Protecting and Restoring the Morro Bay Estuary.
Wildlife spotlight

Tarantula Math: Where folklore meets meteorology

    Written by Makenzie O’Connor, Morro Bay National Estuary Program Monitoring Coordinator. Tarantula Math: Where folklore meets meteorology As someone relatively new to the Central Coast, I was entirely perplexed and intrigued by the concept of what our Monitoring Program Manager, Karissa Willits, calls: “Tarantula Math.” The phrase itself was exciting—partially because I never anticipated that “tarantula” and “math” would be in the same sentence, and partially because I couldn’t help but envision these furry, intelligent arachnids solving complex calculus equations. For those unfamiliar with “tarantula math,” this is the assumption that rain should follow tarantula sightings within three …

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Morro Bay Wildlife Spotlight: Brown Bears and Black Bears

    Black bear sighting in Los Osos A black bear (Ursus americanus) recently swam across the southern end of the Morro Bay estuary and made its way onto land in a residential area of Los Osos, near Pasadena Point. The bear spent some time napping in a tree before officials with California Fish and Wildlife tranquilized and transported it to the Los Padres National Forest. This incident reminded many of us that the lands surrounding Morro Bay are still wild and able to support large mammals, like black bears and mountain lions. Though black bears are omnivores and eat …

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Sea Slugs on the Move: Bent on World Domination, or Opportunistic Travel Bums?

Polycera atra (top) and Polycera hedgpethi on Bugula brozoan prey San Luis Obispo County, California

    Sea Slugs on the Move: Bent on World Domination, or Opportunistic Travel Bums? With the passing of the very low, very early morning tides of summer, tidepooling minds must reluctantly turn away from the outer edges of our coastline for a few months, until the autumn minus tides return in mid-October. And what better topic to occupy our Covid/smoke/asteroid/politics stressed minds than possible world domination by sea slugs? I exaggerate, of course. We won’t be marching in lines and waving tiny nudibranch flags any time soon. But there has been a quiet movement of sea slug populations taking …

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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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