It's about diving. And cats.

Me diving

Sunday, June 27, 2010

One Fish Two Fish Dead Fish Blue

On Sunday, Rob and I were diving at Lobos. We decided to head out to the Road to Twin Peaks for a little slug hunting, followed by some more slug hunting on the transects for the BAUE nudibranch project. Matt, John and Clinton were also there, with the same agenda, though we weren't actually diving together. Ted and Ben were also diving at Lobos, and to our amazement, they actually arrived at the same time we did (were behind us in line at the ranger station). After the usual chit-chat, we started moving gear down to the ramp. I wasn't in a huge hurry, since I knew the tide was coming in, and it was at an undesirable level when we first showed up. While Rob was doing something on the ramp (I really don't know what, but I assume it was related to putting gear on the float), he managed to slip on the ramp and his foot landed in a pothole, putting a little hole in his turbosole. Doh! That's like 3 weeks with the new suit before he managed that. After quite a bit of pouting, Kenn gave him some Aquaseal, and he did his best to patch it, not that there was really enough time for it to cure. Then while he was letting that cure, I was stuck with the task of moving our bottles to the float. Luckily Matt, Clinton, and John were also loading up their float, so Matt walked bottles down to me while I swam to the float. Then in exchange, I swam Clinton's camera out to his float. There was quite the little float farm by the ramp.

After a little more time had passed, and a little more water had crept up the ramp (and Rob's aquaseal got a little more dry), we got geared up and headed into the water. I noticed that when Rob went to put his doubles on, Kenn and Ted were falling all over themselves to give him a hand, and while I got into mine, I was totally ignored -- what the heck!?! Anyhoo, we headed over to the ramp, and as I was waddling down right about where the slope changes, Rob totally wiped out a few feet down the ramp from me. I considered the likelihood of me going down too if I rushed over to help him, so I called Ted and Kenn (who were fully suited up) over. Rob actually managed to get up without an assist, but I was so traumatized by watching him fall that I made Kenn walk me into the water. Hehe. After everyone was in the water, and confirmed that we still had all of our fingers and toes, we got our bottles and scooters and headed out on the surface. We dropped down just a bit to the northeast of the worm patch, and found ourselves atop the south end of middle reef. We headed over to the sand channel, and continued out that, in pretty un-stellar viz. Around 40 feet, the viz got even worse, when we became enveloped in a cloud of mysid shrimp, or whatever they are. When we got to Hole in the Wall, I was hoping the viz would imrpove, but then we came around the corner and it got really dark (due to the kelp cover), so now we were in bad viz and it was dark. Hmph. Well, I'm glad Rob was leading. The viz was crap all the way out to the Sisters. I was starting to doubt the likelihood of finding anything, when we found a structure that seemed like it could be the first sister. I groped my way up to the center and found the tell-tale hydrocoral. Phew. I was resetting my time and average depth on my gauge when Rob started giving me the rapid Okay. Yes, I'm okay, but I trying to reset my damn gauge. Then I realized he was rapid okaying something... a wolf eel, out in the open, on the structure. Woohoo. Rob sheepishly asked if he could take some pictures and of course I said yes.

Once he was done with the photo shoot, we headed out over the sister 2 and then out along the road. Once past the Sisters, the viz opened up to an acceptable level. Rob has this strange inability to recognize any of the structures on the road, so at some point he asked if I wanted to stop or keep going. I said let's keep going a little bit, since I had a spot in mind. He told me to take over leading and like 1 minute later, we found a nice spot to kick around on. I must admit, it didn't seem like that good of a slug-dive at the time, though at the end of it all when I go back over what I did find, it was pretty productive. There were, of course, the usual Spanish shawls and Dendronotus albus (there have been a lot of those lately). There were also a bunch of Diaphorodoris (again common these days). Eventually we ended up in a spot with 4 Doriopsilla spaldingi within about 10 feet of each other. I was pretty excited, but when I showed one to Rob, he was uninterested (what the heck?). There was also a Hopkin's rose right next to one of them, and Rob wouldn't come and take a look because he thought I was pointing out the Doriopsilla. I finally managed to get him to come over and look, and he was pretty interested in that. While he was shooting it, I found two more, though neither was as photogenic as the first one. I was getting a bit chilly, so I called the dive a couple minutes early. As we were scootering in, about a minute or two later, I saw a ratfish meandering along a pinnacle. No way! I signaled Rob in a rather enthusiastic manner and showed it to him. He was excited and asked if we could possibly stop so he could take some pictures. Of course! Then I watched Rob engage in some pretty amusing contortions to get some pics of the ratfish. Well worth it, I think.

From there, we headed further down the road and then eventually cut over toward Beto's Reef. I like to make it all the way back to the Sisters before heading over there, but Rob likes to cut the corner and head straight there. So that's what we did. We eventually made it there, right about where the wolf eel lives, though we didn't stop to say hello. Instead, we headed straight down the reef and over to Sea Mount. A bit south of that, we stopped to switch onto our deco bottles. After switching, I had a little trouble unclipping my scooter from my chest D-ring, because my fingers were absolutely frozen! I had to ask Rob to unclip it for me. Not my proudest moment. From there, we continued in until we hit a hard bottom of 70', on the big rock north of HitW, and hung out there for a few minutes. Then we went across the sand channel and spent 60' at transect 1, where Rob found a tiny Limacia in a crack. Then we motored in to 50', and spent the time looking in another familiar crack on Middle Reef. At 40', we visited the warbonnet, and 30', we visited the wolf eels. Man that guy has a big head. The viz had definitely improved on middle reef since we went out (ahh, high tide), but it was getting worse as we got further south. As we approached the worm patch, we agreed to continue in further. We were scootering along pretty slowly within arms reach of each other because of the bad viz. Every we split around a kelp stalk, I was relieved when I came out on the other side and Rob was still there :) Eventually we found a hard bottom at 20' and decided to repose there. I made an exaggerated attempt to lay on the sand, which Rob was not pleased about (and I found not particularly comfortable). After killing some time there, we continued in. I had asked Rob at 20 feet if he wanted to shoot a bag (since there was some boat traffic) or scoot in. He said he wanted to scoot in directly to the float, but as we continued in, the viz got so bad we abandoned that plan and shot a bag from 10 feet. It takes a lot of gas to shoot a bag from 10 feet :) We came up about 30 feet from our float. The tide had come in nicely for an easy walk up the ramp.

After a little lunch and some bragging about our ratfish encounter, we headed back in for a second, slug-surveying dive. Rob confessed that he was jealous that I usually survey while he takes pictures, so today we split up the surveying and each took a transect. So Rob didn't bring his camera, even though I knew he would live to regret it if he didn't :) I led this dive, not that it required much leadership to make it to the two shallow transects on Middle Reef. I was counting transect 5, and we went there first. It took a couple of passes to find the transect... I was sure we were on it, but couldn't find the hole in the reef, so I headed north, then realized I'd gone too far and came back to where we started; oh, there's the hole. All of the kelp there made it hard to get my bearings. Once there, I started surveying and at first was feeling pretty disappointed with what I saw (which was next to nothing), but then I found a much more productive area and before you know it there were slugs everywhere. I basically saw a few of "everything" (that one would typically see on Middle Reef) plus a Hilton's and a... Cuthona divae! I was very excited by that find, since I don't think I've ever seen one on a transect (and for that matter, don't think I've ever seen one on Middle Reef at all). For the first 10 minutes or so I didn't see any Rostangas, which was surprising, but in the end I found a few.

From there, we headed to transect 4. Just as we were turning the corner to get to the transect, Rob's scooter died. So lame -- why can't Rob show up prepared for the dive? Once we got there, I piddled around near the bottom for a few minutes and then went into the little channel between the west and east side of middle reef to look there. It's usually pretty fertile Limacia territory, though I didn't see any today. Eventually I meandered to the top of the right side of the transect and was looking through the kelp, since there are sometimes interesting slug finds there. I was not disappointed, as I found a tiny orange Triopha maculata up there. Yay! I showed it to Rob, and he was pretty excited too. I also found an Aldisa sanguinea (in the red-orange color, with those big brown circles) up there. But the coolest find of all was near the end when Rob called me over to show me two slugs. As I swam over, I saw a yellow dorid, and thought "why are you showing me a Doriopsilla?" then when I got closer I realized they weren't that at all. The slugs were almost translucent yellow, with a very bulbous-shaped, curled up gill plume. They were both on that burgundy salad kelp, and one had very distinct burgundy dots on the tips of its rhinophores and some of the tubercles on its back. I thought the translucent aspect of it had a really familiar look (like from an ID photo) but had no idea what it was. Rob was definitely regretting not bringing his camera. Once we were finished, I asked Rob if he wanted me to tow him, so he said okay and got into towing position. It seemed like we were barely moving and then after about 30 seconds, my scooter started making the tell-tale putt-putt noise of near death. So I shook Rob off and told him my scooter was dead, and we kicked in from there.

After a chat with Clinton and some internet research, we believe the two slugs were Hallaxa chani. Apparently the "goblet-shaped" gill plume is characteristic of Hallaxa.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Two Bays for the Price of One

Okay, I totally stole that line from Clinton. I hope he doesn't have it trademarked or anything. Saturday was the BAUE recreational boat. There were a lot of doom and gloom predictions about the weather and how we wouldn't make it to Carmel and would have to just hope to find some shelter somewhere in the bay. As we headed out, it was definitely a little choppy even in the bay. As we came up to Aumentos, there was a dramatic pause, at which point Jim went up to the wheelhouse to talk to Greg. Apparently the Silver Prince (which was doing a so-called "Big Sur" trip) had made it around to Carmel. Now, I'm not sure if the decision was made to continue on because they had a favorable report, or if it was more that if they made it around we were going to make it around, but in any case, we kept on going. I didn't think it was a particularly horrible trip, though there was the occasion moment where I thought the boat was about to tip over. Melissa assured me that we were probably fine as long as the rails weren't in the water. Even though the conditions didn't seem too horrible, I felt surprisingly queasy. But I managed to hold down my breakfast.

We pulled up to East Pinnacle and before long we hopped in the water. I was diving with Jim and Erik. Jim was leading, since I mentioned my inability to navigate at the Pinnacles. As soon as we got down the line, Erik told me that one of my backup lights was on; that's what I get for testing them before the Fundies dives last weekend (err, I mean, I check them before every dive). The viz was quite good, which was a pleasant surprise. People who had been diving Lobos in the past few days had been reporting not very good viz, but I would estimate it was at least 50 feet. Of course, that didn't stop me from spending the dive with my face buried in the reef, looking at slugs. It was a really sluggy dive! I noticed a lot of those hydroids on the kelp that look like Corambes (okay, maybe Corambes look like the hydroids, not the other way around). So of course I had to mount a search for Corambes. After looking at a few kelp leaves carefully, and finding nothing, I sort of lost interest. Then a couple minutes later, I swam over a kelp leaf that was at just the right position for me to see a Corambe in profile -- I saw it's rhinophores sticking up and got quite excited. I made Jim and Erik come over and take a look. I am sure they were both like WTF? I have no idea if Erik is interested in slugs in the least :P Then a minute later I found a hydroid and showed it to Erik so he could see how they looked so similar.

My other really exciting slug find for the dive was a little white slug also on a kelp leaf that I swam over. When I first swam over it, it looked totally foreign to me... it had bright white cerata that were frilly yet bulbous... kind of like cauliflower. Once I got a bit closer I saw that they weren't actually bulbous but were branched, like a Dendronotus. In the process of trying to show it to Erik, I knocked it off of the kelp leaf :( and then while trying to shepherd it back to the kelp it ended up on my finger! Well, since it was there, I might as well give it a thorough inspection. It had speckles on its body that I would describe as orange. I showed it to Jim too, who seemed to appreciate it despite his usual disdain for small slugs. Eventually I let it fall back into a field of kelp -- I hope it found a nice leaf to settle on. My best guess was that it was a Dendronotus frondosus, based on its size, shape, etc. though the color didn't match what I expected. After talking to Clinton and scouring the internet, apparently there is quite a lot of variation in the coloration.

Eventually we came back to the anchor line (phew... good thing Jim can navigate because I was totally oblivious with all of my nudi-peeping antics). We hung out there for another 10 minutes or so before thumbing the dive. It was a bit surgy, but there were lots of slugs to look at. I found two Cuthona divaes, and tons of trilineatas. When I saw the first Cuthona, it was totally in the kelp salad, getting blown around in the surge; yet I made Erik claw his way through the kelp salad to see it, hehehe. Of course the next one I found was totally out in the open and easy to spot :P All in all, it was a great dive. I was thrilled with all of the slug sitings, and everyone else was thrilled with the good viz! We decided to head back to Monterey bay for dive 2. Clinton remarked that he didn't know why we were heading back, as the ride back wasn't even going to be rough; I told him I thought that was the idea. Once we got into the bay, there was a poll about where to go, and a few of us mentioned Shale Island. After all of the slug action on the first dive, I was feeling optimistic about the shale.

Clinton and I buddied up for the second dive, which was perfect for my slug hunting goals. We actually were initially planning to caravan with Jim and Erik, but once we got down the line, we saw how laughable that was. So we parted ways and it was just Clinton and me. When we had pulled up to the site, there were already two boats on it, so we anchored one ridge over from the island. Jim gave us a heading to the island but suggested we could just find a ledge we liked and dive whatever. He also said that if we didn't make it back to the anchor, shooting a back and getting a pickup would be no problem. When we first got down the line, we were in some rubbly, not very interesting or distinct ledges. We wandered along them until we found a real ledge and then followed that. When we first found it, I wondered if it was Shale Island, but I didn't really know. In any case, it was similar. The shale was totally covered with those barnacles; in fact when you look down at it, it has almost a furry appearance.

We found some cool slugs, but nothing super unusual. First, I found a little guy on a hydroid, which I almost thought was just a piece of tan and white sea gunk except it was just so symmetric. So I pointed it out to Clinton, hoping he wouldn't look at me like I was crazy for pointing out a piece of sea gunk to him. Happy squeals came from his reg, and he started shooting. After reviewing the pictures, he has officially pronounced it a "Dendronotus frondosus?" :P Clinton showed me a giant Aegires, and after that I kept seeing them all over the place, and they were all unusually big (and very speckled). The last time I was at Shale Island with Lynne and Rob, I saw a few of them in normal size... I guess they have been eating well since then! I also saw several Acanthadoris hudsoni -- I was looking for A. lutea but did not see any (though Clinton did :( ). I also found a Cadlina-looking slug but it looked almost peach-colored to me, with bright gold flecks, so Clinton got some shots of it; probably a Cadlina modesta. My final find was a tiny little octopus hanging his head out of a hole (the mythical fringehead octopus) and changing colors. Very cute, but he pulled his head into the hole as soon as I pointed him out to Clinton.

At some point during the dive, I signaled to Clinton that we should turn. He gave me the "I have no idea where the anchor is" look, so I asked if we should just keep going and shoot a bag. So that's what we did. Of course I did the honors of shooting the bag, since Clinton has a mysterious camera-related condition that prevents him from shooting the bag :P We came up a bit away from the boat, but luckily the wind was pushing us toward the boat, so by the time the anchor was pulled, we had made our way to the gaggle of other divers who had come up on bags (but much closer to the boat). Short ride back to k-dock, followed by lunch at Turtle Bay. We ran into Matt, Leah, and Greg leaving as we arrived; they reported not very good viz at the Metridium Field.

Thanks to Clinton for the pictures in this post! All of the day's pictures are here.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Floating with the Jellies

On Saturday the Kitties were on the Escapade for the latest BAUE tech boat. Amazingly, the weather was actually kind of cooperative and we made it down to Yankee Point. It wasn't super flat, but tolerable. Other than a brief stop to say hello to a humpback (way) off of Point Lobos, it was a pretty speedy trip down. Plan A was the Three Nixies/Dos Gatos area, so we ended up at the Nixies. I have never been to the south (deeper) two nixies, well not intentionally, though I have gotten a little "lost" enough in that area that maybe I have. But I have definitely been to the shallowest one, under the name "the Volcano". I was leading the dive (ugh). Luckily I have looked at the bathymetry of the area enough (planning dives that didn't materialize due to weather) that I had some idea of what it looks like.

We dropped down on the ridge between the volcano and Dos Gatos, and I headed southwest to what I thought was the middle nixie. We swung around to the south of that, and clipped off our scooters and hung out there for a bit. Rob was shooting macro. I was looking for little critters, and other than a couple of juvenile rockfish and Dotos, I really wasn't finding much of interest. Oh well. After kicking around to the west side of the pinnacle, we eventually decided to head to shallower ground. We circled around the pinnacle and headed back north via the ridge, and then took a left turn to find the volcano. When I got to a structure, it was way too deep for the volcano and at this point I realized that the first pinnacle we were on was actually the south-most pinnacle. Aha. So we headed north and found the volcano. There were a couple of Scrippsia pacifica in the water nearby, and Rob attempted to get some pictures. I loitered nearby on the pinnacle while he did that. Around then I moved my head around and must have unseated my neck seal a little, as I felt cold water gushing in. Eek!

Shortly after that, we thumbed the dive. We put up a bag and headed up. At the 70 foot stop, cold water started gushing into my suit again and I decided I wasn't going to move my head any more than necessary for the rest of the dive :) As we ascended, we encountered a variety of jellyfish, until at about 40 feet we were drifting in a sea of jellies. All sorts of different kinds of jellies that I can't identify, plus a few that I could (the occasional nettle, Scrippsia pacifica, and lots of sea gooseberries!). The coolest critters were a couple of little jellies with tiny crabs on their bells. At last, Rob was shooting macro when we had a good jelly drift. We even decided to extend a couple of our stops for some more jelly time. When we got to 20 feet, there was a quick negotiation for how much deco to do there. Kevin suggested 12 minutes, and I came back with 15. Rob said he thought it was the first time ever that I wanted to do more deco than someone else :P (Rob and Kevin are generally big deco weenies, though Kevin claims he suggested 12 minutes because earlier I told him I was freezing due to my leaking neck seal.) But the freezingness was definitely worth it for the fun with jellies!

I had decided either before or during the dive that I would climb the ladder back onto the boat with my O2 bottle, since it is good practice. I neglected to mention this to Kevin or Rob, though, so apparently one or both of them were alarmed when I made a beeline for the ladder with a bottle still on (and confused Joakim, who was grabbing gear from the swim step, and was sure I wouldn't want to pass up my scooter when I still had bottles so he practically refused to take it :P). No, the scooter was just annoying me as it tangled itself in the current line. When I got back on the boat and unzipped my suit, I found that my vest was more or less soaked, and the top of my undergarment was wet, but not horribly so. I decided I would just have to abandon the vest for dive 2, and just see how well the top of my undergarment would dry in the sun. The wind had kicked up while we were in the water, but it wasn't too bad. We headed north and Jim asked where to for the second dive. Rob said, joking, how about Locals Ledge (or is it Local's Ledge? I hope the dive-site-name police don't arrest me). Jim said he thought the direction of the wind might actually allow that. We were shocked.

As we pulled up there, I warned the boys that I was still pretty wet so it would probably be a short dive. Rob was clearly nonplussed -- short dive, Locals Ledge? Then I overhead Matt and John talking about doing a short dive, so I invited myself along. In the end, Matt stayed on the boat, so it was just me and John. Once anchored, we stayed out of the way while everyone else geared up. Then we took our time getting ready and into the water. As we got geared up, some pretty big rollers came through, jostling the boat from side to side. Michael started making dire predictions about how he expected conditions to deteriorate while we were in the water, and they would end up having to chase at least one team into the rocks. Hmm. I know he was just saying these things for our benefit; well, I think so anyway. Our plan was pretty much to go in, stay around the anchor and come up when we got cold/bored/whatever.

We headed down the line to find crazy bad surge and green, chunky viz. It wasn't the Locals Ledge I know. We headed down the side of the ledge and just sort of swam out and back along it. Despite the crazy bad surge, for some reason we were inspired to look for teeny tiny slugs. It's been a while since I've been 'branching with John, but it was a lot of fun! Not a lot of people will look at some < 1 cm long slug in 8 foot surge. We saw a variety of tiny slugs, including lots of trilineatas and some small unidentifiable-without-magnification slug (our best guess -- Catriona columbiana). That was exciting! When we got to the west end, there were tons of Dendronotus albus's fluttering in the breeze. We turned back and when we got back to the anchor line, I decided I'd had enough, and thumbed it, about 20 minutes into the dive :) John assures me that PADI says you can log a dive as long as it lasts at least 20 minutes, so there, I did a dive. I couldn't sit one out at Locals Ledge, in case the conditions were epic, which they most certainly were not. On the way up, we did a little stop at 20 feet, which was funny, because right as we headed up to 10 feet, a big swell must have come through because I got sucked off of the pinnacle and down like 8 feet. Eek. After that I decided a 10 foot stop was not called for :) I was just relieved to be back on the boat.