Hydrocorals and Octopuses in the Monterey Shale Beds - Oceana USA
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June 20, 2011

Hydrocorals and Octopuses in the Monterey Shale Beds

This is part of a series of posts about our Pacific Hotspots expedition. Today’s highlights: octupuses, hydrocorals and nudibranchs!

California Leg, Days 4-5

Friday concluded the Monterey portion of the expedition, and we had high hopes and much enthusiasm for the last day. We successfully completed three fantastic dives exploring three unique habitats.

This section of the expedition involves two ROVs, a compact one able to capture footage in more shallow depths and one designed to dive much deeper. The crew is still making improvements to the larger ROV so we used the smaller one to document bottom habitat consisting of sand, boulders, and large white sponges inside Point Pinos reef; the pinnacles at Asilomar State Marine Reserve; and investigated marine life hiding within the ledges of the Monterey Shale Beds.

The strong swells we had been working against all week calmed a bit under the overcast sky. Special guests joining us today included scientists from the Stanford Center for Ocean Solutions, a reporter and photographer from the Santa Cruz Sentinel newspaper, and documentary filmmakers from Sea Studios.

Our dive within the newly established Asilomar State Marine Reserve was truly extraordinary. We were pleasantly surprised to see that this marine protected area contained such large pinnacles, equivalent in splendor and color to what we observed further south near Carmel earlier in the week.

Some of the underwater structures were completely covered with rich marine life and we saw some of the largest hydrocorals we’ve ever seen, in brilliant colors of orange, deep purple, and hot pink. We also saw several treefish and copper rockfish seeking refuge in the cracks. Although this was a spectacular site, we did encounter some tangled fishing line, which we did our best to avoid.

For the last dive in Monterey Bay we returned to the shale beds, not too far from the harbor and Fisherman’s Wharf, this time to explore more closely the ledges and the life they supported.

We marveled at the beautiful camouflage of two octopuses. We followed one octopus for more than 15 minutes, watching as it used its tentacles to explore deep within the tiny cracks and crevices under the rocks in search of prey. It eventually found a hiding place next to a purple sea urchin and a wolf eel, the second we saw on this dive.

This dive site also hosted an unusual abundance of several nudibranchs, which are colorful sea slugs that use bright coloration to warn possible predators that they are poisonous.

Isn’t it amazing that there is such rich and unique marine habitat so close to the urban center of Monterey and its harbor?

Once back on land, we packed up all of the scientific equipment and expedition supplies that two members of our team are driving up to Oregon. The second part of the expedition begins this week in Coos Bay, Oregon on and we are excited to document the biodiversity off Oregon’s rugged coast.

Stay tuned for more hotspot updates!