Seeking new species of Ghost Shark

February 3, 2016 by

White Sharks, Manta Rays and Tiger Sharks are easily identifiable to most, but there are more than 1,200 species of sharks, skates, rays and chimaeras, collectively called Chondrichthyans, known to science.

For my Master’s thesis I study a unique group of fish known as ghost sharks, chimaeras or ratfish. They are related to sharks and rays because of their cartilage skeleton, but look quite different. They have large pectoral fins, rabbit-like teeth and a long tapering body (check out an amazing video here). We know very little about these deep-sea creatures, in some cases something as simple as their name.


The Spotted Ratfish is a species of Ghost Shark found in California.

There are 49 species of Ghost Shark, however several additional species are known to exist, but have yet to be officially named. Under Dr. Dave Ebert, director of the Pacific Shark Research Center (PSRC), graduate students at MLML have named five new species of Ghost Shark since 2006. In fact the PSRC has described 25 new species of Chondrichthyans since its inception in efforts to help the ‘Lost Sharks’ of our oceans.  The most recent edition, the Ninja Lanternshark was officially published last month and received quite the media buzz!

DSC_6505Last year fellow graduate student Paul Clerkin and I traveled to South Africa to search for new Ghost Shark species. For more than 15 years local researchers speculated two new species existed in the region, but no one had taken the time to look for them. It may seem counterintuitive, but a museum is a great place to find unknown species. If researcher or fisherman encounters an unidentified chimaera, it’s often placed in the museum collection and forgotten.


The South African Museum houses hundreds upon thousands of fish in their collection.

We arrived at the South African Museum in Cape Town to gather morphometrics, a series of 96 measurements per animals that we use to describe and differentiate species. Together we measured 90 specimens for a total of nearly 9,000 unique measurements. Finding and measuring specimens isn’t as glorious as it sounds, the specimens are preserved in alcohol and stored in large tubs; one never knows what you might find. It’s a smelly job, but stay tuned over the next few months for several new species of Ghost Shark!

Fog Blog: Smoke on the Water

January 29, 2016 by

By: Alex Olson and Holly Chiswell, Chemical Oceanography Lab

Able Seaman Pat Breshears of Oregon State University’s R/V Oceanus shuttles Holly Chiswell and Alex Olson out into the haze to collect sea surface microlayer samples offshore of Northern California.

Able Seaman Pat Breshears of Oregon State University’s R/V Oceanus shuttles Holly Chiswell and Alex Olson out into the haze to collect sea surface microlayer samples offshore of Northern California.

The Chemical Oceanography and MPSL labs set out on their latest cruise this past summer in hopes of bolstering and expanding their search to answer the question:  how is monomethylmercury (MMHg) transported into coastal marine fog? For those who missed our first post, a quick review:

MMHg is a neurotoxic form of mercury (Hg) recently discovered in marine advective fog along the central Californian Coast at trace levels, yet still 100 times higher than that of rain. Naturally, monomethylmercury is the byproduct of cellular metabolism in certain anaerobic bacteria; created (or methylated) from available elemental Hg. Oxygen minimum zones in the ocean also show increased levels of MMHg, suggesting its production occurs within microenvironments in these zones. In other words, it’s possible that bacteria that make their living in the anoxic depths of the ocean may be pumping out MMHg from any available elemental Hg in seawater. Elemental Hg (the kind found in old thermometers) is widespread and found globally in trace amounts. Volcanoes and other geologic venting were the main contributors of elemental and reactive forms of Hg to the atmosphere before the Industrial Revolution. Since then, global atmospheric levels of Hg have more than quadrupled. Anthropogenic sources of Hg are responsible for most Hg poisonings worldwide. One event, involving MMHg in waste discharge from a chemical plant, led to thousands of deaths in the small Japanese fishing town of Minamata. This event in the 1950’s, led to elevating global awareness of MMHg pollution. “Minamata’s Disease” is now a term used to describe the symptoms associated with the degradation of the body’s nervous system as a result of high MMHg toxicity. In case you are wondering, these symptoms include:

  • Tremors
  • Changes in vision
  • Deafness
  • Muscle coordination
  • Loss of sensation
  • Memory loss
  • Personality changes (nervous, irritable, shy)

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Twenty and One Arabian Nights

January 25, 2016 by

A big part of what makes studying marine science great is being able to travel around the world and see how different ecological systems operate.  Although MLML’s location in the heart of Monterey Bay makes it ideal for studying the marine environments of California, as a student studying coral reefs, I relish the opportunity to travel abroad and see different reefs around the world.  This past summer, I attended a three week summer workshop at the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST), located along the coast of the Red Sea in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.  In these three weeks, I was able to learn about the research being done in the university’s Red Sea Research Center, as well as spending some time exploring the coral reefs of the Red Sea and learning about the culture of Saudi Arabia.

20150804_210608The Breakwater Beacon is an iconic landmark of the campus.  It looks great lit up at night!

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A Semester (and a Year) Down

December 30, 2015 by

By Amanda Heidt, Invertebrate Zoology Lab

Funny story: I started writing this blog post a month ago, and then was so blindsided by the fury of end-of-semester squeeze that I’ve only now just gotten around to finishing it. Perhaps you can empathize, and in so doing forgive me my lack of posting. But(!), I’ve decided to keep it as is. If anything, the benefit of time makes it a bit more complete.



So begins a semester of serious business.

It’s a Thursday night around 9:30, and I have just been rudely awakened from an unintentioned nap on my couch. It’s my phone buzzing, eager to alert me to the fact that a coworker is requesting a cover at my job as a baker, which runs from 2-7…in the morning. I rise from my supine position and contemplate my schedule: the day which is now drawing to a close began with the sun. I had class from nine to noon, a meeting with my lab supervisor, some lab chores, and a guest seminar in the afternoon, and then I was racing the sunset to collect data in the field for a class project. I started my analysis, putting me home around 8, but I’ll need to spend the entirety of the next two days bent over a microscope to get it all done before I dash off to Sacramento for an ecological conference.

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Happy Holidays!

December 21, 2015 by

Happy Holidays to all, and what better way to share the season with some festive themed marine animals and some information about them!

  1. Christmas Island Land Crab  (Gecarcoidea natalis)   


    Photo credit:

This brightly colored land crab is found only on Christmas Island and the Cocos Island and live in the rain forests; they are diurnal despite the lower temperatures and higher humidity. During the wet season (October-December) adult crabs go an arduous migration to the beaches to spawn. There are even road signs in Christmas Island to protect the crabs from during their mating season. Here’s a clip about the migration of these interesting invertebrates!

2. Christmas Feather worms (Serpulidae)


Christmas Tree Feather Worms; photo courtesy of Becky 

These worms make their own tubes and are commonly found in corals and come in a variety of colors. The colorful ‘tree-like’ appendages are used to capture food. Any slight pressure change alerts the worm to withdraw those appendages safely into their tubes. They are a common species for aquarium users, but are a challenge to maintain.

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MLML at the Marine Mammal Conference

December 18, 2015 by

By Jackie LindseyJackie Lindsey, Vertebrate Ecology Lab

This week marked the 21st Biennial conference of the Society of Marine Mammology (SMM) .  For any budding marine mammologist, this conference is a dream come true – many of the great authors and researchers that we read in class and cite regularly are HERE in San Francisco. We have the chance to make some great connections for current and future research.

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Tiny Giants

December 11, 2015 by

by Heather Fulton-Bennett, Phycology Lab By Heather Fulton-Bennett, Phycology Lab

The Monterey Bay Aquarium recently welcomed a new Giant Sea Bass (Stereolepis gigas) to their Kelp Gardens exhibit. Unlike its name, this new addition isn’t so giant – barely 4 inches long!

Juvenile Giant Sea Bass

Giant sea bass are found along the west coast from Humboldt Bay to Baja California, Mexico and can reach up to 8 feet long. While rarely seen in the Monterey Bay, they are recovering from overfishing and are being seen more in southern California. The aquarium also has a sub-adult in the Kelp Forest tank, and two adults in their Monterey Bay Habitat exhibit. You can see more of this little one here or head to the aquarium yourself!

The Monterey Bay Aquarium is free for residents of Monterey, Santa Cruz, and San Benito Counties through Dec. 13th, so go check out the new arrivals and old favorites!

WSN 2015; another successful conference

December 8, 2015 by

Another spectacular Western Society of Naturalists conference came and went last month. For those of you who aren’t familiar, WSN is a fun-packed, scientific society that focuses on ecology, evolution, natural history, and marine biology. This year marked the 96th annual meeting which was held in Sacramento and had the largest turnout to date! It seems the attendance at WSN grows every year and it’s really not surprising.  The annual conference attracts scientists, not just from the west coast, but from all over the world. This year, there were even a few students all the way from New Zealand giving presentations. The conference is packed with like-minded individuals eager to learn and present new ideas.

The 2015 WSN logo created by Beth and Mary Lenz

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a bridge, some boats, and a boom!

November 24, 2015 by

By Catarina Pien, Pacific Shark Research Center

One of the unique consequences of being a student at MLML is the opportunity to participate in research opportunities outside of the institution. Many alumni from MLML end up working at surrounding research agencies and organizations, and thus will turn to the lab to look for students to help out with various projects. For example, while being a student at MLML, I have been able to participate on consulting projects and assorted research cruises, allowing me to gain valuable research experience and insight into my future career goals.

This past month, two of our ichthyology faculty members, Drs. Richard Starr and Scott Hamilton, were contacted by alumnus William VanPeeters, who now works for the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans), to work on an exciting project involving the demolition of a portion of the old Bay Bridge.


Bay Bridge (new bridge, not being demolished), Photo credit: Ryan Fields

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Tales from the Field: Research at Catalina Island

November 15, 2015 by


By Stephen Pang, Ichthyology Lab

This past summer began like any good summer does…with a trip to my favorite taco stand. After driving south from Monterey, I had finally arrived in Los Angeles. Five hours of driving (and waking up far earlier than I would have preferred) had caused me to develop a serious hankering for some carne asada topped with onion and cilantro. Three tacos later, I was finally full and continued south to San Pedro where I made my way aboard the Miss Christi. This 45-foot boat is owned and operated by the University of Southern California (USC) and would be taking me to my home for the summer, Santa Catalina Island (often just called Catalina).

The Wrigley Marine Science Center, my home for the summer. Photo by Dr. Mia Adreani.

The Wrigley Marine Science Center, my home for the summer. Photo by Dr. Mia Adreani.

Two hours and 22 miles later, the Miss Christi was pulling into Big Fisherman’s Cove on the northeast end of Catalina. This cove is home to the Wrigley Marine Science Center (WMSC), an environmental research and education facility owned by USC. For the next three months, I would be working on my thesis research here.

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