Category

Marine Life

Killer Whales (Orca) attacking California Sea Lion

Marine Life, Sea Lion

I saw Wild Kingdom in action yesterday: killer whales preying upon California sea lions. Classified as Biggs transient orcas, these individuals are well known (CA51) for terrorizing other marine mammals along the Southern California coast. “Biggs transients” are one of four distinct populations (some insist they are species) of killer whales, characterized by predating upon marine mammals and occasionally sea birds as opposed to ground fish or salmon as do other coastal orcas. Coming upon the five killer whales as they finished toying with and consuming one predation (likely a sea lion), we watched them proceed to take at least two more sea lions over the next hour. In each of the following photos there is a sea lion although in some it is hard to find. The first image depicts the first hit that one of the adult orcas put upon the sea lion. I knew it was coming but still nearly did not get the lens on the sea lion in time. Several other hits took place and the sea lion was clearly panicky and stunned. In the third image, one of the females passes by the sea lion but what is not obvious is that there are two other orcas just below and in front of the sea lion, the pinniped is literally surrounded. There were two subadult orca in the group and it may have been a case of the adults allowing the subadults to learn how to hunt; in practical terms the pack was toying with its doomed prey. In the fifth photo you can see how close to shore this took place. In the final three images, the sea lion is 1) barely able to avoid being pushed under by one of the females, 2) hammered sideways by one of the adults, and 3) gasps for breath before being finally pulled under for the last time and consumed. I don’t photograph killer whales often, but have photographed other whale species including humpback whales and blue whales and some dolphins: Cetacean Photos. For my diving buddies who might be wondering: this was purely a topside trip. Cheers, and thanks for looking!

Killer whale attacking sea lion.  Biggs transient orca and California sea lion, Orcinus orca, Zalophus californianus, Palos Verdes

Killer whale attacking sea lion. Biggs transient orca and California sea lion.
Image ID: 30428
Species: Killer whale, California sea lion, Orcinus orca, Zalophus californianus
Location: Palos Verdes, California, USA

Killer whale attacking sea lion.  Biggs transient orca and California sea lion, Orcinus orca, Zalophus californianus, Palos Verdes

Killer whale attacking sea lion. Biggs transient orca and California sea lion.
Image ID: 30429
Species: Killer whale, California sea lion, Orcinus orca, Zalophus californianus
Location: Palos Verdes, California, USA

Killer whale attacking sea lion.  Biggs transient orca and California sea lion, Orcinus orca, Zalophus californianus, Palos Verdes

Killer whale attacking sea lion. Biggs transient orca and California sea lion.
Image ID: 30427
Species: Killer whale, California sea lion, Orcinus orca, Zalophus californianus
Location: Palos Verdes, California, USA

Killer whale attacking sea lion.  Biggs transient orca and California sea lion, Orcinus orca, Zalophus californianus, Palos Verdes

Killer whale attacking sea lion. Biggs transient orca and California sea lion.
Image ID: 30430
Species: Killer whale, California sea lion, Orcinus orca, Zalophus californianus
Location: Palos Verdes, California, USA

Killer whale attacking sea lion.  Biggs transient orca and California sea lion, Orcinus orca, Zalophus californianus, Palos Verdes

Killer whale attacking sea lion. Biggs transient orca and California sea lion.
Image ID: 30431
Species: Killer whale, California sea lion, Orcinus orca, Zalophus californianus
Location: Palos Verdes, California, USA

Killer whale attacking sea lion.  Biggs transient orca and California sea lion, Orcinus orca, Zalophus californianus, Palos Verdes

Killer whale attacking sea lion. Biggs transient orca and California sea lion.
Image ID: 30432
Species: Killer whale, California sea lion, Orcinus orca, Zalophus californianus
Location: Palos Verdes, California, USA

Killer whale attacking sea lion.  Biggs transient orca and California sea lion, Orcinus orca, Zalophus californianus, Palos Verdes

Killer whale attacking sea lion. Biggs transient orca and California sea lion.
Image ID: 30433
Species: Killer whale, California sea lion, Orcinus orca, Zalophus californianus
Location: Palos Verdes, California, USA

Killer whale attacking sea lion.  Biggs transient orca and California sea lion, Orcinus orca, Zalophus californianus, Palos Verdes

Killer whale attacking sea lion. Biggs transient orca and California sea lion.
Image ID: 30425
Species: Killer whale, California sea lion, Orcinus orca, Zalophus californianus
Location: Palos Verdes, California, USA

Killer whale attacking sea lion.  Biggs transient orca and California sea lion, Orcinus orca, Zalophus californianus, Palos Verdes

Killer whale attacking sea lion. Biggs transient orca and California sea lion.
Image ID: 30426
Species: Killer whale, California sea lion, Orcinus orca, Zalophus californianus
Location: Palos Verdes, California, USA

Sea Turtle, Galapagos, Black and White

Galapagos Diaries, Marine Life, Underwater Life, Underwater Photography

I have made a lot of dives in the Galapagos Islands, and one of my favorite creatures to see underwater is the sea turtle. The ungainly-looking animals are actually quite hydrodynamic and can navigate the surge, currents and waves to graze on algae along the reef. These two turtles were encountered at remote Wolf Island (Wenman Island) in the far northern reaches of the Galapagos archipelago. In the first image, a school of ever-present Pacific creole fish surrounds the turtle; its distinctive tail gives away that it is a male. Cheers and thanks for looking!

Sea Turtle, underwater, black and white, Wolf Island

Sea Turtle, underwater, black and white.
Image ID: 16382
Location: Wolf Island, Galapagos Islands, Ecuador

Sea Turtle, underwater, black and white, Wolf Island

Sea Turtle, underwater, black and white.
Image ID: 16383
Location: Wolf Island, Galapagos Islands, Ecuador

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

Leopard Shark Photos, Triakis semifasciata

Marine Life, Sharks

Stock photographs of leopard sharks, Triakis semifasciata.

I’ve been diving in the kelp forest for about 20 years, yet have never been able to get a decent photo of a leopard shark (Triakis semifasciata) in the wild. I’ve seen them many times, but never had a good opportunity for a photo. Leopard sharks are relatively harmless coastal sharks, often found in shallow water in kelp forests or over sand flats. They exhibit a beautiful spotted pattern which provides excellent camoflage, in seaweed especially. However, leopard sharks are timid, and do not typically approach people or divers. The best place that I know of to see leopard sharks is directly in front of the Marine Room restaurant in La Jolla, in shallow water (4′-8′ deep), in summer, since they congregate there en masse. I take my daughters there sometimes to snorkel and look at the leopard sharks. But the water clarity there is poor, making good picture taking difficult. Another good place is the front side of Catalina Island, in summer, in coves and shallow areas.

Monday, about an hour before we had to leave San Clemente Island and return home, I had a 4′ long leopard shark surprise me by appearing out of nowhere and swimming right in front of my camera. I didn’t have to do a thing except depress the shutter. Click. Finally got a shot of a leopard shark. This was only about 2-3′ deep, and was shot with a 15mm fisheye lens with the shark about 18″ away from the camera.

A leopard shark, swimming through the shallows waters of a California reef, underwater, Cystoseira osmundacea marine algae growing on rocky reef, Triakis semifasciata, Cystoseira osmundacea, San Clemente Island

A leopard shark, swimming through the shallows waters of a California reef, underwater, Cystoseira osmundacea marine algae growing on rocky reef.
Image ID: 25417
Species: Leopard shark, Triakis semifasciata, Cystoseira osmundacea
Location: San Clemente Island, California, USA

In the past I have shot some nice portraits of leopard sharks, but in a tank so its not quite the same thing!

Leopard shark swims through a kelp forest, Triakis semifasciata

Leopard shark swims through a kelp forest.
Image ID: 14028
Species: Leopard shark, Triakis semifasciata

Leopard shark swims through a kelp forest, Triakis semifasciata

Leopard shark swims through a kelp forest.
Image ID: 14932
Species: Leopard shark, Triakis semifasciata

Red Gorgonian, Lophogorgia chilensis

Marine Life

The Red gorgonian (Lophogorgia chilensis) is my favorite species of sea fan. I got some nice shots of red gorgonians at San Clemente Island a few weeks ago. Like the golden gorgonion alongside which it is commonly found, the elegant red gorgonian is a colonial invertebrate that grows on rocky temperate reefs at depths of 40′ to 200′. The seemingly delicate red gorgonian colonies, which reach about 3′ in size, sway gracefully with passing currents and swells. Each long thin strand in the colony is composed of calcium upon which hundreds of tiny polyps — individual animals — grow. The polyps look like small anemones which is not surprising as they are evolutionary cousins. The polyps extend their arms to grasp plankton and detritus that floats by in the current. The fan-shaped colony is usually oriented perpendicular to prevailing ocean currents to optimize this filter feeding.

Red gorgonian polyps.  The red gorgonian is a colonial organism composed of thousands of tiny polyps.  Each polyp secretes calcium which accumulates to form the structure of the colony.  The fan-shaped gorgonian is oriented perpendicular to prevailing ocean currents to better enable to filter-feeding polyps to capture passing plankton and detritus passing by, Lophogorgia chilensis, San Clemente Island

Red gorgonian polyps. The red gorgonian is a colonial organism composed of thousands of tiny polyps. Each polyp secretes calcium which accumulates to form the structure of the colony. The fan-shaped gorgonian is oriented perpendicular to prevailing ocean currents to better enable to filter-feeding polyps to capture passing plankton and detritus passing by.
Image ID: 03480
Species: Red gorgonian, Lophogorgia chilensis
Location: San Clemente Island, California, USA

Red gorgonian, Lophogorgia chilensis, San Clemente Island

Red gorgonian.
Image ID: 00616
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, Macrocystis pyrifera, 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: 23420
Species: Red gorgonian, Lophogorgia chilensis, Macrocystis pyrifera
Location: San Clemente Island, California, USA

Simnia and egg cluster on red gorgonian, Delonovolva aequalis, Lophogorgia chilensis, Anacapa Island

Simnia and egg cluster on red gorgonian.
Image ID: 01983
Species: Simnia, Delonovolva aequalis, Lophogorgia chilensis
Location: Anacapa Island, California, USA

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

See my full collection of photos of red gorgonians and photos of Lophogorgia chilensis.

Keywords: red gorgonian, Lophogorgia chilensis, underwater, California, sea fan.

California Golden Gorgonian, Muricea californica

California, Catalina, Marine Life

The California golden gorgonian (Muricea californica) is a common gorgonian species in southern California. It is typically found growing on rocky reefs from 40′ to 200′ deep. The California golden gorgonian is a colonial organism composed of thousands of individual polyps, each of which secretes calcium to form the structure of the colony. The individual polyps feed on plankton and detritus floating by in the current. The fan-shaped colony is usually oriented perpendicular to prevailing ocean currents to optimize this filter feeding. Most of my photos of California golden gorgonians were taken at San Clemente Island and Catalina Island, two of the beautiful Channel Islands offshore of southern California.

California Golden gorgonian polyps.  The golden gorgonian is a colonial organism composed of thousands of tiny polyps. Each polyp secretes calcium which accumulates to form the structure of the colony. The fan-shaped gorgonian is oriented perpendicular to prevailing ocean currents to better enable to filter-feeding polyps to capture passing plankton and detritus passing by, Muricea californica, San Clemente Island

California Golden gorgonian polyps. The golden gorgonian is a colonial organism composed of thousands of tiny polyps. Each polyp secretes calcium which accumulates to form the structure of the colony. The fan-shaped gorgonian is oriented perpendicular to prevailing ocean currents to better enable to filter-feeding polyps to capture passing plankton and detritus passing by.
Image ID: 03481
Species: California golden gorgonian, Muricea californica
Location: San Clemente Island, California, USA

California Golden gorgonian in kelp forest, Muricea californica, Macrocystis pyrifera, San Clemente Island

California Golden gorgonian in kelp forest.
Image ID: 03486
Species: California golden gorgonian, Muricea californica, Macrocystis pyrifera
Location: San Clemente Island, California, USA

Garibaldi and golden gorgonian, with a underwater forest of giant kelp rising in the background, underwater, Muricea californica, Hypsypops rubicundus, Catalina Island

Garibaldi and golden gorgonian, with a underwater forest of giant kelp rising in the background, underwater.
Image ID: 23432
Species: California golden gorgonian, Muricea californica, Hypsypops rubicundus
Location: Catalina Island, California, USA

California golden gorgonian on rocky reef, below kelp forest, 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, Macrocystis pyrifera, San Clemente Island

California golden gorgonian on rocky reef, below kelp forest, 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: 23439
Species: California golden gorgonian, Muricea californica, Macrocystis pyrifera
Location: San Clemente Island, California, USA

Garibaldi and California golden gorgonians on rocky reef, below kelp forest, 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, Hypsypops rubicundus, San Clemente Island

Garibaldi and California golden gorgonians on rocky reef, below kelp forest, 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: 23443
Species: California golden gorgonian, Muricea californica, Hypsypops rubicundus
Location: San Clemente Island, California, USA

See my full collection of photos of California golden gorgonians and photos of Muricea californica.

Keywords: California golden gorgonian, Muricea californica, underwater, California, sea fan.

Marine Iguana, Galapagos

Galapagos Diaries, Marine Life

Skip found a marine iguana (Amblyrhynchus cristatus) foraging on algae while we were freediving along the edge of Bartolome Island, and I got a shot of it, the only one I’ve ever seen in the Galapagos Islands underwater:

Marine iguana, underwater, forages for green algae that grows on the lava reef, Amblyrhynchus cristatus, Bartolome Island

Marine iguana, underwater, forages for green algae that grows on the lava reef.
Image ID: 16227
Species: Marine iguana, Amblyrhynchus cristatus
Location: Bartolome Island, Galapagos Islands, Ecuador

See more marine iguana photos, photos of Amblyrhynchus cristatus and photos of the Galapagos Islands.

Bigeye Jacks, Galapagos

Galapagos Diaries, Marine Life

On our 2006 trip to the Galapagos Islands, we had some very good diving at Darwin Island: hammerheads, silky sharks and spotted eagle rays galore on the shoulder of the reef, with more than a few Galapagos fur seals, turtles and various schools of fish closer to shore. At the end of a late afternoon dive there, I was relaxing in the shallows gingerly sipping the last few PSI in my tank, spending as much time underwater before a lack of air forced me to ascend and call for the panga. There was a nice-sized school of bigeye jacks (Caranx sexfasciatus) whirling around me in the fading light. I tried making some artsy-fartsy strobe-blur photos and ended up with one I was happy with:

Bigeye trevally jacks, motion blur, schooling, Caranx sexfasciatus, Darwin Island

Bigeye trevally jacks, motion blur, schooling.
Image ID: 16347
Species: Bigeye jack, Caranx sexfasciatus
Location: Darwin Island, Galapagos Islands, Ecuador

See more bigeye jack photos and Galapagos Islands photos.

Photo of Cortez Chub

Guadalupe Island, Marine Life

Guadalupe Island (Isla Guadalupe) straddles both tropical and temperate fish ranges and offers a unique mix of species to see. It is not uncommon to see Panamic fanged blennies and red-tailed triggerfish alongside blacksmith and garibaldi. Shown here is a small school of Cortez chub (Kyphosus elegans) that was stationed at one end of Church Rock. Dominant male Cortez chub have a striking golden phase that I have only seen a few times at Guadalupe.

Cortez chubb, Kyphosus elegans, Guadalupe Island (Isla Guadalupe)

Cortez chubb.
Image ID: 01020
Species: Cortez chubb, Kyphosus elegans
Location: Guadalupe Island (Isla Guadalupe), Baja California, Mexico