Category

Underwater Life

Wildlife Entanglement: Sea Lion and Monofilament, Pelican and Shopping Bag

Environmental Problems, Sea Lion, Underwater Life, Underwater Photography

Photos of Wildlife Entanglement in Plastic

Unfortunately, I have had a number of opportunities to photograph wildlife entangled in plastic debris. Plastic Debris. We make it, we use it and then we leave it behind. This stuff is killing animals and causing problems everywhere. I find it dismaying every time I come across abandoned netting (ghost nets) or monofilament fishing line in the ocean. Often the monofilament is wrapped around a sea lion’s neck as in these photos, or tangled on a reef where it can snag passing fish or invertebrates. I’ve also come across some animals entangled in plastic shopping bags, such as the brown pelican pictured below. At least plastic shopping bags degrade somewhat when exposed to sunlight, so those animals stand a chance of recovery provided they do not eat the bag in an effort to remove it. Alas, in all three cases shown below I considered how to assist the animal pictured but no opportunity presented itself.

California sea lion injured by fishing line, Zalophus californianus, Sea of Cortez

California sea lion injured by fishing line
Image ID: 27419
Species: California sea lion, Zalophus californianus
Location: Sea of Cortez, Baja California, Mexico

California sea lion, with monofiliment cut, Zalophus californianus, Monterey

California sea lion, with monofiliment cut.
Image ID: 00958
Species: California sea lion, Zalophus californianus
Location: Monterey, California, USA

A California brown pelican entangled in a plastic bag which is wrapped around its neck.  This unfortunate pelican probably became entangled in the bag by mistaking the floating plastic for food and diving on it, spearing it in such a way that the bag has lodged around the pelican's neck.  Plastic bags kill and injure untold numbers of marine animals each year, Pelecanus occidentalis, Pelecanus occidentalis californicus, La Jolla

A California brown pelican entangled in a plastic bag which is wrapped around its neck. This unfortunate pelican probably became entangled in the bag by mistaking the floating plastic for food and diving on it, spearing it in such a way that the bag has lodged around the pelican’s neck. Plastic bags kill and injure untold numbers of marine animals each year.
Image ID: 22572
Species: Brown Pelican, Pelecanus occidentalis, Pelecanus occidentalis californicus
Location: La Jolla, California, USA

Brown pelican, entangled in monofilament fishing line, showing winter mating plumage colors, Pelecanus occidentalis, Pelecanus occidentalis californicus, La Jolla, California

Brown pelican, entangled in monofilament fishing line, showing winter mating plumage colors
Image ID: 28966
Species: Brown Pelican, Pelecanus occidentalis, Pelecanus occidentalis californicus
Location: La Jolla, California, USA

Panamic Green Moray Eel

Marine Life, Mexico, Sea of Cortez, Underwater Life, Underwater Photography

Photo of Panamic Green Moray Eel, Gymnothorax castaneus

While I was in Mexico’s beautiful Sea of Cortez doing some diving last November, I spent time photographing the Panamic Green Moray eels (Gymnothorax castaneus). These eels are quite common, often found underneath large boulders and overhangs. They are typically content to remain in their holes, extending just their heads outside, but once in a while they will swim freely across the reef and only then is their large size easily seen. These are big eels!

Panamic Green Moray Eel, Sea of Cortez, Baja California, Mexico, Gymnothorax castaneus

Panamic Green Moray Eel, Sea of Cortez, Baja California, Mexico.
Image ID: 27466
Species: Panamic Green Moray Eell, Gymnothorax castaneus
Location: Sea of Cortez, Baja California, Mexico

Los Islotes, Espiritu Santo Biosphere Reserve, Baja California, Mexico

Sea Lion, Sea of Cortez, Underwater Life, Underwater Photography

Los Islotes is a small island at the northern end of Isla Espiritu Santo, near La Paz in the Sea of Cortez. Espiritu Santo Island and Partida Island are two beautiful desert islands, scalloped with gorgeous white sand beaches. Bird nest on their rugged slopes, and cardon cacti grow in abundance. All three of these islands are part of the Espiritu Santo Biosphere Reserve, named a UNESCO Biosphere due to the area’s biodiversity and beauty. I have had the good fortune to cruise along both shores of Espiritu Santo and Partida but most of my time has been spent at Isla Los Islotes, diving and relaxing. These waters are full of many Sea of Cortez fishes, and Los Islotes itself is home to a renowned colony of California Sea Lions (Zalophus californianus). I am a real lover of sea lions and fur seals, and spend as much time diving with them as I can, so when I am at Los Islotes I basically ignore all else and just enjoy my time with these gregarious and charming animals. Here are a few recent photos of Los Islotes, the sea lions, Isla Partida and Isla Espiritu Santo. Thanks for looking!

California sea lion underwater, Zalophus californianus, Sea of Cortez

California sea lion underwater.
Image ID: 27424
Species: California sea lion, Zalophus californianus
Location: Sea of Cortez, Baja California, Mexico

Los Islotes Island, Espiritu Santo Biosphere Reserve, Sea of Cortez, Baja California, Mexico

Los Islotes Island, Espiritu Santo Biosphere Reserve, Sea of Cortez, Baja California, Mexico.
Image ID: 27364
Location: Sea of Cortez, Baja California, Mexico

Yellow-tailed surgeonfish schooling, Sea of Cortez, Baja California, Mexico, Prionurus laticlavius

Yellow-tailed surgeonfish schooling, Sea of Cortez, Baja California, Mexico.
Image ID: 27564
Species: Yellow-tailed surgeonfish, Prionurus laticlavius
Location: Sea of Cortez, Baja California, Mexico

Isla Partida, Sea of Cortez coastal scenic panorama, near La Paz, Baja California, Mexico, part of the Espiritu Santo Biosphere Reserve

Isla Partida, Sea of Cortez coastal scenic panorama, near La Paz, Baja California, Mexico, part of the Espiritu Santo Biosphere Reserve.
Image ID: 27358
Location: Sea of Cortez, Baja California, Mexico

Stock Photo Gallery: Blue Shark Underwater Photographs

Galleries, Sharks, Underwater Life, Underwater Photography

Underwater stock photos of Blue Sharks (Prionace glauca)

I’ve updated my collection of blue shark underwater photos. Most of these blue shark photographs were taking freediving (breathhold diving) with a few friends in the open ocean near San Diego or just below the border in Mexico. In days gone by, a small bucket of chum would bring in 5-20 blue sharks, sometimes more, and they were big beautiful sharks, sleek and long and graceful. Longliners and the fishing industry has decimated the blue shark (Prionace glauca) population in the eastern Pacific (along with many other shark species) and today a bucket of chum might attract a few sharks which will typically be small. Some of the best days of my life have been spent swimming around a small boat under the hot California sun, in clean blue offshore water, trying to keep track of the sharks swimming around and frame up a few good images. Life is good! Thanks for looking. Click the image below to see my gallery of blue shark photos.

Blue shark, Baja California, Prionace glauca

Blue shark, Baja California.
Species: Blue shark, Prionace glauca

Salps, Pelagic Tunicates, Cyclosalpa Affinis

California, Underwater Life, Underwater Photography

Photos of Salps, Pelagic Tunicates, Plankton

This summer I’ve been fortunate to get out on the ocean a few times, and each time we have seen an incredible abundance of pelagic tunicates, in particular the species Cyclosalpa affinis. These open ocean planktonic animals largely drift with ocean currents, although they do have the ability to pump water through their bodies and propel themselves to a certain degree. Typically, the salps that I have seen are in some colonial form, either in rings or in chains of rings. Sometimes an individual salp is observed reproducing, producing a much smaller chain of miniature salps. A few of my salp photos were shot some years ago on SCUBA, but most of the ones on my website now were made freediving (snorkling, breathholding diving) so you can see they are often quite shallow. Salps will often be at or near the ocean surface at night or if the weather is overcast, and will sink 20′ or 30′ when the sun comes out.

Freediving photographer in a cloud of salps, gelatinous zooplankton that drifts with open ocean currents, San Diego, California

Freediving photographer in a cloud of salps, gelatinous zooplankton that drifts with open ocean currents.
Image ID: 27012
Location: San Diego, California, USA

Salp (pelagic tunicate) reproduction, open ocean, Cyclosalpa affinis, San Diego, California

Salp (pelagic tunicate) reproduction, open ocean.
Image ID: 01263
Species: Salp, Cyclosalpa affinis
Location: San Diego, California, USA

Colonial planktonic pelagic tunicate, adrift in the open ocean, forms rings and chains as it drifts with ocean currents, Cyclosalpa affinis, San Diego, California

Colonial planktonic pelagic tunicate, adrift in the open ocean, forms rings and chains as it drifts with ocean currents.
Image ID: 26819
Species: Salp, Cyclosalpa affinis
Location: San Diego, California, USA

Freediver photographing pelagic gelatinous zooplankton, adrift in the open ocean, Cyclosalpa affinis, San Diego, California

Freediver photographing pelagic gelatinous zooplankton, adrift in the open ocean.
Image ID: 26818
Species: Salp, Cyclosalpa affinis
Location: San Diego, California, USA

Pacific White-Sided Dolphin Photos

California, Dolphin, Underwater Life, Underwater Photography

Pacific White-Sided Dolphin Photos

The first dolphins I ever photographed were Pacific white-sided dolphins (Lagenorhynchus obliquidens). This extremely fast moving species of dolphin often appears around San Diego in winter, but is normally found much further north ranging as far as Alaska and around to Japan. We would freedive in the open ocean and hope our presence interested the white-sided dolphins enough to swim by and investigate us. The first image I ever had that placed in a major photography competition (Nature’s Best, early 90s I think) was an image of a Pacific white-sided dolphin towing a piece of kelp. It would drop the kelp in front of me, wait for me swim toward it and then zoom by to take it again before I could reach it. Schooled by a dolphin … Psych! For those of you who have only used digital cameras: can you imagine trying to freeze the motion of a fast-swimming white-sided dolphin using ISO-64 in a relatively dimly lit underwater setting? That’s what we used to have to do. It was downright primitive.

Pacific white sided dolphin, Lagenorhynchus obliquidens, San Diego, California

Pacific white sided dolphin.
Image ID: 00036
Species: Pacific white-sided dolphin, Lagenorhynchus obliquidens
Location: San Diego, California, USA

Giant Kelpfish, Master of Camouflage

California, Underwater Life, Underwater Photography

One of my favorite California fishes is the giant kelpfish (Heterostichus rostratus). Giant kelpfish are camouflage masters, blending into the brown and green kelp blades perfectly. Many times I have found myself hovering over a clump of kelp for a few minutes, not aware of a giant kelpfish only a foot or two away from me until it began to swim. As long as they remain stationary in the kelp, swaying back and forth with the kelp, they are nearly invisible. Cool fish!

A giant kelpfish swims over Southern sea palms and a kelp-covered reef, mimicing the color and pattern of the kelp leaves perfectly, camoflage, Heterostichus rostratus, San Clemente Island

A giant kelpfish swims over Southern sea palms and a kelp-covered reef, mimicing the color and pattern of the kelp leaves perfectly, camoflage.
Image ID: 25414
Species: Giant kelpfish, Southern Sea Palm, Heterostichus rostratus
Location: San Clemente Island, California, USA

Giant kelpfish in kelp, Heterostichus rostratus, Macrocystis pyrifera, San Clemente Island

Giant kelpfish in kelp.
Image ID: 05142
Species: Giant kelpfish, Heterostichus rostratus, Macrocystis pyrifera
Location: San Clemente Island, California, USA

Giant kelpfish in kelp, Heterostichus rostratus, Macrocystis pyrifera, San Clemente Island

Giant kelpfish in kelp.
Image ID: 05140
Species: Giant kelpfish, Heterostichus rostratus, Macrocystis pyrifera
Location: San Clemente Island, California, USA

Sea Fans and Gorgonians at San Clemente Island

California, Underwater Life, Underwater Photography

Photos of gorgonians and sea fans at San Clemente Island.

I spent three days diving at one of my favorite spots on Earth: San Clemente Island. The island, about 60 miles offshore of southern California, is home to some of the world’s most beautiful kelp forests. Swimming through these kelp forests is akin to flying through a forest of towering redwoods. Below the tall kelp plants are rocky reefs where gorgonians, also known as sea fans, anchor themselves. Gorgonians are filter feeders, and spread their long slender arms out into the currents where individual polyps will catch and eat organic debris and plankton that floats by in the current. I have a few favorite reefs at San Clemente Island where I know I will always find magnificent examples of gorgonians, several feet in diameter and exhibiting healthy polyps and rich colors. My goal on this trip was to shoot a few good images of the several species that are commonly found at San Clemente Island: red gorgonian (Lophogorgia chilensis), California golden gorgonian (Muricea californica), and brown gorgonian (Muricea fruticosa).

Bryozoan grows on a red gorgonian on rocky reef, below kelp forest, underwater.  The red gorgonian is a filter-feeding temperate colonial species that lives on the rocky bottom at depths between 50 to 200 feet deep. Gorgonians are oriented at right angles to prevailing water currents to capture plankton drifting by, Lophogorgia chilensis, San Clemente Island

Bryozoan grows on a red gorgonian on rocky reef, below kelp forest, underwater. The red gorgonian is a filter-feeding temperate colonial species that lives on the rocky bottom at depths between 50 to 200 feet deep. Gorgonians are oriented at right angles to prevailing water currents to capture plankton drifting by.
Image ID: 25395
Species: Red gorgonian, Lophogorgia chilensis
Location: San Clemente Island, California, USA

Red gorgonian on rocky reef, below kelp forest, underwater.  The red gorgonian is a filter-feeding temperate colonial species that lives on the rocky bottom at depths between 50 to 200 feet deep. Gorgonians are oriented at right angles to prevailing water currents to capture plankton drifting by, Lophogorgia chilensis, San Clemente Island

Red gorgonian on rocky reef, below kelp forest, underwater. The red gorgonian is a filter-feeding temperate colonial species that lives on the rocky bottom at depths between 50 to 200 feet deep. Gorgonians are oriented at right angles to prevailing water currents to capture plankton drifting by.
Image ID: 25393
Species: Red gorgonian, Lophogorgia chilensis
Location: San Clemente Island, California, USA

California golden gorgonian on rocky reef, underwater. The golden gorgonian is a filter-feeding temperate colonial species that lives on the rocky bottom at depths between 50 to 200 feet deep. Each individual polyp is a distinct animal, together they secrete calcium that forms the structure of the colony. Gorgonians are oriented at right angles to prevailing water currents to capture plankton drifting by, Muricea californica, San Clemente Island

California golden gorgonian on rocky reef, underwater. The golden gorgonian is a filter-feeding temperate colonial species that lives on the rocky bottom at depths between 50 to 200 feet deep. Each individual polyp is a distinct animal, together they secrete calcium that forms the structure of the colony. Gorgonians are oriented at right angles to prevailing water currents to capture plankton drifting by.
Image ID: 25397
Species: California golden gorgonian, Muricea californica
Location: San Clemente Island, California, USA

Brown gorgonians on rocky reef, below kelp forest, underwater.  Gorgonians are filter-feeding temperate colonial species that live on the rocky bottom at depths between 50 to 200 feet deep.  Each individual polyp is a distinct animal, together they secrete calcium that forms the structure of the colony. Gorgonians are oriented at right angles to prevailing water currents to capture plankton drifting by, Muricea fruticosa, San Clemente Island

Brown gorgonians on rocky reef, below kelp forest, underwater. Gorgonians are filter-feeding temperate colonial species that live on the rocky bottom at depths between 50 to 200 feet deep. Each individual polyp is a distinct animal, together they secrete calcium that forms the structure of the colony. Gorgonians are oriented at right angles to prevailing water currents to capture plankton drifting by
Image ID: 25398
Species: Brown gorgonian, Muricea fruticosa
Location: San Clemente Island, California, USA

Red gorgonian on rocky reef, below kelp forest, underwater.  The red gorgonian is a filter-feeding temperate colonial species that lives on the rocky bottom at depths between 50 to 200 feet deep. Gorgonians are oriented at right angles to prevailing water currents to capture plankton drifting by, Lophogorgia chilensis, San Clemente Island

Red gorgonian on rocky reef, below kelp forest, underwater. The red gorgonian is a filter-feeding temperate colonial species that lives on the rocky bottom at depths between 50 to 200 feet deep. Gorgonians are oriented at right angles to prevailing water currents to capture plankton drifting by.
Image ID: 25394
Species: Red gorgonian, Lophogorgia chilensis
Location: San Clemente Island, California, USA

A few photographic notes: these images were all shot with a 15mm fisheye lens and two submersible lights. Certain colors, suchs as reds, oranges and yellows, effectively disappear below about 10′ deep. Submersible lights are used to bring out the color and detail in these gorgonians, which in the available light would appear colorless and drab at these depths. The water in California tends to have particles floating in it and consequently is not as clear as water in the tropics. To minimize the degree to which poor water clarity adversely impacts the photograph, I get as close as possible to my subject. In these photos, my camera is only about 6-10 inches from the gorgonians, so a very wide lens is required in order to depict the entire sea fans. These images were taken at depths from about 45′ to 70′, all of them at the southern end of San Clemente Island. In all of them, the camera is pointed almost straight up toward the surface, so that some of the sunlight and kelp forest that rises above these gorgonians can be depicted. I hold my breath to make sure my bubbles don’t get in the photo.

Sea Nettles

California, Monterey, Underwater Life

When I visit Monterey I always make a stop by the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Always. My kids love it, and I can get a better look at some of the undersea life by visiting the aquarium than if I went to the hassle of actually diving. (I used to dive in the cold waters of Monterey, but am now a wuss and … you get the picture.) The Monterey Bay Aquarium is one of the finest aquariums in the country. This sea nettle jellyfish (Chrysaora fuscescens) is beautifully lit in one of the Outer Bay jellyfish tanks at the Monterey Bay Aquarium.

Sea nettle jellyfish, Chrysaora fuscescens

Sea nettle jellyfish.
Image ID: 21511
Species: Sea nettles, Chrysaora fuscescens

I made this shot using some tricks I know for making good photos in an aquarium setting, hand held with no flash.

See more of our jellyfish photos

Kelp Fronds, Santa Barbara Island

Underwater Life

Santa Barbara Island is part of the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary. I used to dive at Santa Barbara Island a few times each year. There are a few pinniped rookeries there, the best one being the sea lions at Webster Point. When the water is clean at Santa Barbara Island, the diving is as good there as anywhere on the West Coast. In addition to the fantastic opportunities to dive with sea lions, one also can spend time in vast, mature, beautiful kelp forests, particularly those between the main island and Sutil Island just offshore. After spending a few hours in the morning freediving among California sea lions (Zalophus californianus), I put on a tank and made a dive under the boat as it was anchored for lunch near Sutil Island, and made this image. To see a collection of many underwater and topside images from Santa Barbara Island in Google Earth, try this KML file: http://www.oceanlight.com/santa_barbara_island.kml

Kelp frond in motion, time exposure, Macrocystis pyrifera, Santa Barbara Island

Kelp frond in motion, time exposure.
Image ID: 02344
Species: Giant kelp, Macrocystis pyrifera
Location: Santa Barbara Island, California, USA