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

Posts tagged ‘diving’

Submerge . . .

Come away with me . . . spend 3 minutes submerged in the shallows of the eastern North Pacific, photographing jelly species.

There is no place I’d rather be than here, learning about the richness and wonder of life in these cold waters.

With huge gratitude to Roger McDonell – underwater videographer and dive buddy supreme – for having taken this video.




Video taken during our weekly dive as the Top Island Econauts Dive Club.

Two Dive Day

August 7, 2011

It seemed appropriate that, to relay the remarkable diversity of the two dives, I should let images speak louder than words. 

The most exceptional find was a baby grunt sculpin – no bigger than my finger tip.

Come underwater with me, just for 3 minutes to share in the awe.

Extraordinary Privilege – From on high to down deep.

Humpback whale BCY0768 viewed lunge feeding from 700+ feet above the whale. Telephoto and cropped. Photo: Hildering

Do you have 2.5 minutes?

I’ve compressed the highlights of my marine adventures of  that last 24+ hours into a little slide show. What an extraordinary privilege it has been.

Yesterday, while in a helicopter some 1,000 feet above them, I watched humpback whales lunge feed. 

Today, on the way to our weekly dive, there was a bit of a diversion . . . 3 matrilines (family groups) of fish-eating killer whales needed to pass before we could proceed.

While getting into our dive gear, in the sunshine, a few Pacific white-sided dolphins swam by. 

Then . . . there was the dive with so much more beauty and bounty.

Sometimes, I feel like I might explode with the wonder and privilege of it all. 

Thankfully, I have avenues like this to share and to feel like I might be able to make these adventures count; to enhance understanding and conservation for all this beauty and biodiversity.

Please share in the wonder with me.

Click this link to go from high above the northeast Pacific, into her depths.

(Last video in the gallery at this link). 

Diamondback nudibranch (sea slug) among red soft coral, sponge and brooding anemones. This specimen only about 5 cm long. Photo: Hildering

The Need to Dive

The Marine Detective in a bull kelp forest. Photo: G. Miller

Due to weather and other circumstances, I did not go diving this weekend. As a result, I feel rather “undone” and out of sorts.

It has become essential to my well-being to submerge in the North Pacific at least once a week.  Is this because I am addicted to the nitrogen buzz? Do I need the rapture that comes with descending into such natural beauty and wonder?  Is it because I get to “check-out” of my terrestrial life for a little while?  Does diving move me into a meditative state?  Do I miss my fishy and sluggy friends? Do I need the inspiration and perspective on what it truly important in life?  Or is it because I was a sea lion in a past life and have not made the full transition to a human existence?

All of these factors may in part cause my desperate need to dive but Dr. Joseph MacInnis states it all so much more eloquently and powerfully in this excerpt from the introduction to his book “Saving the Oceans” (text which I wrote on the first page of my first dive log).

“Of all the acts that confirm our unconscious need to reconsider Nature, few are as symbolic as descending into the ocean. As scuba divers . . . we step off the land, leaving behind our urban alliance with concrete and asphalt. Underwater, our survival hinges on containers of portable air. Inside this strange inner space, we become weightless, drifting toward our aquatic origins.

As trespassers in this other world we are more susceptible to shifts in thinking and emotion. Our eyes are captured by unfamiliar colours and patterns of light and shadow. The pressurized air sliding in and out of our lungs reminds us of our mortality. And from this, it is not a large intuitive leap to consider the mortality of the planet.”

I need to dive!!

Diving After the Storm – My 600th Dive

Today, despite a powerful storm, I completed my 600th dive (thank you dear buddy, Jacqui Engel).

Vermillion rockfish.

Six hundred dives is not such a big deal if you are a warm water diver. However, the vast majority of my dives were in the cold waters of Northern Vancouver Island and, it does feel like a big deal.

I only started diving when I was 36. Now, at age 47, I have been diving less than 11 years and have thereby averaged a dive per week over this time. It’s the equivalent of about 19 days underwater.

I am not usually boastful (I think) but it seems really significant to acknowledge this milestone and to try to share why diving is so important to me.

In an attempt not to be too earnest though, I try to express “Why Dive?” by way of some bad poetry.

Why Dive?

Opalescent nudibranch.

Constricted by my dry suit,
Thirty pounds bound to my waist,
Hunchbacked by my cylinder,
A mask suctioned to my face,

I leave the world we’ve cultivated,
To attempt to meet our every whim,
To where Nature’s voice can still be heard,
Far above civilization’s din.

No governments, no borders,
Nor economies present.
When down here, I’m reminded,
Of life’s depth and true intent.

I’m an awkward and brief visitor,
In this world of colour and perfection.
I fill with humility, wonder,
Passion and quiet introspection.

Red rock crab near a sand-rose anemone.

For Mother Ocean is home to life,
Older than mammals can comprehend.
I’m grateful that I may learn from her,
Leaving solid ground when I descend.

Diving brought me greater purpose,
Love, vision and camaraderie.
I think that what some find in a church,
I find  . . .  deep . . . within the sea.

On to the next 600 dives.

Postscript: There was additional “poetry” to today’s dive because it took place after a very powerful storm. Flooding caused the ocean to turn chocolate brown.

This “after the storm” dive further made me reflect on how diving is like a metaphor for life’s greatest challenges. At the risk of the repercussions of exposing you to bad poetry AND “Hallmark-esque” reflections,  I will only share the following:

  • Even in darkness, there is great beauty (as evident by these blog images from today’s dark dive).
  • When you don’t know where you’re going, trust in your compass.
  • And, when in the depths of it  . . . just breathe.

With great thanks to those who have made me the diver I am.

“Exquisite Handiwork” – Sea Slug Eggs

“Some of nature’s most exquisite handiwork is on a miniature scale, as anyone knows who has applied a magnifying glass to a snowflake.

I was reminded of this Rachel Carson quote today when diving but found myself changing the ending to ” . . . as anyone knows who has seen sea slug egg masses.”

The image here is the egg mass of the Pacific Sea Lemon (Peltodoris nobilis), a sea slug up to 20+ cm. It’s egg mass is up to some 20 cm as well.  Every little dot you see contains up to 20 fertilized eggs. So many eggs are needed when your young are hatched into the planktonic soup of the sea. 

The egg mass is the result of the Sea Lemons lining up right-side-to-right-side and both becoming fertilized. Being a hermaphrodite is of course a good design when you are a slow-moving slug that relies on smell to find its way.  More detailed information about sea slug mating can be found at this previous TMD blog entry.

Looking like rich, textured crocheting, the egg mass is indeed Nature’s exquisite handiwork.  Its intricacy rivals that of any spider’s web and, in my perception, surpasses any human nanotechnology.

Seeing such beauty serves as testimony of Nature’s perfection and complexity. How we humans are newcomers to it all, unable to truly grasp the billions of years of design that proceeded our walking upright on earth. It should further motivate us all to walk with much smaller footprints so that we do not blunder and crush the systems that are Nature’s exquisite handiwork.

Note: The Sea Lemon is often mistaken for other dorid species such as the Monterey Dorid (Doris montereyensis).  The easiest way to ID them correctly is to know that Pacific Sea Lemons have white gills. See the photos below and note how, although the body colour can be different, the colour of the gills is always white. The gills of the Monterey Dorid are yellow. The other difference, albeit more subtle, is that the little brown bits of colour do not extend to the top of the tubercles in Pacific Sea Lemons and the brown does go to the tips in Monterey Dorids. The tubercles are those bumpy little structures all over the sea slugs. Also, every sea slug species’ egg masses looks different which  provides further ID clues. The egg masses of Monterey Dorids are not quite as intricate. 

[Update 2020: I promise I will provide a blog showing the differences in IDs and egg masses of Pacific Sea Lemons, Monterey Dorids AND two more species which add to the ID confusion – Freckled Sea Lemons and Heath’s Dorids. Just need a bit of time!]

Close up on a Pacific Sea Lemon’s (Peltodoris nobilis) egg mass. Every dot contains up to 20 fertilized eggs.


Peltodoris nobilis egg laying (note the Brittle Star arms coming out of the crack).


Peltodoris nobilis mating – always right side to right side in slugs with gonopores linked so both become inseminated and lay eggs = simultaneous hermaphrodites.


The following photos give more of a sense of the variation in colour in this species.


More mating and eggs masses

3 Pacific Sea Lemons, two mating, one egg mass. Individuals appear to lay multiple egg masses to increase the chances of young surviving to adulthood. Not the white gills. 

Mating. These two were right beside the egg mass in the following photo.

Come Away With Me

Come on. You know you want to, just for 3 minutes.

Come on the dives I did today.

The little slide show I have put together, is a testimony to the grand, jaw-dropping biodiversity of this area (Northern Vancouver Island, B,C., CANADA).

The Minke whale we saw, the fish using a sponge as a hammock, the bald eagle chick that took one of its first flights – all these are animals that I have learned from by knowing a small part of the world’s ocean well enough to be able to recognize individual animals.

Such a privilege and such a joy to share with you.

Come away with me . . . . click here.

One Dive – Photographic Essay

Swimming anemone at Stubbs Island, N. Vancouver Island, BC

Today there was quite a small tidal exchange which allowed us to dive a more challenging site, Stubbs Island.

On larger tides, this island receives so much current that eddies and big upwellings form. All this churning water means there is abundant oxygen and plankton delivery so the density of marine-life on Stubbs Island is truly mind-blowing.  There isn’t a centimetre of rock that does not have something growing on it.

I would like to share my images from this dive today. I hope they give a sense of the awe-inspiring beauty and biodiversity of our Northern Vancouver Island marine “backyard”.

I’ll let the photos do talking.

Click here for the photos of  –  just one dive at Stubbs Island.

Journey Through Kelp

Bull Kelp is so beautiful, especially now in the early spring when the young “sporophyte” stage is growing at an insanely fast rate. The stipe (stem-like structure) of this kelp species, Nereocystis luetkeana, can grow to be up to 36 m long. The stipe would have to grow an average of 17 cm a day to reach this length in the 210-day growing period (source: Druel). 

The growth rate of the stipe and fronds together (the leaf-like structures) has been documented to reach an average of 25 cm per day (source: Duncan). 

Baby bull kelp

Baby Bull Kelp

It is at this early stage of growth too that Bull Kelp is an intense colour green unlike anything else I know. When older, the colour darkens to an olive green. 

Kelp is an alga, not a plant. However, like plants, algae also photosynthesize, converting the sun’s energy into food. Algae have simpler structures and different chemical pathways than plants.

Young Bull Kelp grows so fast to allow the leaf-like parts, called “fronds”, to be closer to the sun so that more food can be made.  

Sun streaming through a Bull Kelp forest.

The round, floating part of the kelp, is the “pneumatocyst”. This bladder-like structure is completely hollow and is filled with carbon monoxide (NOT carbon dioxide), allowing the long fronds to drift at the surface to catch the sun’s rays. 

Apparently, there is enough carbon monoxide in Bull Kelp to kill a chicken! Now that’s valuable information. See my blog “Enough Carbon Monoxide to Kill a Chickenat this link. 

The stipe is also hollow. I’m sure it is not what Nature had intended, but this allows we humans to play the stipe of Bull Kelp like a trumpet or didgeridoo! The stipe gets thinner and whip-like near the holdfast which is why Bull Kelp likely got its name because the stipe is shaped like a “bull whip”.

Bull Kelp does not have roots. Rather it is a “holdfast”, a tangle of  woody structures, that anchors Bull Kelp onto rocks. However, if rocks are too light to counter the floatation of the pneumatocyst, the kelp will actually change the ocean bottom by carrying away smaller rocks, likely ending up washed onto the shore. 

Bull kelp holdfast. No roots.

Bull Kelp holdfast. No roots. See my blog on holdfasts at this link. 

Bull Kelp always grows in patches, truly forming an underwater forest that is life-giving for the same reasons as terrestrial forests: kelp forests buffer the climate change gas carbon dioxide; produce oxygen; and provide food and habitat for so many other organisms. Bull Kelp forests are, in fact, estimated to provide habitat for some 750 species of fish and invertebrates (animals without backbones).

Sea urchins are one of those invertebrates, living in the forest and grazing on a lot of Bull Kelp. If Sea Otters, Mink, Wolf-Eels and other predators of urchins did not keep urchins in check, there would be further reduced kelp forests. Sea Star Wasting Syndrome has devastated the world’s largest sea star species, the Sunflower Star (Pyncopodia helianthoides) which is a predator of Green Urchins. This has led to too many of these urchins and an increase in the number of urchin barrens. Please see my blog here for information on urchin barrens and Sea Star Wasting Syndrome. 

Kelp forests are not what they used to be for reasons far beyond our foolishness in over-harvesting Sea Otters. There used to be such dense forests that it is theorized “Ancient humans from Asia may have entered the Americas following an ocean highway made of dense kelp.

All coastal boaters still benefit from kelp. It is a navigational aid since, where it grows, you know you there is shallower water.

We divers have yet an additional reason to value kelp.  Since it is so strong,  we can hold onto it if we need to during our safety stop (3 minutes at 5 metres depth) or if needing to gradually pull ourselves down into the depths or back to the surface.   

Oh – and you can eat it. (I love pickled young Bull Kelp!) 

And yes, you could do puppet shows with Bull Kelp, cutting a face into the bladder like you would into a jack-o-lantern. The fronds even look like two pig-tails! 

THEN there is how Bull Kelp reproduces. The offspring look nothing like their parents. Please see here for my blog on the remarkable phenomena that is “alternation of generations”. 

But for now, come underwater with me. Come into the forest, breath in, breath out and worship the kelp!

My additional blog items on kelp include: