Collecting Kelp Data in Waves

What do you get when a wave hits a kelp bed? The attention of two different labs at MLML! To better understand wave behavior as it meets a kelp bed, graduate student Steven Cunningham from the Phycology lab is partnering with Physical Oceanography professor, Dr. Tom Connolly.

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Beautiful morning at Stillwater Cove to deploy a newly constructed instrument for measuring waves in a kelp forest. (Photo credit: Dr. Colleen Durkin)

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Taking Up Autonomous Reef Monitoring Structures (ARMS)


This week’s post is written by Amanda Heidt of the Invertebrate Zoology Lab as summer field season gets underway here at Moss Landing.


JMM_What are you laughing at

Who else is happy for some invert-talk?

It’s been a bit…vertebrate-y on the blog lately, so today we’re going to hear about one of the ongoing projects of the Invertebrate Zoology lab here at Moss Landing! Our principle investigator, Dr. Jonathan Geller, is a coauthor on a recent paper to come out of our collaboration with the Infinite Diversity project, whose members include representatives from NOAA, the Smithsonian, San Diego State University, UCLA, and international scientists across Indonesia. With funding provided by the National Science Confutation, the ultimate goal of this project has been twofold: to foster international collaborations among marine scientists and to better understand marine biodiversity along geographic and anthropogenic (human-induced) stress gradients, with specific interest in tropical coral systems.

A thorough understanding of the ways in which we affect our environment and how these effects might play out under future climatic scenarios is of increasing importance, and it requires a method that is both standardized and tractable over time. So, let me tell you a little story. When I first started imagining this post almost a year ago, I had just spent a month at sea, diving at remote sites to collect field instruments that could then be brought back on board and analyzed. They were essentially stacks of PVC plates, held apart by small plastic spacers, which were anchored to the reef and left to “marinate” for years until they became nearly continuous with the reef itself. These pieces of equipment were ARMS (known in longhand as “Autonomous Reef Monitoring Structures”), and they represent the answer to the question “How do we provide a systematic, consistent, and comparable method for analyzing biodiversity across broad scales?”


ARMS structure, deployment, and recovery after a few years out on the reef.

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Working with “mer-dogs” aka California Sea Lions

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Mason Cole of the Vertebrate Ecology lab authored this post on California Sea Lions as part of Dr. Gitte McDonald’s Marine Mammal class blog series.


MLML Director Dr. Jim Harvey likes to say that harbor seals are the “cats of the sea”.  If that’s true, then California sea lions are the rambunctious young puppy dogs of the sea.  But not those little baby fluff-ball puppies; no, more like that almost-full-grown, 90-pound wrecking ball.

Many a commercial fisherman would cringe to read this, but I love working with sea lions.  They earned their place in my mind as “mer-dogs” for more than just their energy and enthusiasm: they are also particularly intelligent, with striking personalities and an impressive capacity to learn trained behavior.

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Nemo with his prize herring – good boy!  (Photo credit: Mason Cole.)

Allow me to introduce Cali and Nemo, two California sea lions with the project SLEWTHS (Science Learning and Exploration With The Help of Sea lions, founded and directed by Dr. Jenifer Zeligs).   Continue reading

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Disentangling a Difficult Situation

This week’s story is a continuation of the MS211 Marine Mammals class series and comes to us from Bradley Wilkinson, a graduate student from San Jose State University.

I had never seen so many whales before in my life. Standing atop Southeast Farallon Island, bracing against the rails of a relic lighthouse, I commanded an unequaled view of the surrounding seascape. To the northeast, Pt. Reyes stood before Bodega Bay, forming an extreme limit to my far-reaching gaze. The Golden Gate Bridge was blatantly obvious to the east, framed nicely against the hustle and bustle of San Francisco. To the south and west, endless blue. Huge container ships waiting for port entry outlined the invisible lanes of industrial traffic.


The lighthouse on Southeast Farallon Island offers an amazing view of the surrounding Gulf of the Farallones for whale observations. Photo: Bradley Wilkinson

But the whales. The whales were everywhere, stealing the proverbial show. Spouts popped off in every direction, grouped in conglomerates of nearly a dozen on occasion. In total, I counted over eighty whales of three species that afternoon, in only one hour of effort. The extreme productivity of the Gulf of the Farallones had attracted this concentration of cetaceans, a predictable patch of food nested with the dynamism and variability of the oceanic environment. But just below the surface, sharing the water column with swarms of krill and schools of anchovy, lurked a lethal threat. I had seen them while onboard the sailboat to the island. Although only a small part of each one was visible at the surface, I knew much more lay beneath. This paradoxically obvious yet invisible threat was both insipid and borne of abandonment. Derelict fishing gear.

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A Day on the Water Tagging Whales


Brijonnay Madrigal of the Vertebrate Ecology lab authored this post on whale tagging as part of Dr. Gitte McDonald’s Marine Mammal class blog series. 




A group of students in the marine mammal field class enjoy observing whales from the top deck of the John Martin [Photo Credit: Jennifer Johnson, MLML student]

Tagging marine mammals is a highly difficult procedure and a skill that requires extreme finesse from scientists. Due to the high speeds that large baleen whales travel and the short amount of time their dorsal side is exposed at the surface, it requires a quick deployment and impeccable timing. When a whale is at the surface, it usually comes up for a few breathes before diving down. Therefore, there are only a few moments when tagging is possible. Being able to participate in such fieldwork was very exciting for a group of MLML students. This April, students in MS 211: Ecology of Marine Turtle, Birds and Mammals had the opportunity to aid Dave Cade in his research in Monterey Bay. Continue reading

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Monterey is Expensive: The cost of disturbance


Heather Barrett recording sea otter behavior during a disturbance scan.

Guest post by Heather Barrett of the Vertebrate Ecology Lab.

The crisp morning begins with stretches, a barrel role here and there, and one of the members breaking off to search for a crab breakfast. The raft bobs as the distant boat wake lifts each otter in a wave; rocking them gently in a water cradle. There are five mothers with cotton-ball pups that begin the tedious nursing and grooming process, lifting the plush bodies and breathing warm air in to their Einstein frizz. But the calm morning routines will soon be disrupted and turn to disorder. The bright colored beasts have arrived, aiming the kayak bows towards the otter raft, paddles drumming as they hit the surface of the water. Continue reading

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Exploring the beach: A gateway to science

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Guest post by Tyler Barnes of the Geological Oceanography Lab.

To say that I was not intrigued by science as a teenager would be an enormous understatement. I despised science. I often attribute uninspired teaching and an inadequate education system for this reaction, but in reality I was just a moody teenager preoccupied by other interests (for the record, I have enormous respect for the teachers and administrators that have influenced my education). My disregard for science at the time is somewhat surprising. My earliest memories included being unwillingly dragged away from the beach after hours of exploration, or learning to cast a fishing rod just right so as not to snag a tree branch. These experiences morphed into forecasting swells with my dad before surfing and competing in local junior lifeguard competitions. So why was I so uninterested in science? Continue reading

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