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Saturday, January 19, 2013

Underwater Parks Day at Lobos

On Saturday, we participated in the Underwater Parks Day at Point Lobos, an event to celebrate the MPAs in Central California.  The event included a marine life display at Whaler's Cove, where visitors could play with some of our local critters.  We collected the critters in the morning, and after an hour or two on display, they were returned to the water.  I partnered up with Mykle and Ian.  It was a great day for the event -- warm and sunny, and nice flat seas.  The water was insanely flat on the surface, though there was some surge at depth -- there was a small, very long period swell.  But the surge was still not much, and the entry was insanely still.

Mykle is pretty well-versed in collecting specimens (since he is a pro), so I figured we'd have a good time, and come back with some really good critters.  And indeed, I was not disappointed.  I was primarily in charge of the nudibranch collection.  The viz was excellent in the cove.  We could have dropped right at the ramp to swim out, but instead we swam out on the surface about halfway to the mouth of the cove, and then we dropped and swam over to the rocky area along the parking lot.  We found a variety of snails, crabs, sea stars, and even some small fish around there.  I found a bunch of nudibranchs, but nothing particularly awesome -- nearly all dorids, and all rather small and monochromatic.  Eventually I suggested that we swim a bit further to the north.  I knew that if we made it to the southern tip of middle reef, there were be a bit more variety.  I was not disappointed, with some larger Tritonia festiva, plus a few Triopha catalinae and Doris sandiegensis.  I wanted to find a big slug, like a nice big Doris odhneri, but that was not to be.  I did find one larger Peltodoris though.  We eventually turned it on time, since we were supposed to meet back in the parking lot at some specified time.

I was a bit disappointed by the lack aeolids in my bag.  But on the swim in, I remembered that the rock out in the middle of the cove, just south of the ramp, is a Hilton's haven.  And with the really flat conditions, it seemed like a great option.  So once we got back to the ramp, I convinced Ian to head over there with me (Mykle headed up to the parking lot, with some of our finds).  I wanted to swim on the surface, because I had no confidence that I could actually swim in a straight line and find it underwater.  So Ian said he'd lead, and he found it without a problem :P  Basically right when I got there, I found one Hilton's.  I turned to Ian, to get the bag from him, and when I turned back, I couldn't find it.  Not to worry, I saw another one.  Then I found the original one.  The plan was to setup three separate stations, and I wanted them each to have at least one aeolid, so I really wanted a third.  But after looking for a few minutes, I was about to give up.  Then I found one floating in the water column, curled up.  Quelle chance!  So we then headed back to the ramp and submitted our finds to the petting stations.

I setup two little nudibranch tanks at the station where I spent most of the time.  We ended up with two Hilton's and a Hermissenda at my station, plus several different kinds of dorids.  One of the Hilton's was quite small, and ended up spending a lot of his time perched on the arm of a little crab.  It was pretty cute.  The marine life stations were quite a hit, so much so that we ended up keeping them open a little longer than originally planned.  I talked to a bunch of different people, mostly about nudibranchs, since I don't know much about anything else :P  And I managed to convince some of the kids to pet the slugs.  When it was time to shut down the marine stations, we returned all of the critters back to the water.

The Monterey Herald covered the event, with an article as well as a supplemental slideshow which even includes a pic of the Hilton's on a crab :)

As I was getting out of my suit, Beto stopped me and said that they were going back in the water to play with the monkey-face eels at the bottom of the ramp.  It's been ages since I've seen them, but Beto found one on the first dive.  So we got back in, and spent 15 minutes or so just playing around in 3 feet right at the ramp.  We ended up finding three different muppets, err, monkey-faces, all pretty large.  One of them was quite friendly and we had an extended playtime with him.  And when we were finished with the dive, we just had to stand up.

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