The Western gull, Larus occidentalis, is a large white-headed gull common along the western coast of North America. The Western gull ranges from British Columbia to Baja California. It is exclusively marine, and nests on offshore rocks and islands. While offshore it feeds on fishes and invertebrates that it can take at the surface (it cannot dive), and will scavenge carcasses and shellfish while foraging along the shore. It is known to predate upon other smaller birds. Western gulls have a lifespan up to about 25 years, although 15-20 years is more common.
The Long Beach Aquarium of the Pacific recently arranged to use one of our photographs of the tiny Corynactis californica anemone for a huge wall mural, to be hung in the coming month. It reminded me of how cool these small creatures are, and how many times I have hunkered down on the reef to spend a dive photographing them.
The club-tipped anemone, or corynactis anemone (Corynactis californica), is common in the nearshore environment in Southern California and Baja California. Its range extends north to at least Washington. Corynactis californica is not a true anemone, but rather a Corallimorph cnidarian. One of the distinguishing characteristics of these corallimorphs is that their tentacles, which are not fully retractable, end in knobs resembling clubs (hence the name club-tipped anemone). Corallimorphs have a number of physiological similarities to hard corals but lack the hard coral skeletons of corals. The corynactis anemone is often found in large groups covering rocks, wrecks, piers and other hard substrate to which it can cling. These groups take on beautiful colors: pink, red, orange, blue, purple. Corynactis californica can reproduce asexually by longitudinal fission in which case all clones will take on the same color.
A cluster of vibrantly-colored strawberry anemones (club-tipped anemone, more correctly a corallimorph) polyps clings to the rocky reef.
Image ID: 10165
Species: Strawberry anemone, Corynactis californica
Location: Santa Barbara Island, California, USA
Some years ago I had the good fortune to swim with and photograph a group of Northern fur seals (Callorhinus ursinus) at San Miguel Island, the northernmost of the Channel Islands offshore of central California. I was there on a multi day tank diving trip. Blessed with fantastic weather, we were able to anchor the boat amidst thick kelp beds offshore of San Miguel’s Point Bennett pinniped rookery. Most divers immediately put on tanks, dropped straight down without even looking around the boat, and scoured the bottom looking for bottom stuff until their air ran out. While suiting up, however, I noticed a small group of strange looking pinnipeds rafted up about a hundred yards away, a type I had not seen before. I could not identify them through binoculars but could see that they somewhat resembled Guadalupe fur seals (Arctocephalus townsendi), a species I had dived with many times at Guadalupe Island, except that these seals were smaller and had a distinctly different head profile. The only thing I was certain of was that they were not California sea lions (Zalophus californianus). Curious, I left the tank on the boat, swam over to the seals with just fins, mask and camera, and spent about two hours freediving alone with them. At one point an enormous submarine passed by me, clearly much larger and different than the seals I was with. The thing was huge. It took me several moments to realize that what was blotting out the sun was a passing male Northern fur seal, and that the smaller ones I had been photographing all this time were females. The water was not great, but clear enough that was able to get four keepers out of the three rolls that I shot. Once I returned home and reviewed the photos I could confirm that my seals were female Northern fur seals. Indeed, the description of the distinct sexual dimorphism in the species was consistent with the sizes of the seals I saw in the water, particularly the huge male.
Northern fur seal swims through the cold waters and kelp forest of San Miguel Island, in California’s northern Channel Islands.
Image ID: 00966
Species: Northern fur seal, Callorhinus ursinus
Location: San Miguel Island, California, USA
The bulk of Northern fur seals reside in the Pribilof and Commander islands far to the north in the Bering Sea, ranging around the Pacific to the Kuril Islands north of Japan. At the opposite, extreme southeast extent of their range is a small rookery at San Miguel Island, the home of the seals I observed. Mine was a particularly special encounter since few people ever swim with Northern fur seals, much less have conditions favorable enough to photograph them. However, none of the other divers on the trip showed interest in joining me even though I implored them to when I returned to the boat twice to change film, insisting this was a rare opportunity. I do not dive San Miguel Island anymore these days, and have not seen another Northern fur seal since then.
Crested Pool, in the Upper Geyser Basin of Yellowstone National Park, lies just steps away from Castle Geyser. Crested Pool extends 42 feet deep and is constantly superheated, achieving temperatures to at least 237Â°F. Crested Pool is always at least boiling and occasionally domes to heights of 10 feet. In 1970 a young visitor, not realizing how hot the water in Crested Pool was, ran into the stream and pool and was killed. A railing now keeps visitors back.
Crested Pool is a blue, superheated pool. Unfortunately, it has claimed a life. It reaches a overflowing boiling state every few minutes, then subsides a bit before building to a boil and overflow again. Upper Geyser Basin.
Image ID: 13357
Location: Upper Geyser Basin, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, USA
Morning Glory Pool, one of the most popular and beautiful pools in Yellowstone National Park, earned its name in the 1880’s due to its deep blue coloration and likeness to the Morning Glory flower. Morning Glory Pool was once reached by car, bringing it fame as one of the first features visitors would see entering the Upper Geyser Basin. Over the years visitors tossed coins, trash, sticks and rocks into the pool, causing its vent to clog and the flow of water to decrease. This prompted the temperature in the pool to lessen, causing the pool’s deep blue color to fade and allowing the red and yellow algae that formerly only survived at the fringe of the pool to grow toward the center. The road has since been removed and now Morning Glory Pool is reached by a flat 1.5 mile flat walk from the Old Faithful Inn area. According to the folks at GOSA, Morning Glory Pool has on rare occasions been known to erupt as a geyser, leading to some failed efforts in the past to deliberately induce eruptions in an effort to clear the pool’s vent. Morning Glory Pool is part of the Morning Glory / Riverside group of geothermal features. A visit to Riverside Geyser, which is one of the most predictable geysers in Yellowstone National Park, can be easily combined with a viewing of Morning Glory Pool.
Morning Glory Pool has long been considered a must-see site in Yellowstone. At one time a road brought visitors to its brink. Over the years they threw coins, bottles and trash in the pool, reducing its flow and causing the red and orange bacteria to creep in from its edge, replacing the blue bacteria that thrive in the hotter water at the center of the pool. The pool is now accessed only by a foot path. Upper Geyser Basin.
Image ID: 13352
Location: Upper Geyser Basin, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, USA
Roca del Skip (Skip’s Rock) is a dramatic spire at the southern end of Isla Guadalupe (Guadalupe Island) named in honor of the man who has videotaped and explored the submarine haunts of Guadalupe Island more than anyone else.
Harrison “Skip” Stubbs, Ph. D. has logged hundreds of hours diving at Guadalupe Island annually since 1992 during expeditions that he has organized to explore the island and appreciate its marine inhabitants and spectacular geologic features. Guadalupe Island is surrounded with dozens of underwater spires, offshore rocks, islets and islands. The southern end of Guadalupe Island hosts four noteworthy and diveable rocks, all of which we have dived repeatedly. Most significant are Isla Adentro and Isla Afuera, both of which are large, dramatic islands with spectacular vertical underwater terrain for divers to explore. Next to Adentro is the much smaller Church Rock which, like its larger brethren, is sheer on all sides and exposed to open ocean swells and currents, making for some exciting submarine conditions. And finally there is Roca del Skip (Skip’s Rock), a granite spire that rises out of 150′ of water to break the surface. It is too difficult to anchor at Roca del Skip, indeed it is tricky enough to anchor near Church Rock. So we take a skiff from the big boat over to Roca del Skip and splash in, then quick! race down into the lee of the rock before the current grabs hold. Roca del Skip is vertical on three sides, clean granite that glows in the sunlight and is spotted with Scythe butterflyfish and Guadalupe cardinalfish. The walls drop to 150′ and a ridge of granite extends out toward open sea from the base, as far as one can see which is usually 150′ or more in the clear waters there. On its other side Roca del Skip has a broad shoulder covered with low-lying algae that sways in passing swells and is home to schools of Azurina, blacksmith and chubb. Roca del Skip is close enough to Church Rock that one can make the swim underwater. We shoot the gap from Roca del Skip to Church at least once each trip if we can. Shoot the gap (n.): “swim at depth from one rock to the other without any bottom structure in sight”. I like to do it without a compass. (Compass navigation is for people who log their dives and check their air pressure; I don’t know any people like that.) This holistic approach is referred to in diving magazines as “navigation using natural features” except in this case there are no natural features to reference. Its fun and stupid this way, relying on the angle of the sun and the seat of one’s pants to guess which direction to head. It should be noted that, given certain known biohazards at Guadalupe, shooting the gap yields a sense of comfort akin to what a bait must feel like when it has become separated from its school and hears tuna approaching. As an added bonus, if a wrong heading from Roca del Skip causes one to miss Church Rock entirely and the currents grab hold, the next stop is Tahiti. There have been a few times after leaving Skip’s Rock behind that we’ve been swimming the gap for what seemed like too long, 70′ deep and without “natural features” upon which to base our “navigation”, before the hazy glow of Church Rock begins to show in the distance ahead. We burn what remains of our air along the walls and shoulders of Church Rock before the skiff arrives to pick us up.
Lots more Guadalupe Island photos.
Roca del Skip appears in the Guadalupe Island entry on Wikipedia so it must be official, right.?
My photograph of an ocean sunfish alongside drift kelp appeared on the June 2003 cover of Sport Diver magazine:
My photograph of expert freediver, spearfisherman, long range boat captain and all-around-good-guy Chris Thompson was taken at Guadalupe Island in July 2001 shortly after he speared his ginormous yellowfin tuna (not his first mind you). It then appeared on the Summer 2002 cover of the International Freediving and Spearfishing News:
The double-crested cormorant ranges from Alaska to Nova Scotia south into Mexico — most of North America — wintering on both coasts. It swims underwater quite well, diving for fish and invertebrates up to 100′ deep (personal observation). However, since it does not have well-developed oil glands and is not waterproofed, it will often hold its wings aloft to dry them following a session of diving.
Double-crested cormorant drys its wings in the sun following a morning of foraging in the ocean, La Jolla cliffs, near San Diego.
Image ID: 15071
Species: Double-crested cormorant, Phalacrocorax auritus
Location: La Jolla, California, USA
See all of our double-crested cormorant photos.
Still another academic journal cover — too bad these guys don’t pay the big bucks.
My photograph of a scalloped hammerhead shark appeared on the June 2005 cover of the Journal of Morphology, to accompany Olfactory Morphology of Carcharhinid and Sphyrnid Sharks: Does the Cephalofoil Confer a Sensory Advantage? (Kajiura, Forni and Summers):