past whaling/hunting and current threats like vessel-strike, prey-availability, and entanglement.

Seeing +/- 60 Humpback Whales flick-feeding together, birds all around them, made me go quiet in sheer wonderment at the beauty of it  . . . blows as far as the eyes could see. To think that we could have lost them due to whaling . . . .

But look closely at the image below. Yes, it’s a humpback with a rainbow blow (rain-blow?) but look more closely. See the little white circles? This is one of the little guys that put me in the same state of rapturous awe as seeing the giants. All around the humpbacks, in fact, over almost ever square meter of ocean out there, there were sailed jellies known as “By-the-Wind Sailors” (Vellela vellela). 

Yes the rainbow in the humpback's blow is stunning but look at all the Vellela vellela around the humpback! ©Jackie Hildering.

Yes the rainbow in the humpback’s blow is stunning but look at all the Vellela vellela around the humpback! ©Jackie Hildering.

This species of hydroid has a buoyant air-filled float and a triangular, stiff sail. It is a colonial animal with a central mouth under the floats. The tentacles trap fish and invertebrate eggs, small crustaceans (copepods) and species of free-swimming tunicates.

Vellela vellela - see the feeding tentacles? Photo ©Jackie Hildering.

Vellela vellela – see the feeding tentacles and deep blue pigment of the polyp? Photo ©Jackie Hildering.

To add to how remarkable this species is, some have the sail facing one way where others in the population have their sail facing the other way – so that they get blown in different directions. (For more species information see the JelliesZone).

Vellela vellela. Photo ©Jackie Hildering.

Vellela vellela. Photo ©Jackie Hildering.

Vellela vellela are a species common to our Coast and harmless to humans. However, their numbers this year were extraordinary.

Dense concentrations of Vellela vellela. Photo ©Lisa Spaven.

Dense concentrations of Vellela vellela. Photo ©Lisa Spaven.

If you live on the Coast, maybe you’ve seen them too this year, washed up on the beach?

The media has been full of articles about them with titles like: “Velella velella turn Tofino, B.C., shore into sea of blue“; “Mysterious Blue Jellyfish-Like Creatures Invade West Coast Beaches“; and “Thousands Of These Bizarre Blue Animals Wash Up Along California Shores“.

Vellela vellela (By-the-Wind-Sailors) washed ashore. Only their chitinous-like sails remaining, the scarlet blue floating polyp having rotted away. Photo: ©Jackie Hildeirng

Vellela vellela (By-the-Wind Sailors) washed ashore. Only their chitinous-like sails remaining, the scarlet blue floating polyp having rotted away. Photo: ©Jackie Hildeirng

But there was another smaller organism way out there that is even more other-worldly, surreal and absolutely mind-blowing – the Buoy Barnacle (Dosima fascicularis).

This species of barnacle is the only one in the world known to secrete its own float. This allows the barnacle to hang downward feeding on plankton, drifting along in the high seas. The float is gas filled and looks like polystyrene.

Buoy Barnacle with the float it has secreted itself. The smaller barnacles attached are juveniles of another species - Pelagic Gooseneck Barnacles (Lepas anatifera). Photo: ©Jackie Hildering.

Buoy Barnacle with the float it has secreted itself. The smaller barnacles attached are juveniles of another species – Pelagic Gooseneck Barnacles (Lepas anatifera). Photo: ©Jackie Hildering.

The little barnacles you see on the outside of the Buoy Barnacle in the above image are another species. They are juvenile Pelagic Gooseneck Barnacles (Lepas anatifera). This species attaches to anything that drifts. See below for a good example of that.

Glass ball covered with Pelagic Gooseneck Barnacles (Lepas anatifera). Photo: ©Bruce Paterson.

One of the glass balls the team found – covered with an astounding mass of Pelagic Gooseneck Barnacles (Lepas anatifera)! And notice the Vellela Vellela around the glass ball?! Photo: ©Bruce Paterson.

Imagine, imagine learning about this species out on the open sea while helping to take ID photos of threatened Fin Whales, Vellela vellela EVERYWHERE their sails glistening in the sun as they are propelled over the swell, and among them, these upside down barnacles travelling even faster by wind and current.

Imagine my further delight when, while still at sea, just after I had observed this species for the first time, I got an email from children back home in Telegraph Cove (via the wonderful interpreters at the Whale Interpretive Centre) wanting to know what the mystery organism was that they had found. It was the Buoy Barnacle. They had even found two attached to one buoy.

Here is the video of their find.

From Blue Whales to Buoyed Barnacles, the biodiversity, mystery and fragility of this Coast is simply staggering.

There’s so much to protect.

Sadie holding a Buoy Barnacle that we found on the beach north of Klemtu.

Buoy Barnacle found on the beach north of Klemtu in August. The exoskeleton of the foot is what is extended on the right. Smaller species attached are Pelagic Gooseneck Barnacles. ©Jackie Hildering (thanks Sadie!)

 

Lion’s Mane Jellyfish – Sherlock You Are Wrong!

I had a wonderful opportunity to photograph and film a lion’s mane jellyfish (Cyanea capillata) today.


The 1.5 minute annotated video clip below will give context to my “Sherlock – You Are Wrong” statement.  
Enjoy!

 

 

Click here to see a short clip of the other big jelly species that can be found in our waters – the egg yolk jelly (Phacellophora camtschatica) at up to “only” 60 cm across. 

Mystery Organism – A Jellyfish With a Stalk?!

This is a Marine Detective case for those of you who appreciate the mini-mysteries as much as the whale wonders.

Gillian Butler and Erin Paul of Pacific Northwest Expeditions discovered this remarkable invertebrate in August, off their kayak base camp in Johnstone Strait, north-eastern Vancouver Island.

I was thrilled to get the “What’s this?” email from them as this is an organism I know is in our ocean but that I have never been able to find!

It is a jellyfish that is only 3 cm wide and is usually attached to kelp . . . by it’s stalk!

Stalked Jellyfish – photo by Gillian Butler

Yes, it is a stalked jellyfish (stauromedusae) that is known by the common name the “oval-anchored stalked jelly” (Haliclystus spp).

Stalked jellies never become free-swimming, bell-shaped “medusa” like most jellyfish species. Their stalk is sticky allowing them to attach to eel grass, seaweed or rocks in the shallows.  They have 8 “arms” that look like they have pom-poms at their ends.  These clusters of 30-100 tentacles have stinging cells so that the stalked jelly can catch small crustaceans and bring this food to their mouth (positioned at the centre of the 8 arms).

Only about 50 species of stalked jelly had been discovered worldwide but, recently, new extremely deep-dwelling species been discovered around hydrothermal vents.

They are remarkably mobile which you will see in the Lester B. Pearson College video at the link below. If the stalk becomes detached, the animal can hold on with its tentacles till it reattaches its stalk. The student video will also allow you to see the base of the stalk and how the arms can close up.

Click here for the 2-minute video to truly see how remarkable this organism is (no audio).

Thank you Gillian and Erin!