Posts Tagged ‘feeding and diet’

The Tiniest Abalone

January 15, 2011

photo: E. Loury

Fish eat the darndest things – this baby abalone shell no bigger than your pinky nail came from a gopher rockfish stomach.  Can’t imagine it was all that satisfying…

One Day While Surfing… A White Shark Encounter

December 13, 2010

Paul catches a shark-free wave.

by Paul Tompkins, Phycology Lab

The gulls first caught my attention, a small flock in a tight swarm above the waves just beyond my surfboard. Others floated on the surface below.  Suddenly the sea below them erupted, and the birds on the surface took flight.  A frothy pink spray of water shot into the air; there was blood in the water. As the water calmed the gulls swooped and dove, feeding. A few seconds later the scene repeated itself, another violent splash of bloody water.  My instincts were screaming, telling me turn and paddle in, to get out of the water.

My curiosity got the better of me, and I sat transfixed as something was being ripped to pieces only a few hundred yards away.  Other gulls were making a beeline to join in the feast, and the flock grew.  I watched the attack for another minute, until at last a large black fin broke the horizon and my suspicions were confirmed.  This was no sea lion or orca, but a large white shark, eating lunch.

I swung towards the beach, catching my last wave on the way in.  As I crested the dunes to get a better vantage, I saw the shark hit twice more. I ran to the parking lot to grab my binoculars.  By the time I looked back to sea, the gulls had stopped flying, all were swimming on the surface. I peered through the lenses for a few more minutes, but the attack had ended.  I walked back down to my car, relieved that I had been a witness to a raw display of nature’s brutality, rather than an unwilling participant.

Mr. Fish Bones: Some Spooktacular Skeletons

October 29, 2010

Brynn Hooton and Kelsey James assemble a rockfish skeleton for Ichthyology class (photo: E. Loury)

Erin Loury

by Erin Loury, Ichthyology Lab

Skeletons are not just the stuff of Halloween at a marine lab – bones galore grace these halls of science year round.  Although being surrounded by dead things can lead to some unfortunate stereotypes of mad scientists with macabre fetishes, getting up close and personal with bones is one of the best lessons in basic anatomy.

That’s why in Spring 2008, many of us set to the task of cleaning, taking apart and putting together fish skeletons for our Ichthyology class to  better understand how the skeletal structures of these fish “work.”  In honor of Halloween, check out some of our bone creations – I mean, preparations (affectionately known as “bone preps”):

Wolf Eel, prepared by Megan Winton and Jenny Kemper (photo: E. Loury)
Pacific Haliut, prepared by Clinton Moran (photo: E. Loury)
Pacific Halibut, prepared by Clinton Moran (photo: E. Loury)
Vermilion Rockfish, prepared by Katie Schmidt and Kristin Hunter-Thomson. (photo: E. Loury)

Learning bones can have some practical bearing for research as well.  While going through the stomach contents of my gopher rockfish, I have had to try to identify little fish prey items from their bones.   As an example of cool cross-disciplinary collaborations, I and some other diet students have enlisted the help of Crisite Boone, an archaeologist from UC Santa Cruz who is an expert in fish bones from her study of California Indian middens.  Who knew that identifying fish from bits of bone pieces could be a transferable skill?

Here’s a look at one of the more unique skeletons I found, that of a prickleback of some kind.  Note the really robust spines on its back – looks almost…prickley, wouldn’t you say?

Mind the spines! Prickleback skeleton found in gopher rockfish stomach (photo: E. Loury).

Happy Halloween!!!

Happy Octopus Day from MLML: Eight-armed babies and fish octo-snacks

October 8, 2010

One for the octopus baby album! (photo: S. Ainsley)

Erin Loury

by Erin Loury, Icthyology Lab

Put your tentacles up – it’s Cephalopod Awareness Days 2010, everyone!  Fellow marine scientist blogger Danna Staff (a cephalopod enthusiast and newly-minted Ph.D. from Hopkins Marine Station) is hosting this week’s festivities at her Cephalopodiatrist blog.  I figured it would be fitting to celebrate October 8th, Octopus Day, MLML-style with a tale of two Erins and their eight-armed encounters.

The first is a repost about Erin Jensen’s octopuses. Erin defended her thesis in April, titled “The Effects of Environmental Enrichment and Problem-Solving on the Brain and Behavior of Octopus rubescens.”  While she spent most of her time stumping octopuses with mazes and food puzzles, and subsequently dissecting their brains, she also moonlighted in octopus husbandry – or at least, attempted to.  When one of her octopus test subjects wiggled its way out usefulness in her experiment by promptly laying eggs, Erin realized there was little she  could do but enjoy just how goshdarn cute they were. While none of the babies survived past a few days, we did get some video of them doing their bouncy thing – check out the full post here.

And then there’s me, the second Erin.  We in the fish community can appreciate cephalopods as much as anyone.  Even fish love cephalopods – they make great snacks!  Here’s a photo straight from the gopher rockfish gut files, aka my thesis on gopher rockfish diet.  Though true octopus lovers may shed a tear at this assortment of consumed critters, consider that an animal’s ecological role is also worthy of celebration.  So here’s to a tasty link in the food chain!


Delicious and nutritious: little octopods from the guts of gopher rockfish. (photo: E. Loury)


The fish doctor is in: meet our new ichthyology profressor, Dr. Scott Hamilton

September 20, 2010

Dr. Scott Hamilton

Dr. Scott Hamilton will be joining the Moss Landing Marine Labs faculty in Spring 2011 as the new Ichthyologist.  Currently a postdoctoral researcher at the University of California Santa Barbara, Scott has participated in a variety of exciting research projects. He gave us a chance to ask a few questions about his current work, and his future plans.  Keep reading to find out what we learned. (Interview by Brynn Hooton).

Q:  Scott, how did you get your start as an ichthyologist?

A:  My interest in the world of ichthyology began when I was kid and tried to read every book I could find about sharks. However, my first research project started during college. Through a tropical field studies program in Panama, we examined the ability of large roving parrotfish schools (important grazers on coral reefs) to circumvent the defenses of territorial damselfish and gain access to their algal gardens.

Scott's first fish love was all things shark, like this Blacktip reef shark at the Palmyra atoll. (photo: S. Hamilton)

His first research involved studying coral reef fishes. (photo: S. Hamilton)

Q: What is the one thing about MLML that you are most looking forward to?

A:  At Moss Landing I am most looking forward to working closely with students to develop exciting research projects that will get us diving in the beautiful kelp forests around Monterey Bay

Scott is looking forward to continuing kelp forest research here in Monterey Bay. (photo: Scott Hamilton)

A colorful garibaldi in the kelp forests of Catalina Island. (photo: Scott Hamilton)

Q:  Anything new with your research that you would like to share?

A:  We just started a new research project examining differences in reproductive behaviors and mating success of California sheephead inside and outside of marine reserves at Catalina Island. Unfortunately, this summer the waters have been unseasonably cold due to strong La Nina conditions and the fish were not courting or mating at any of our sites. So, we shifted gears and instead conducted experiments to examine size-selective foraging of sheephead on sea urchins and differences in predation rates inside and outside of reserves. There was a strong lesson here that sometimes there are factors outside of your control that affect research. We also overlapped on this trip with Diana Stellar and a number of students from Moss Landing, which provided for endless good times.

California Sheephead feed on urchins during a predation experiment. (photo: Scott Hamilton)

Q:   When do you plan to relocate?

A:  My wife and I are hoping to move to Monterey sometime around December and look forward to becoming integrated in the Moss Landing community.

That’s all from Scott for now, but check back during the spring semester to find out about all of the new adventures he’s having at Moss Landing Marine Labs.

Welcome to the MLML family, Scott! We're looking forward to hainvg you join us. (photo: S. Hamilton)

2010 Open House Puppet Show: Dora the Sperm Whale Explorer’s Deep-Sea Adventure

August 10, 2010
Amanda Kahn

Amanda Kahn

by Amanda Kahn, Invertebrate Zoology and Molecular Ecology Lab

In April, MLML opened its doors to the public and we spent the weekend showcasing our research and teaching people about marine science.  We did this in a variety of ways: lectures, seminars, interactive exhibits, touch tanks, science as art, and even in puppet form!  For those of you who missed the show, you can still learn about Dora the Sperm Whale’s exploration of the deep sea, discover different deep-sea habitats, and find out all about the many ways that animals eat!  Check out the two-part video below, and be sure to catch our hit songs “Chemoautotrophy” and “Vertical Migration”!

Part 1:

Part 2:

Got any questions about the animals or habitats you saw in the show?  Comment below or email and we’ll tell you all about them!


Puppeteering, stage design, sound setup, logistics:

Jeremiah Brower, Billy Cochran, Marilyn Cruickshank, May Deluna-Schneider, Amanda Kahn, Stephanie Kennedy, Deasy Lontoh, Erin Loury, Ben Perlman, Jasmine Ruvalcaba, Sonya Sankaran

Video editing by Wavelength Films

Turtle Power: Paddling 12,000 miles across the Pacific

March 24, 2010

Visitors from the Western Pacific: Some leatherback turtles travel across the Pacific Ocean, from Indonesia to North America, to feed on jellies (photo: D. Lontoh)

Deasy Lontoh

by Deasy Lontoh, Vertebrate Ecology Lab

It usually takes me 17 to 20 hours to fly from San Francisco to Jakarta, Indonesia, which covers about 9,000 miles of distance. Most of my family members live in Indonesia and I come to visit them every few years. Long hours in a plane seat and missing a day because of a 15-hour time difference are not my favorite things. But my journey is comparatively fast and plush. In 2007, I learned that a leatherback completed a similar trans-Pacific journey in 647 days covering 12,477 miles! On flippers! Scientists put on a satellite transmitter to track this turtle when it was nesting in Papua, Indonesia, which is about 2000 miles northeast of Jakarta.  It traveled all the way from Indonesia to Oregon to feed on abundant jellies.

We know now that the leatherback turtles that feed all along the west coast of North America, including Monterey bay, CA in late summer and early fall, come all the way from the nesting population in Papua. Their satellite tracks show that these leatherbacks spend one season to forage on our west coast, spend the winter in Hawaii (probably because the water here is too cold), then come back to our west coast and eat more jellies. The body of a jelly consists of mostly water, although their gonads are a richer source of nutrients.  Can you imagine how many jellies they need to eat?  They have to eat enough jellies to fuel their return migration to the nesting beach in Indonesia and to produce eggs.   Scientists predict they can their weight in jellies per day to get that much energy – about 800 pounds!

To learn more about the leatherback visitors to Monterey Bay, check out Scott Benson’s great blog through the TOPP project.

Featured photo: Big Gulp – Eat that fish, tail and all

March 19, 2010

Game over: A lingcod shows off the tail end of its latest snack (photo: E. Loury)

Erin Loury

by Erin Loury, Ichthyology Lab

There’s nothing like seeing the food-chain in action to make you appreciate how important eating is in an animal’s life – and why it’s so important to study (says the fish guts girl)!  For many things in the ocean, it’s just a matter of time before they become something else’s lunch.   It’s a fish eat fish world out there!

This week’s photo comes from summer surveys I participated in with the California Collaborative Fisheries Research Program while we surveyed new marine protected areas in central California.  The photo is of a lingcod, and shows off the feature that is probably most important to appreciate when working with these fish – TEETH!  Those are a clear indication that this fish is a predator, and it means business!

What you see in its mouth is the tail end of a hapless rockfish experiencing the ultimate “game over.”  This particular lingcod ate the rockfish right out of the fish trap that both were caught in, but are also big predators on rockfish in the wild too.

Chances are you’ve probably eaten rockfish or lingcod yourself if you live in California – meaning this photo really shows three levels of the food chain – rockfish, lingcod, and humans.   Humans are probably the most voracious predators of all in the marine environment, emphasizing the need to appreciate what we eat, and what it eats in turn!   So the next time you get that fish taco or fish and chips, think about how you are taking part in the bigger ocean food chain.

The long view: MLML student Katie Schmitt shows off a lingcod caught during a tagging survey in California's new marine protected areas (photo: N. Yochum).

Featured Photo: Bust a Gut

November 26, 2009

Even if this gopher rockfish bit off more than it could chew, it still found a way to swallow it all. (photo: E. Loury)

Erin Loury

by Erin Loury, Ichthyology Lab

On this, the national day of overeating,  I thought I would kick off our new featured photo segment with an example of a stuffed gullet from the animal world.  For my thesis studying what gopher rockfish eat, I’ve cut open a lot of fish (somewhere in the ballpark of 700, and finally as of this week there are no more fish in my freezer!  Woohoo!).  Every now and again I’ll see something surprising or out of the ordinary – but none so much as this one.

To give you some perspective, most gopher rockfish stomachs that are empty or have a bit a food are the size of my thumb.  The one pictured above was closer to the size of my fist.   I’ll put it this way – their stomach lining is some kind of fantastic elastic.  What floors me is that this little porker was caught with hook and line, meaning after all that eating, it still went for some bait.   But I guess when that pie comes around at the end of tonight, I’ll  probably be able to relate.

Just what kind of food does a gopher rockfish pack in at such staggering volumes?  Stay tuned to find out!

What’s in a Great White Shark Stomach? Watch a Live Dissection!

January 7, 2009
What's in a white shark stomach? ((c) Terry Goss 2006/Marine Photobank)

Find out what a great white's been eating! ((c) Terry Goss 2006/Marine Photobank)

Ever wondered what a great white shark has munched for lunch? The Aukland Museum of New Zealand is inviting the public to join them at 11 am on January 8th (NZ time) as they dissect a 9-foot-long female great white shark found dead in a fishing net. Partnering with their Department of Conservation, they hope to to raise awareness about threats facing white sharks, and to dispel some unfortunate, deep-seeded myths about this species.

Can’t make the next trans-Pacific flight for a dockside seat? Never fear! The whole necropsy (an animal autopsy) will be broadcast on the web at 5 pm tonight, California time! (that’s after 2 pm tomorrow, New Zealand time!)

[update: Here’s the whole video.]

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