30 September 2008

Fish: sculpins and gunnel

From above it looks like a tadpole, in profile it looks like a scorpionfish. There is a fish called the tadpole sculpin, but this is the buffalo sculpin (Enophrys bison). It belongs to a large family of fish called the Cottidae. There is quite a difference in appearance between the approximately 36 species found on the west coast of Canada. See the next pictures of the tidepool sculpin.

The tidepool sculpins (Oligocottus maculosus) I saw were not bigger than 8 cm, the buffalo sculpin can reach a length of 37 cm.

The brown Irish lord (Hemilepidotus spinosus), another sculpin. Brown Irish lord? What's in a name!
Easily overlooked, because he is well camouflaged between the weeds.

The saddleback gunnel (Pholis ornata) was curious, but when he realised what was looking at him, he jumped away and disappeared in the weeds.

Take a good look.

28 September 2008

Orcinus orca: the killer whale

Orcinus orca, the scientific name of the orca or killer whale. It means something like the creature from hell.

If I am not mistaken, this is Ruffles. He is the oldest male (they say 60 years old) of the pod. He is called Ruffles for the shape of his dorsal fin (see next picture).

Our captain knew the orca’s by heart because of the form of their dorsal fin. The upper left orca is Ruffles.

This is a male from a resident group of more than 50 orca’s.

Resident orca’s hunt mostly for salmon. Transient orca’s are the ones hunting whales.

We had a wonderful trip on a zodiac with a captain that knew – as he said and did – when to shut up. Just what I like: I want to enjoy them in all quietness.
For some free advertising: www.emeraldsea.ca

The captain trying to catch salmon to lure a bald eagle.

He did catch a lingcod, Bassozetus elongatus, that he released. No good for luring a bald eagle.

The bald eagle.


What’s this? It looks like a light bulb. Emitting light without an energy source? It will all be revealed in the next picture.

It is bull kelp (Nereocystis luetkeana). This brown seaweed can grow up to 20 m and even to 36 m in deeper water. It has a very large stipe (‘whip’), which is anchored to the bottom with a holdfast. The first picture is a stranded and bleached bull kelp.

Bull kelp can withstand very strong waves and it functions like a breakwave. Snorkeling in a bed of bull kelp, especially when there’s a lot of surf, can be very annoying. I got entangled in the weed, had to protect my camera gear and had to deal with a water temperature of 10 degrees Celsius (and I am using a wetsuit). Not for the first time: it made me seasick!

It’s also called bullwhip kelp. I think a better name, however what about the bull? In New Zealand there’s also a brown weed called bull kelp, but it is not at all the same species. I know it is important to have a name for an animal or plant in your own language, but I thank Linnaeus for the way he has given Latin names.

The flask shaped object, called a pneumatocyst, is filled with carbon monoxide and makes the bull kelp float.

A look at the rocky coast at Tofino covered in seaweeds.

Snorkeling between these weeds is like a walk in very dense forest. By now you will recognize the bull kelp. The other brown weed is feather boa kelp (Egregia menziesii). It takes a bit of fantasy, but I like its name.

Feather boa kelp underwater. It can grow 10 meters long.

26 September 2008

Heavy and strong: the red rock crab and relatives

When I was young I played for years and years with my toy knights. To be honest, up to my tenth birthday I wanted to be a knight. Maybe that’s the reason I love crabs: both are heavily armoured and crabs walk a bit clumsy like knights did in their armour of up to 40 kg!
This is a ‘heavy’ crab: the red rock crab, Cancer productus.

I found quite a few of these crabs in shallow water. They were ‘hiding’ under seaweeds. Because of their red colour they are easy prey for divers and I have seen crabs without claws. Taken because the claws are excellent food. And however I do like to eat crab, it makes me sick to see them amputated this way. At least leave one claw, so they are able to gather food and to regenerate!

The red rock crab can grow as large as 20 cm. It is a ‘nephew’ of our (European) edible crab, Cancer pagurus (NL: Noordzeekrab). They are quicker and more aggressive than the edible crab. So you better beware, because their pincers are big and very powerful.

The European 'nephew' edible crab, Cancer pagurus (NL: Noordzeekrab). I saved this specimen years ago. He got stuck in a net, lost by a trawler and washed on the shore. Out of gratitude he gave me some time to take a few portraits. Doesn't he look cute?

This one is waiting for the female crab (you can see her lying under him) to shed her armour. When she has crept out of her old armour her new armour is soft and the male can penetrate her, so they are able to reproduce.

These red rock crabs are in the process of ‘making love’. Apart from protecting her against other animals, I have never seen any kind of courtship between crabs. This reminds me of an awfully bad King Arthur movie, where Arthur in armour was making love to his queen. Killing in a missionary position!

Another species of the Cancridae I found: the graceful crab (Cancer gracilis). This is a juvenile specimen of 45 mm wide.

20 September 2008

The northern kelp crab

This is the northern kelp crab (Puggetia producta). Most crabs are nocturnal, these crabs are not. They are not or not very well camouflaged and I have seen a lot of these kelp crabs in the open. Like this one clinging on bull kelp (hence the name of the crab). Kelp crabs are the second favourite food of otters. Then why don’t they hide or come out at night as ‘normal’ crabs?

Northern kelp crab clinging on bull kelp in a strong current.

This old(er) crab has lost a few walking legs and one claw. When a crab sheds his armour to grow, he can regenerate lost legs, claws and other parts.

15 September 2008

The pink-tipped anemone and green surf anemone

Let's start with the smaller one: the pink-tipped anemone (Anthopleura elegantissima). This anemone clones itself into big colonies. Sometimes they are densely packed. There’s no aggression against each other, but they do war against other colonies.

A lot of closed pink-tipped anemones at low water.

The irregular way the tubercles are arranged on their column are a distinctive feature of the pink-tipped.

The pink-tipped anemone and green surf anemone next to each other.

The green surf anemone (Anthopleura xanthogrammica). The sea anemone referred to on the website of the Wickaninnish Inn (see the previous message) is probably the green surf anemone. It’s the most obvious of the two: it has a jade-green colour and it is large. I found specimens up to12 cm, but it can be as large as 30 cm. The pink-tipped anemone can also be quite large, but most specimens were 3 to 6 cm.
So yes, you can find Anthopleura elegantissima on the shores of the Wickaninnish, but it is impossible to oversee Anthopleura xanthogrammica!

This is one of my favourite pictures of marine life I took on Vancouver Island. So if you don’t like it, you better quit my blog :-)

13 September 2008

Vancouver Island, Canada

I start this blog with Vancouver Island, an island at the west coast of Canada. Jacques Cousteau famed the marine life of this island as the most impressive of the earth's cold water region. I have visited this island in July for two weeks; the pictures are taken above and underwater.

Ik start deze blog met Vancouver Island, een eiland aan de westkust van Canada en door Jacques Cousteau geroemd als het mooiste onderwater gebied van de gematigde zones (lees: niet tropische wateren). Daar ben ik in juli twee weken geweest en heb daar boven en onder water foto's gemaakt van het bijzondere zeeleven.

The rocky habitat beneath our beautiful resort: the Wickaninnish Inn at Tofino. Have you ever encountered a hotel site that says 'find a sea anemone, Anthopleura elegantissima, we think'. See www.wickinn.com. And it's the right species, however... see one of the following posts.

My first encounter with the ochre or purple star (Pisaster ochraceus).

The ochre star is a sturdy, leathery starfish that preys on barnacles and snails but mostly on mussels. It attaches itself very strongly on rocks with its tubefeet. They’ld better: the surf can be very heavy.

The lifespan of this starfish is up to 20 years; there is a record of a specimen as big as 50 cm. It’s very abundant on the rocky shore of Tofino: I found up to a 1.000 ochre stars in a relative small area. Their thick, sturdy arms remind me of ‘Barbapappa’.

Underwater it has a fluffy appearance, due to the papulae. They give the starfish its basic colour.

Two juvenile and an older ochre star.

Another juvenile specimen.

Tofino's rocky coast.

I have been at places on the coast of South Africa, near Capetown, where I saw aggregations of sea anemones. Then I was impressed. At Tofino I could only stammer things like awesome, massive and cool (as the Canadians would say): I saw thousands of green surf anemones (Anthopleura xanthogrammica) and pink-tipped anemones (Anthopleura elegantissima). For me this shore is like a candy store.

These are all green surf anemones.

Next post: more about the green surf anemone.