Protecting and Restoring the Morro Bay Estuary.
wildlife spotlight

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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Your Top Blog Posts of 2019

  During 2019, you tuned in to the Estuary Program blog to follow field work projects, to learn about local wildlife, to track the health of the bay, and to see how you can help the estuary and watershed. Today, we’re sharing the posts readers visited most often this year across these four categories. If you haven’t read them yet, now’s a great time to catch up! Top Field Work Post Field Updates February 2019: Wet weather, Eelgrass Restoration, and Creek Monitoring This post shares rainfall totals, details the process of sediment sampling and analysis that we use, and explains …

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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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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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Morro Bay Wildlife Spotlight: Western Pond Turtle

Three western pond turtles sunbathe at Sweet Springs Nature Preserve. Photograph by Jerry Kirkhart, via Flickr Creative Commons License.

  Morro Bay Wildlife Spotlight Guest Post by Tess Badrigian Tess is a Morro Bay native who has always loved the estuary and the wildlife that call it home. She studies biology and Geographic System Information at Cuesta College. After she receives her Associate Degree, Tess plans to pursue a Bachelor of Science in Environmental Management and Protection. Tess also enjoys writing, kayaking, and volunteering in the local community. Western pond turtles: habitat and range If you want to see a western pond turtle (Actinemys marmorata), you must be light on your feet. If they sense something strange, they will …

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Morro Bay Wildlife Spotlight: California Sea Lions in the Estuary

Sea lions took to the new dock right away.

  California sea lions are the largest and fastest marine mammal that live year-round in Morro Bay. They can weigh as much as 860 pounds and swim as fast as 25 miles per hour. They also have between 34 and 38 formidable teeth, including four long canines. They use their teeth to catch their prey, but not to chew it. They swallow their food, mostly fish and squid, whole. Morro Bay’s sea lions have their own dock Sea lions like to rest out of the water on docks or even boats. In a busy harbor like Morro Bay, this habit …

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Morro Bay Wildlife Spotlight: Peregrine Falcon

Photo of peregrine falcon in flight near Morro Rock by Kevin Cole

 Photo of peregrine falcon in flight near Morro Rock by Kevin Cole.   The peregrine falcon (Falco peregrinus) is one of the largest falcons in North America. Their wingspan stretches up to 43 inches and they can weigh up to 3.4 pounds. Peregrine falcons are also the fastest animal in the world.  During their characteristic high-speed hunting dive—called a stoop—they have been clocked at 242 mph. (For a fascinating look at how Ken Franklin, a falconer, pilot, and skydiver clocked this speed, check out this article in Air and Space magazine.) When peregrine falcons were added to the California Endangered Species …

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Morro Bay Wildlife Spotlight: California Brown Pelicans

California Brown Pelicans are easy to spot in Morro Bay’s waters. They’re one of the biggest birds out there, larger than other subspecies of brown pelicans, though a bit smaller than white pelicans. Adults have a wingspan of about 6.5 feet, and they can weigh up to 11 pounds. They also dive in a big way. A pelican can begin its descent from up to 60 feet in the air, once it has spotted a fish with its keen eyes.   The impact of the pelican’s dive is lessened by air sacs beneath its skin, which also help to buoy …

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Morro Bay Wildlife Spotlight: Swell Shark

Swell shark closeup by Josh More, via Flickr.

    Movies like Jaws and Sharknado can make sharks seem like mindless killing machines—even the dramatic music typically used to accompany footage of sharks has been shown to affect our perception of them. Despite their deadly pop culture image, the more scientists study sharks, the more they find that humans are not their intended prey. While species like great whites might “sample bite” humans, they rarely pursue people after that first bite. In fact, many shark attacks seem to be a case of mistaken identity, where the shark takes a surfer, paddler, or swimmer for a sea lion or …

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Morro Bay Wildlife Spotlight: California Two Spot Octopus

  The octopus is a creature that captures our imaginations. It has been doing so for thousands of years across many different cultures. Octopi were a common motif on pottery in ancient Greece and beyond. Octopi also made appearances in other historical art pieces, such as this woodcut from 18th Century Japan. More recently, the octopus made an animated splash in the film Finding Dory, where seven-tentacled Hank becomes quite the hero. Hank is based on the mimic octopus, which can change its shape and behavior to mimic other marine animals in order to avoid predators. (No wonder these creatures have …

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