Rainbow Sea Rhinos!?

What do you call an animal that can saunter on four legs like a gorilla, gallop slowly like a horse or pulse like a striped bumblebee wearing a fluttering tutu? Why a cuttlefish of course! These little octopus-relatives are called flamboyant cuttlefish Metasepia pfefferia and they're star attractions at the Monterey Bay Aquarium's Tentacle exhibit. Native to northern Australia, they can very hard to find in the wilds but here I can visit them any day of the week.  Some of the aquarists call them rainbow rhinoceros!


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Monterey is one of the few aquariums raising and displaying such rare cuttlefish. Their valuable services reduce the need to harvest individuals from the wild.


Cuttlefish aren't very cuddly however. They get their name from the calcium rich porous cuttlebone inside their bodies. They can fill that bone with air or water to control their buoyancy in the water column. Recent studies show cuttlefish also sport tiny amounts of a deadly toxin. But what I find so magical are their breath-taking displays--like the passing cloud display this little fellow in the video is doing to attract a nearby mate. When they feel they are in danger they can also squirt out ink in the shape of a cuttlefish and jet away. That inky decoy is called a pseudomorph (SU- DOE-morf). Cool trick eh? Hard not to fall in love with these fantastic fellows. 


Jelly blooms and Turtles!

Hi from Monterey Bay where we’re in the midst of an amazing jelly bloom!! For weeks, our waters have been pulsing with thousands and thousands of Chrysora fuscescens, also known as black sea nettles. These watery predators are relatives of corals but instead of making reefs, they glide along through the water. Check out this amazing live jelly webcam from the Monterey Bay Aquarium!


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You might want to keep your distance though. Sea nettles can definitely sting you.  Don’t take it personally though. These jellies prefer to just pulse through the water devouring plankton instead of stinging humans. 

Speaking of humans, researchers at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute have devised clever ways to attach tags to these squishy beasties. Taggers use special glue, suction cups and/or zip ties around the jellies undersides. And they're discovering that jellies don't just passively drift with the current but can often choose where they want to go. Who knew! 


Sea nettles also provide homes to larval crabs as well as food for other famous marine megafauna. The largest ocean reptile, the leatherback sea turtle, Dermochelys coriacea, subsist only on jellies and can grow up to 2019 pounds (916 kg)!


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Jellies are a favorite food of the heaviest bony fish in the world, ocean sunfish Mola mola, too. Adult mola can reach 5000 pounds (2268 kg). Unfortunately, plastic bags often look a lot like jellies and they inadvertently trick the turtles and sunfish into eating something harmful.

 

Just another good reason to bring your own bags to the market! Let’s do everything we can to keep plastics out of the ocean.


Scuba Diving in Monterey!


Hi Jammers, This weekend I had one of my best days ever! I went SCUBA diving with Marina Hobson, a 12 year old newly certified diver who just adores the ocean. The chilly (13˚C, 55˚F) ocean waters couldn't cool her burning desire to learn about all things marine. We dove off Hopkins Marine Research Station in Monterey Bay right next to the famous Monterey Aquarium where Marina found a gorgeous decorator crab (Loxorhynchus crispatus).  This little fellow looks just like a floating piece of Sargassum seaweed. Decorator cabs are experts in camouflage. On the back of their shells and legs, are little Velcro like bristles called setae.  Onto those setae they hook all sorts of bits and pieces to their shells. And when they molt to grow, they can transfer their old decorations to their new shells. What good little recyclers! Can't wait for our next dive together!


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My talented colleague Joel Sartore, at National Geographic, has also captured a great photo of a Monterey decorator crab for PhotoArk. PhotoArk is an amazing multi-year effort to photographically document every species living in wildlife sanctuaries, inspire action through education and help save wildlife by supporting on-the-ground conservation.  



Joel is such a talent and PhotoArk is such an important project. Here's another of Joel's photos featuring a highly endangered leatherback sea turtle hatchling.  This kind of expert  exposure helps generate interest in and caring for our many endangered animals. Way to go Joel. These animals need all the help they can get.


Have you ever heard of glacial mice?

Have you ever heard of glacial mice? Well they aren't super slow whiskered mammals. In fact they are mossy covered rocks that scamper around in glaciers and provide a mobile home for all sorts of life inside of them. I recently visited the completely amazing Perlan Museum of Iceland Natural Wonders in Reykavik Iceland and learned about these unique forms of icy life.


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Glacial mice form when a small stone gathers moss on it, rolls around and gathers more and more moss till it's about the size of a baseball. That moss ( Racomitrium sp.) absorbs water and stays warmer than the air around it--acting like a little insulated ecosystem. While the glacier may be freezing cold (0˚C 32˚F) inside the glacial mouseconditions are more toasty--ranging anywhere from (2 to10 ˚C or 36 to 50˚F!) And that warmer environment plays host to as many as 200 tiny creatures from the super tough water bears called tardigrades), to nematode worms to bug-like animals called springtails (Collembola).  


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The glacial mice give all the tiny animals inside of them a free ride to exciting new places so they don't have to just be stuck in the ice. Iceland's not the only place with herds of glacial mice--you find them in glaciers all over North and South America and in the Himalaya.