False Bay – Diatoms make a good floor

False Bay was amazing. The quietness was interrupted only by moonlight and the noises of feeding ducks. I didn’t even bring my camera (which explains the lack of pictures). And although I was stopping every twenty feet to monitor ecological changes in the mud, I was slowly beelining it to the water. After passing millions of worms and worm holes, a few dungeness crab, beached fish, and a pile of spluge;  I finally made it to the water’s edge with my trusty partner in crime, SE.

To summarize the mud, we did not see major shifts in the mud ecology until about 100 yards from the water. Here, we began to see patches of sea grass, and seaweed. We also saw increased brown stuff on the mud. Slimy, brown mats. After being told it was endless diatoms  (PS I LOVE DIATOMS), I scooped up some for microscope viewing back at the lab.

Continuing on our trek, we waded slowly through the water and over sand bars until we could wade no more and the seawater was coming over our boots. Unfortunately, our plans for seagrass domination were foiled when the water proved to be too deep at about an arm’s length away from the massive seagrass beds. Seagrass like being underwater, and therefore you will only see them at the very low intertidal and just beyond it.

Defeated, we slowly and curiously made our wet walk back to the flashing lights of our friends at the vans and passed more dungeness crab (Cancer magister) burrowing into the mud as well as some clam shells that did not want us to open them.

Back at the lab that night, I stayed up past a biologically reasonable time and enjoyed the wonders of the microalgae that I skimmed off the False Bay Flats. This is a picture of a Diatom, order Pennales, that I magnified at 400x power. pennate diatom

It is very difficult to classify diatoms under a light microscope because of the visual limitations and the diversity of the organisms. Diatoms are distinct in that they have 2-part silica (SiO2) frustules that encase what you may think of as a typical single alga cell–kind of like a glass petri dish covering an algae cell. Diatoms are classified into two orders, Pennales (elongated, pen-shaped) and Centrales (round). Pennales is further divided into Fragilariophyceae and Bacillariophyceae based on the presence of a raphe, a ridge in the organism’s cell wall. Other characteristics are even more difficult to distinguish (And this is only at the level of Order!). This demonstrates the difficulty of classifying diatoms based only on a light microscope picture without an algae expert. This particular one was about 90 micrometers in length and was amazing to see under the microscope.

Let me know if you have any cool algae or algae stories! I love to play with the microscope and look at these buggers move.

To close, this guy was quickly moving across the screen and I managed to quickly capture him.

moving fast

And— I thought these ones were interesting…

2 few diatoms





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False Bay Birefringence

(Brit )

The trip to False Bay took place at night… in black and white.  Spreading out across the shadowy darkness of the wide mudflat—divergent groups adorned in the fuzzy glow of headlamps, poking and prodding the expanse of inhabited sediment—I could not help but think we were in some small way giving life and breath to the photoelastic stress analysis test that had so gripped imaginations during Kelly Dorgan’s presentation earlier in the day—a meandering scattershot of flashlights pinpointing the cracks and fissures of our small manmade excavations.    


Dorsal view of Nereis verins – image from Dorgan et al. 2007 research

In truth, I suppose it may be a poor metaphor.  A photoelastic stress analysis test requires the objects of investigation to be immersed in materials exhibiting the property of birefringence.  Birefringence is the result of light waves splitting into two unequally reflected or transmitted waves by an optically anisotropic medium.  Anisotropic objects are those that have different physical properties in different directions – the strength of wood along its grain vs. against, for example.   And, with the night as clear and dry as it was, well, we were all fairly well fixed in temperate atmospheric homogeneity.

Optical anisotropy.  Hmmm.  Setting those two words side by side it almost becomes another small meditation on the different properties of seeing—a la Phil’s blog from Sucia, maybe?   And, if I’m lucky, an acceptable segue into posting an image or two of something discussed over the course of the evening but never actually seen?  

Also black and white…  at least they resemble the chromatic theme of this particular blog post:



Haminoea from FHL’s website

The “bubble snails” Melanochlamys and Haminoea  are said to occupy territory on False Bay in the spring and summer.   

Too bad we missed them this year!



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False Bay: On the hunt for polychaets

Stomping around in the tidal flats last Tuesday was great! I spent a little time following Meghan around (armed with Jeff Levinton’s personal corer!!!) captivated by her unbridled enthusiasm for annelids.

Searching the mud for worms

Searching the mud for worms

Also, while poking through the fine intertidal substrate we happened across some other curious invertebrates. One of the strangest and coolest was the “Ghost Shrimp” or Neotrypaea californiensis

Neotrypaea californiensis

Neotrypaea californiensis

One type of behavior I had never actually seen in the field before was a crab’s ability to bury itself entirely in the mud:

Halfway there!

Halfway there!

As someone mentioned in an earlier entry (no name!), Kate and I stumbled upon a Pacific Spiny Lumpsucker (Eumicrotremus orbis) living on a blade of eel grass in one of the deeper pools. It was a pretty cool find.

Eumicrotremus orbis

Eumicrotremus orbis

All in all it was a really fun trip! The tidal flats at False bay provide a pretty unique physical environment for a marine community to live, although often hazardous as was evident from the Great Blue Heron tracks in the mud! Finding polychaetes in the mud after listening to Kelly’s talk was pretty cool too! I was working that fracture force equation in my head as we went (Just Kidding!). It did add a different perspective to polychaete ecology than many of us probably had before.

-Sean Luis



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To make Phil jealous: Eumicrotremus orbis

Not going to lie: False bay was a hoot.  Though I spent more time chasing after safety buddy Mike through marginally-higher-than-boot-high waters (Mike was, in turn, chasing after ducks) than learning about polychaetes or stinky mud from the tag-along expert Kelly, I can still confidently say that I Did Science during our midnight lab last week.  The highlight of my night was, by far, stumbling upon Kate and Sean just after their discovery of potentially the cutest gilled critter I know: the Pacific Spiny Lumpsucker (Eumicrotremus orbis).  I won’t hesitate to call the Pacific Spiny Lumpsucker (which also has one of the silliest marine names, let’s be honest) my favorite-est little Lumpsucker that ever there was.  While living in Seattle, I spend four hours a week volunteering at the Seattle aquarium, and try every week to make the rounds to visit the corner tank of lumpsuckers, just to see their ridiculous-ness in action.  Too cute.

Anyway, I decided to do a bit of follow-up on Kate and Sean’s discovery, to figure out exactly what Mr/Miss Lumpsucker was doing there in those mudflats last Tuesday.  Turns out that Pacific Spiny Lumpsuckers (hereafter simply reffered to as Lumpsuckers), not being strong swimmers due to their cylindrical body shape and relatively tiny fins, spend most of their time camoflauged in eel grass or attached to rocky or muddy substrates.  For this purpose, they use their modified pelvic fins, which have the unique property of being able to stick onto hard surfaces.  Ours were free-swimming through the little clumps of eelgrass far out, near the surft.  They feed on sessile inverts–so ours must have been in lumpsucker heaven!

Thanks, Kate and Sean, for this fun find.

Pacific Spiny Lumpsucker cuteness in action, courtesy of Victoria High School


PS I tried to upload a picture of our little friend, but I received a fatal error (out of memory) instead…help?



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Diatoms n’ Cukes


I have to say that any chance to play in mud is a chance I will take, much to the despair of my mother. When I was a kid I had these little worm/millipede pets called “Dookies” (Phylum Dookiepodia described by me just now). They lived inside an old diaper wipe box and we never, ever figured out what dookies ate (despite many attempts at food preference experiments). Dookie smell, with its rich aroma and roasted bouquet, is still with me to this day, and whenever I smell it I’m 4 years old again, searching for Dookies in the back yard. Is it any surprise that I like going to mudflats to collect worms and things in gook?

Who knows, maybe Dookiepodia live there.

What I wasn’t expecting to see was the film of brown gook on the sand (actually filmy and gooky when you put your finger through it). They were diatoms! Probably pennate as they were benthic and these ones were associated with the sediment itself (rather than settling out of the water because of the tide going out). What I did notice was that the diatoms were patchy, with spots around little raised bumps in the sand that had no diatoms for about a centimeter and then the gooky diatom carpet was back in full force.

This confused me–what was going on here? Why was this happening? I learned this from Moose, who learned it from a grad student, who learned it from Megan at the labs–INTERSTITIAL BABY SEA CUKES!

Finally I used the bait pump and pulled up one of the little guys in the flesh. White, vaguely spikey, tuboid with a thick end and then a skinny end, probably not more than 3 cm, tops. It’s not one of the creatures where you see it and instantly think to yourself, “Yea, that’s a cuke, definitely.” More like, “Wow, that’s a messed up looking polychaete.” To be honest, it looked a little like a tiny, albino Arenicola.

It’s interesting to me that these little cucumbers appear so similar to worms living in the same habitat, but it makes sense because they’re dealing with the same environmental constraints.

All in all, despite the relative absence of Dookies (Rock 2009), still a great trip out.



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Gumboot reproduction and dispersal

For those that wonder what it looks like for and invertebrate to spray its gametes into the water, the following photo is of a gumboot chiton doing just that.  On this particular dive several years ago I saw several doing this so I wonder if sex was in the air (water) so to speak so they all knew to do it at once.What was interesting was that they reared up, curled so you could actually see an opening and then this milky substance started coming out.  I only saw it this one day but it was pretty interesting.




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the latest in a series of marine events

Thursday night we went down to False bay to check out some intertidal organisms.  Since low tide is in the middle of the night, we were departing at 10 and getting back around 1.  I was a little worried about being late because I went to play ball at the high school gym but a nice dude named Justin gave me a ride back to the labs just in time.  Passed by Meggan and Aubrie as I went up to get my flashlight and they had this pretty intense baseball-bat looking object that was apparently used for collecting samples.  Never got to see it in action though because I spent most of my time near Emily, Moose, Jessica, Kelly, Phil and Sarah.  Everybody else started ranging out, the flats were pretty extensive.  Flashlights were bobbing around and the moon was bright enough to cast some shadows.  When we got there Emily gave a talk about how we were mostly there to observe and then just turned us loose.  Jessica and I paired up and set off to see what we could find.  I think the first thing we found was a worm that made a U shaped burrow in the mud.  One end had the excrement mounded up in a neat little pile and the other end was an entrance  (we later learned in lecture that this design is optimal for flushing water through one end and out the other, creating a constant current as the tide surges in and out the burrow).  I can’t remember all the scientific names of the worms we found, but there seemed to be 3 main types.  One was described to us as a “voracious predator worm” and apparently eats all the other types of worms and some of the barnacles as well.  I see these predators but never get to see them in action.  Jessica also managed to find this massive crab that was just sleeping under the mud too.  She had a knack for finding things, I definitely would have just passed it on by.  We dug it up and washed it off with water to get a better look at it.  Luckily people more knowledgeable than us were there to warn us about the claws.  Apparently they’ve got enough force to take off your finger and I’m glad that somebody mentioned that because I definitely did not give it enough credit when we pulled it up.  I just don’t think about things like that at the time, but now that I do it makes sense.  Crab claws have been evolving for hundreds of thousands years to do exactly that, provide a defense against inquisitive digits that get too close.  Once we had finished examining him, we buried him with sand again to keep him warm/safe.  I wonder how he breathes under all that mud.

We headed back around 12:30 after the initial excitement had worn off and people began to feel the bite of the wind.  Jessica had a hole in her boot and had to deal with seawater in her foot all night, I don’t know how she did it. Trooper. I was plenty cold and I had two working boots.  Mental note for when I next have to wear my gloves: they lack insulation and should be paired with wool mittens for optimal comfort.  Thats all for now, cheers




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The False Bay Project

One calm moonlight night in early October an assembly of students from FHL went on an excursion to False Bay.P1000348cr A damp coolness hung in the air and mixed with the aroma of the receding low tide, a tide low enough to drain the entire bay and leave it eerily lifeless at first glance.




However, hovering just above the surface resided a multitude of species and just a few inches below the surface, hosted in all the nutrient rich sediment are worms.P1000301rP1000313r

My safety buddy Polo (I was Marco) equipped with a shovel periodically churned the sediment in pursuit of worms. On occasion we were lucky and found some nice specimens, other times we would seek out other groups and their findings.P1000332rP1000330rP1000322r

As we drifted like plankton from group to group and their findings our excitement grew for the expedition. We were able to walk almost all the way out to the surf. Flanking the drained bay, was a collection of rocks that held a nice variety of marine organisms in tidal pools.P1000325rP1000339rP1000344r


Through the evening we pondered all of the exciting sightings we had encountered. We also pondered the unknown that we hadn’t seen. We started to think of the “what if’s” that were out there. With all of this thinking we were getting spooked, our imagination started to run away with us. But perhaps it was the late night getting to us.


The excitement of the trip took a while to wear off, all the way back we talked. Even if we were cold and got a little wet from leaky boots, that didn’t seem to matter. This was an experience not to be repeated.


I hope everyone else had an adventure as well!




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False Bay

So I was a little nervous at first to waste so much precious study time outside on the mud flats :) but our False Bay field trip proved well worth it!

After finding my first lug worm happily burrowing its way into the dark sediment I instantly forgot about the giant hole in my boot and the rotten egg smell around me. I was amazed at how the worm’s paths remained beautifully intact as I pulled the sediment apart around it.  I hung close to Emily, Moose, and Kelly who were able identify all of the cool things we found! Among my favorite finds was the tiny sea cucumber and the Dungeness crab we found buried beneath the mud. Overall I was really impressed with all the creatures that were built to withstand such completely different environments; living under several feet of water and mud and at times also living above the sediment exposed to open air. I was also glad that I heard Kelly’s presentation before I went because I had an even greater respect for the worms I saw once I knew a little about them.

Again I did not have my camera with me for this adventure but I will try my best to get some pictures up for the next entry!

Thanks for listening!



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False Bay Lab by Phil Green

We descended on False Bay at 2030 on October 6, 2009 ready to harass the local worm population.


Instead of exploring on my own, I decided to follow the visiting expert, Kelly.  It’s always fun to see someone who has really found their niche and enjoys what they do.



Along with her, people dug:fhl-lab2b-2 Poked for lug worms


Pointed at/out worm mounds and droppings:  fhl-lab2b-9 fhl-lab2-13

And of course we saw some worms too:  fhl-lab2b

lugworm with finger for scale

lugworm with finger for scale

Now I’m not much of  a worm person so I’m glad Kelly and others enjoyed this.  We did see things that I thought were more interesting like one mollusck, an anenome growing on Zostera, plus my favorite, a Dungeness crab buried in the mud. fhl-lab2b-13 It took two shovels to dig this pugnacuos fella (yes we checked and you can tell without looking at their gonads) out.  Moose was nice enough to risk a couple fingers and flip him over.  fhl-lab2b-15 As we were returning our reluctant subject to its hiding place, his stalked eyes pleading not to be eaten, fhl-lab2b-16several questions came up.  Why bury in the mud?   (hiding from predators, thermoregulation)  What would happen if we left it out?  (die from hypothermia,  or just return to its hiding place) and so with tears in our eyes and sand in his we reburied him.  This raised another question, does putting wet sand on top of a crab mess up it gills?  All I could find on line was that as long as the gills were kept wet, they could process oxygen.  So it is my belief that this Dungeness crab have briefly thought it was going to die, but will live to see another day.  (Maybe even another MBQ class)

One final thought;  While I enjoyed following Kelly and Emily around, no matter who you are with you miss something.  My safety buddies, who I immediately lost track of, saw a Pacific spiny lumpsucker on their foray into the mud flats.  I am really jealous because this is such a great find and one that divers in the San Juans rarely see.



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