Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

How long is that tail?

September 8, 2013

On Labor Day weekend, Moss Landing Marine Laboratories’ own Pacific Shark Research Center (PSRC) had the opportunity to dissect a 14.7 feet long common thresher shark (Alopias vulpinus). The female shark was found washed up on the beach on Moss Landing already dead.

Program Director, Dave Ebert, PSRC students, and UROC students posing with the thresher shark

Program Director Dave Ebert, PSRC students, and Undergraduate Research Opportunities Center (UROC) students posing with the thresher shark

The PSRC is part of the National Shark Research Consortium for the West Coast. Currently there are 7 students enrolled in this department led by the program director, Dr. David Ebert, also a MLML alumni, and a handful of undergraduate volunteers from San Jose State University and California State University: Monterey Bay all who are ready to learn more about elasmobranchs!

The students were pretty amazed to see such small teeth on such a large shark. Thresher shark head The teeth on this animal say a lot about what it eats. Schooling fish such as sardines and anchovies, as well as cephalopods are its preferred prey. Thresher sharks are part of the mackerel shark order (Lamniformes) and excel at speed and long distances. A few examples of this order include, the white shark (Carcharodon carcharias), the makos, shorfin mako (Isurus oxyrinchus), longfin mako (Isurus paucus), the salmon shark (Lamna ditropis), and the porbeagle shark (Lamna nasus). These species in particular are endothermic, meaning that they can thermoregulate their own body temperature to several degrees warmer than the ocean water, allowing better foraging opportunities.

Large gills for breathing

Large gills for breathing


“Tails” from The Field

August 7, 2013

Angieby Angela Szesciorka, Vertebrate Ecology Lab

Since May, the mammal lab has been as quiet as a post-apocalyptic library (yep, that quiet).

For the marine mammologist (and birder), summer time is all about fieldwork — followed by lots and lots of data crunching and thesis writing. So with fall drawing ever closer (noooooo!), I wanted to check in with my labmates to see what they have been up to.

Below is a quick summary from each of us. We’ll see you soon!

Ryan Carle: Ryan continued working on Año Nuevo Island, finishing data collection for his thesis on Rhinoceros Auklet diet and reproduction. He spends most of his waking hours on the Island identifying prey, restoring habitat, counting burrows, collecting boluses — you name it. When he’s not on Año, he’s trekking about California and making apple cider!

Casey Clark: Casey has been fervently writing up his thesis as he prepares to defend in the fall. Draft one? Check! Falling asleep on your keyboard? Check! He has also been helping out with seabird research in Astoria, Oregon. He did save time for fun too — camping, hiking, and kayaking. Jealous!

Marilyn Cruickshank: Marilyn spent the summer analyzing BeachCOMBERS data. She’s looking to see if the residence times of stranded birds on Monterey beaches can help with damage assessments and as a predictor of where most birds will wash ashore in future oil spills. Marilyn continued working for the stranding network and learned how to program in Matlab. She even found time to carve a new banjo. Nice wood-working skills, Marilyn!


Summer in Moss Landing

July 5, 2013

HFBby Heather Fulton-Bennett, Phycology Lab

Q: What do grad students do during the summer?

A: Thesis! Work! Everything!

We are lucky enough to be at the center of the Monterey Bay, and summers are the perfect time to take advantage of the large marine research community in the area.


Heading out of Moss Landing early on an unusually sunny morning. Photo: Heather Fulton-Bennett/MBARI 2013

This summer I am working as an intern at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI), just across the water from Moss Landing Marine Labs in Moss Landing. MBARI’s research focuses on the development and use of marine technology as well as the exploration and monitoring of the ocean. As an intern there, I am working with Drs. Jim Bellingham and Julio Harvey on correlating optical measurements of zooplankton with molecular methods in the laboratory. These measurements will allow us to have a better understanding of the data sent back from in situ instruments as well as giving a better idea of the effects of confounding factors in both the optical and molecular measurements.

In the few weeks I’ve been here, there have been a lot of familiar faces around MBARI. Several other MLML students are taking advantage of MBARI’s facilities to work on projects related to their these, including a couple of my fellow interns, Vignesh Soundararajan and Diane Wyse, who are working with Francisco Chavez and Jim Bellingham respectively.


R/V Point Sur in Transit

May 1, 2013

The R/V Point Sur is heading home this week, and students have had the opportunity to help with various science operations and add some cruise time to their resumes by joining up for a leg or two of the trip.  Check out this post by Ashley Wheeler, a first year in the Geological Oceanography Lab at MLML, about her experiences aboard our beloved vessel.


Ashley Wheeler – Photo by Tara Pastuszek


Ready on deck, the CTD package is set to deploy at sunrise – Photo by Ashley Wheeler

Whales, Pinnipeds, and Sharks, Oh my!

January 28, 2013

On the weekend of the 26th and 27th of January 2013 WhaleFest was held at Fisherman’s Wharf in Monterey. Organizations ranged from local non-profit marine research and public outreach organizations and program here in the Monterey county, as well as fun activities such as painting a squid!
aa whalefest-logo (5) color

Camp Sea Organization in WhaleFest

Camp Sea Lab in WhaleFest

Our own very Pacific Shark Research Center participated in this event to share their knowledge of sharks to the public. It was a very windy, cloudy, and cold on Saturday as we set up the station. The strong wind made it a challenge to keep fliers and posters on the table. Braving the weather, our efforts were recognized as visitors intrigued by the mako shark Isurus oxyrinchus head and of a shark fin we had on display, began to ask questions. We were able to teach visitors more about sharks and also talk about the research that’s going around in Moss Landing Marine Laboratories! Many of them are very interested in attending the Open House event that will be held at MLML April 20th and 21st.

Visitors intrigued by the shark head.

Visitors intrigued by the shark head.


There were many attempts to inflate a humpback whale in the Festival on Saturday, but because of the strong wind, the whale was never completed.

Inflating the humpback whale

Inflating the humpback whale

But luckily, the weather cleared up and the sun came out and made WhaleFest far more enjoyable!

Kristin interpreting for the visitors

Kristin interpreting for the visitors


Are you my clone?

October 18, 2012

One’s a lonely number
Photo courtesy of Catarina Pien

Ever wonder why you see some anemones in groups and some alone in tide pools? Sea anemones can reproduce in two different ways, asexually and sexually. Anemones are broadcast-spawners meaning that they release eggs and sperm into the water column for fertilization.  However if you’re an anemone that has settled onto a nice barren rock and don’t have time to reproduce, but you want to prevent other anemones  from taking over that rock  you claimed, what do you? You split yourself through…….. FISSION! This is asexual reproduction, where the anemone splits itself and creates another one of itself of the exact same genetic material.

Scenario of how anemones undergo fission from:
Sebens 1980 Biol Bull 158: 370; Sebens 1983 Pac Sci 37: 121; Ferrell 2005 Oecologia 142: 184

Depending on species this process may take days to weeks, but once there are more clones present, more can divide themselves through fission. Sooner or later you’ll see whole colonies of anemones on rocks!

Holy moly anemones! Each one of these are identical clones.
Photo courtesy of Catarina Pien

In the intertidal zone one of the limited resources is space for sessile organisms so anemones have adapted a way to populate an area quickly . But what if that pesky neighbor anemone is also asexually reproducing right next to your clones? What would you do? That’s when you take drastic measures, by fending them off with your acrorhagi, specialized stinging cells used to deter other anemones from taking over your area.

These battles are intense, both parties may suffer serious damage. As you can see in the video, the anemones when attacked retreat. This is because each one of those tentacles have stinging cells called nematocysts. Animals in the phylum Cnidaria (anemones, corals, jellyfish, and hydrae are part of this group) have these specialized cells.

Here’s a close of up what a nematocyst looks like magnified.

There is a mechanism that triggers the release of this harpoon-like contraption, when released the harpoon penetrates into the target organism and releases the toxin which is useful to immobilize prey such as fish. If you’ve ever been stung by a jellyfish that’s what exactly is happening; some species of jellyfish such as the box jelly and sea wasp have stings that cause excruciating pain, anemones also have these nematocysts too. However, because our skin is too thick for the nematocyst to penetrate into, you only feel a sticky sensation from touching anemones in the tide pools. The fact that we’re immune to most anemone stings in the tide pools doesn’t make it acceptable to touch them constantly though, the nematocysts do take quite a lot of energy for these anemones to regulate these mechanism. So the next time you’re visiting the tide pools do the anemones a favor and just observe and be amazed at their adaptations for surviving in the intertidal zone!

We maybe small, but please respect us!
Photo courtesy of Catarina Pien

Pinnacles National Monument

September 23, 2012

Who would have thought an extinct volcano can be so very multifaceted and interesting? Not me.

Our Geological Oceanography Class at MLML went to the Pinnacles National Monument the other day, driving up this windy road off of Soledad, California, we see this:

Our professor Ivano Aiello asks the question I very much dread, especially when I have absolutely NO CLUE what the answer could be:

” How do you think these peaks formed that you see in the distance?”

Well, let’s get a bit closer… shall we?

What you see here is actually part of the tube that used to lead into the Magma chamber. The volcano is extinct…no more Magma here, but how did it form?

The usual suspects – a fault line, some major earthquake action, you know the Spiel, Bam volcano. Now, the amazing part is that half of the volcano is actually in Southern California as part of the Neenach Volcanics complex, the other up here in Central California. Due to the position of Pinnacles on a fault line it has been transported all the way up north over the period of 30 million years.

Pinnacles features great hiking opportunities, and if you bring a Geologist friend, an amazingly educational hike at that.

Here you see the original side of the volcano. Smoother than the first formations I showed you:

Here’s Ivano explaining one rock formation type at Pinnacles: The Volcanic Breccia, composed of lava flow cementing multiple types of intrusive rocks that originated from the volcano when it was still active.

Make sure to bring plenty of water on your hike. The heat can be quite overwhelming. We found huge relief from the heat in caves that were definitely not caves as you may have experienced before. These caves were formed by piled-up boulders that went through some major events from earthquakes to subsequent lava flowing over them, cooling, and some more earthquakes, and an occasional landslide as well, oh sure, floods, too.

Bring your flashlight!

This was a treat!

Adventures in Madagascar or On The Importance of Doing a Pilot Study!

September 4, 2012

by Angela Szesciorka, Vertebrate Ecology Lab

This summer I hopped on a plane, flying 29 hours one way (via Paris — ooh la la) over a period of three days to spend nearly a month on the island of Madagascar working on my pilot study.

Madagascar, a former French colony until 1960, is the fourth largest island in the world. Don’t let it fool you. It looks so tiny next to Africa, but it has 44 percent more area than California, and boasts more than 4,800 km of coastline.

Rocky coastline in Madagascar. Photo by Angela Szesciorka.

Most of the country’s export revenue comes from textiles, fish/shellfish, vanilla, and cloves. Newer sources of income include tourism, agriculture, and extracted materials (titanium ore, chromite, coal, iron, cobalt, copper and nickel). Madagascar provides half of the world’s supply of sapphires! But with a GDP of around $20 billion, The Economist rated Madagascar as the worst economy in 2011. Most of Madagascar’s inhabitants are subsistence livers, meaning they live off of what they can grow or catch.

Local fisherman spear hunting for crabs. Photo by Angela Szesciorka.


Acidification and Summer Vacation

June 18, 2012

CSUMB/UROC student, Alex Neu, takes a pH reading

By Alex Neu, CSUMB/UROC research assistant

Not too many undergrads can say they have been fortunate enough to do research. Even fewer can say they’ve been a part of research going into their junior year. And just about one can say he’s been able to be a part of a collaborative research project between Moss Landing Marine Laboratories (MLML) and Scripps Institution of Oceanography (SIO). My name’s Alex Neu and I’m that undergrad. I’m heading into my junior year this fall at California State University – Monterey Bay (CSUMB) and have just started a position as a student researcher with CSUMB’s Undergraduate Research Opportunities Center (UROC). This summer MLML graduate student Emily Donham and I are spending our summer researching the effects of climate change on temperate rocky reef communities here in La Jolla as part of a CA Seagrant project funded to co-PI’s Dr. Scott Hamilton (MLML) and Dr. Jennifer Smith (SIO).

Our project includes studying the differential effects of increased CO2 on calcifying and fleshy algal species. Increased dissolved CO2 leads to a decreased pH and is commonly referred to as ocean acidification. Currently we are working with 2 fleshy species that are found here locally. One species is native to southern California and the other is invasive, or has been introduced and is adversely impacting its new habitat. This week marks the half way point in our first round of experimentation and we are all excited to see what kind of results we’ll find at the end of the month. Will one species fair better than the other? What sort of implications could this have for an invasive species’ ability to outcompete a native in a changing ocean environment?

Individual algal specimens being treated in the wetlab of Dr. Jennifer Smith at SIO.

Our day-to-day activities here include monitoring pH levels in each of our samples, taking water samples from randomly chosen jars to monitor carbonate chemistry, and general upkeep of the wetlab and our electronic data recording systems. We have also done some collecting of crustose coralline algae (CCA) for identification and potential use in future experiments. I have even learned how to do herbarium presses, which are a way of preserving algal specimens by flattening and drying them (apparently Plocamium cartilagineum is everyone’s favorite algae to press).

Thanks to UROC, SIO, and MLML for making this research opportunity possible!

The Unseen Elkhorn Slough

May 15, 2012

By Gabriela Navas, Invertebrate Zoology Lab

Every time you find yourself walking along the beautiful Elkhorn Slough, do you admire all you see? I guess we would have a conversation about the birds, crabs, even the occasional fish you may have seen. What about the snails? Oh yes, what about them? They are actually intermediate hosts to unseen residents of the slough, the trematode Cercaria batillariae. Trematodes are also known as flukes, and even though they may have a bad rap in some circles, they merit respect. Their life cycles involve sometimes one or more hosts, specialized to supplying different needs of the trematode. Some trematodes are even known to take over a snail body and mind modifying its behavior in order to get to its next host! Check this out this video on the trematode species Leucochloridium making “SNAIL ZOMBIES”:

Snail Zombies? You may think primitive, but in fact trematodes have recently been shown to show the ability to form caste systems just like your everyday ant or bee. According to Hechinger et al this is the first time this has been shown in flatworms. Check this out:

So, next time we take a stroll around the slough – let’s chat about the unseen, shall we?


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