Protecting and Restoring the Morro Bay Estuary.
wildlife spotlight

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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Morro Bay Wildlife Spotlight: Innkeeper Worm

    Mudflats can look barren, though they’re anything but. They are composed of fine sediment that settles out of the water, building up over many years. Mudflats often form along the edges of estuaries, like Morro Bay, that are protected by a sandspit. The slow moving, shallow waters near the shore allow organic material to linger as it breaks down, making mudflats especially nutrient rich.  This allows these flat expanses to host a lot of life. Another interesting feature of mudflats is that they are sometimes submerged and sometimes exposed, all depending on the tides. The animals that live …

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Morro Bay Wildlife Spotlight: Bat Rays

Estuary Program Monitoring staff got a good view of this bat ray while monitoring eelgrass beds.

  Bat rays (Myliobatis californica) are a key predator along the coast of California and Oregon. They can grow to six feet wide and weigh as much as 200 pounds, though most rays are smaller than this. The largest ray caught off the coast of California was recorded at 181 pounds. These fish eat a variety of foods including mollusks (like abalone and clams), invertebrates (like crabs), and some smaller fishes. They dig up clams by flapping their pectoral fins, which look like wings, to create suction, and then rooting in the sand with their snouts. Rays crush the clams whole, …

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Morro Bay Wildlife Spotlight: California Sea Hare

Estuary Program staff found this sea hare in an eelgrass bed near Coleman beach.

    Look deep into the eyes of this California Sea Hare (Aplysia californica), as it moves along the bottom of Morro Bay. Can’t find them? There is one eye located right beneath each rhinophore, or tentacle, at the front of the sea hare’s head. While you can look into the sea hare’s eyes (now that you’ve found them), the sea hare can’t return your gaze. Their vision is different from ours—they don’t see objects, but they can sense light and shadow. This allows them to avoid predators and to avoid coming out of the water during the daylight hours, …

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