Protecting and Restoring the Morro Bay Estuary.
Wildlife spotlight

Paul Bump on Researching Acorn Worms in Morro Bay: The Unknown Lives of the Small and Squishy

Paul Bump, Guest Author Paul Bump is an explorer of the small and squishy.  He completed his undergraduate degree at the University of Hawaii at Manoa in 2016 in marine biology, and the spent two years working as a lab technician at the Broad Center for Regenerative Medicine and Stem Cell Research at USC.   As a fourth year PhD student in the Lowe Lab at the Hopkins Marine Station of Stanford University in Monterey, California, Paul  studies how an organism can build two wildly different bodies during its life while having access to the same genetic information. Through his research in strange, enigmatic, marine invertebrates, he hopes to …

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Rare Nudibranch! Two Citizen Scientists find Cerberilla pungoarena in the Morro Bay Estuary

Cerberilla pungoarena in Morro Bay. Copyright passiflora4, Laura Schachterle and Thomas Hintz.

    Cerberilla pungoarena (Collier & Farmer, 1964) is one of those rare nudibranchs you may never see: only a few subtidal specimens have been reported since the mid-2000s. But now, fifteen years later and further north than they have ever been seen before, a single specimen of C. pungoarena was spotted and photographed a few months ago in shallow water in the Morro Bay Estuary by two intrepid nudibranch enthusiasts, Laura Schachterle and Thomas Hintz.  Nudibranchs are shell-less marine molluscs commonly called sea slugs. There are over 130 species of nudibranchs found in California, many brightly-colored. “Great find and …

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Morro Bay Wildlife Spotlight: Balls of Spines (AKA Sea Urchins)

  Is it a ball? Is it a Pokémon? Nope, it’s a sea urchin! Sea urchins, even though common, are really cool! In Morro Bay, there are mainly two species, purple sea urchin and red sea urchin. The biggest difference between the two is their size and color. Red sea urchins can reach up to five inches in diameter whereas purple sea urchins reach only two inches in diameter. The most common species is the pacific purple sea urchin, also known as Strongylocentrotus purpuratus. Sea urchins use their spikes and poison as a defense mechanism. The poison is located at …

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Sea Clowning Around: Triopha maculata and Triopha catalinae, by Robin Agarwal

Triopha Maculata Sun Salutation, photographed in Santa Cruz, CA by Robin Agarwal

  Spotted Triopha or Triopha maculata One of the most charming creatures found along the Central California coast is the Spotted Triopha nudibranch (Triopha maculata). With its colorful body, white polka dots, and bushy “beard”—properly called papillae—on the edge of its oral veil, this engaging sea slug is one of the most common you’ll encounter year-round, either on a dive or during a casual inspection of tidepools at low tide.  Triopha maculata color variants The only minor difficulty is realizing that you’re looking at one. Spotted Triophas come in at least two color variants that caused even veteran scientists to …

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A Sea Slug by Any Other Name, Guest Post by Robin Agarwal

Acanthodoris lutea nudibranch smells like citrus or cedar

This is the fifth post in our Sea Slug of the Month series by guest author, Robin Agarwal. A Sea Slug by Any Other Name: One Grossly Derivative Title Covering Three Random Thoughts About Scented Sea Slugs, Hopkins’s Rose, and the Ongoing Bother About Names “that which we call a rose By any other name would smell as sweet” —Juliet in Romeo & Juliet, William Shakespeare Although she was not particularly noted for her tidepool explorations, Juliet may have been surprised to discover that three of the nudibranchs (shell-less marine molluscs) living along the Central California Coast actually emit scents …

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The “Smalls”: The Teeniest, Tiniest Sea Slugs In California

Guest post by Robin Agarwal   This is the fourth post in our Sea Slug of the Month series. Find tips for spotting nudibranchs from the comfort of your local dock at the end of this post! So you’ve been tidepooling along your local reefs and you’ve found a few nudibranchs: Opalescents, Sea Lemons, Spanish Shawls, Hopkins’s Rose, Triophas. Maybe you’ve practically tripped over ginormous squishy Sea Hares. Boring, right? What a snooze, all those flamboyant colors, shapes, and bizarre anatomy. After all, those nudibranchs are over an inch long, and therefore way too easy to find.  If this is …

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Flaming Eye-Candy in the Tidepools: Spanish Shawl Nudibranchs, by Robin Agarwal

Two spanish shawl nudibranchs eat Eudendrium hydroids

    This is the third post in our Sea Slug of the Month series. Find tips for spotting nudibranchs in the intertidal zone at the end of this post!   Spanish Shawl nudibranchs If you live your life in saturated color, this is the sea slug for you.  One of the great treasures of a few hours’ worth of tidepooling along the California Central Coast during the lowest tides of the season is the possibility of seeing multiple species of nudibranchs. Commonly called sea slugs, a term that includes many other families of molluscan cousins, nudibranchs are shell-less marine …

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Sea Slug of the Month – Yellow Blobs of Awesomeness, Guest Post by Robin Agarwal

    Yellow Blobs of Awesomeness: Sea Goddesses, Sea Lemons and That One with the Tentacles Guest post by Robin Agarwal   Humans like sea slugs. They’re harmless to humans, but voracious predators if you’re a hydroid or a sponge. They come in a variety of cool shapes and sizes, and have fascinating life histories that allow one to throw around words like ‘nudi’ and ‘hermaphrodite’ with impunity in mixed company. But best of all, nudibranchs appeal mightily to humans’ attraction to pattern and color. We cannot resist taking a closer look at something bright and colorful as we explore …

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Sea Slug of the Month – Morro Bay’s ‘Gateway Nudi:’ Opalescent Nudibranch, Guest Post by Robin Agarwal

Three Opalescent Nudibranchs (Hermissenda opalescens). Photograph courtesy of Robin Agarwal via Flickr Creative Commons License

    “Whoaaaa…what is THAT?” “It’s gorgeous, whatever it is.” “It’s moving!” “Dude, check this out!” “So BLUE!” “What IS it?” Music to a science educator’s ears, of course, thanks to the astonishing colors and reasonably viewable size of one of California’s most iconic sea slug species, the Opalescent Nudibranch (Hermissenda opalescens). Found throughout the Central California coast, these brightly-colored carnivores are often the first nudibranchs to astonish and delight the humans venturing into their intertidal world during seasonal low tides. Photograph of Opalescent nudibranch, (Hermissenda opalescens) taken in Monterey, California. Courtesy of Robin Agarwal, under Creative Commons license via …

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Morro Bay Wildlife Spotlight: Mystery Species Revealed

Mystery species number 1

  In last week’s post, we shared photographs of four species native to San Luis Obispo County and asked you to identify them. Today’s post reveals all four mystery species and shares information about each one. Wildlife Spotlight: Mystery species #1 Common salp (Salpa fusiformis) These ethereal-looking creatures are sometimes mistaken for jellyfish, but they are much more complex. In fact, they are more closely related to humans than they are to jellies. This is because, as larvae, salps have a simple backbone called a notochord, which is composed of a tissue similar to cartilage. Though the notochord all but …

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