Exercise High Fading Out

For the first time in 4 weeks, I finally ate breakfast at the cafeteria. Normally, that 7:30am rise and shine life isn’t for me. However, with only one week left on the island, I had to fit in all the fun I can get out of each day. So, I decided to join the Sunrise Club to watch the glorious sun rise over the majestic ocean. Somehow, I managed to make myself wake up at 5am to hike up Megastrea Mountain. Satthea, Collin, Kirsten, Dovi and I reached the summit only to have another peak obstruct my view of the sun rising from the ocean. Although it I didn’t get to see the view I wanted, it was still beautiful and for first time in 4 weeks I was awake early enough to eat breakfast!


Behold: Megastrea Mountain


Successfully completed my initiation into the Sunrise Club

In the afternoon, Lexey and I finished our Cat Harbor quadrats. WHOOHOO! We finished just in time, too because our quadrat broke on the last throw. Our sense of achievement was spoiled by our inability to find the two iButtons that we placed at the site two weeks ago, even though we had a GPS to aid us. Dangit I was looking forward to whipping out my hammer and screwdriver to retrieve them. Now all that’s left is our site at Little Harbor and a lot of statistical analysis. We have a lot of data to work with and that can be good because it allows us to test for lots of patterns and trends. It is also overwhelming because it is difficult to know where to start, learn what tests to use, and learn the R code to make it happen.


Brittle Stardom

This week, Kirsten and I dedicated all of our time to testing our brittle stars for their last sets of trials. As of yesterday, the 432nd and last trial was ran. As we begin to analyze the data further, we are sure to come up with some useful and interesting conclusions.

A brittle star, wounded from intense experimentation but in a celebratory pose from a job well done.

A brittle star, wounded from intense experimentation but in a celebratory pose from a job well done.

Throughout trials, Kirsten and I completed nine experiments. To begin, we tested simple variables such as Light versus Dark environment, Light versus Shade, and Shade versus Dark. Interestingly, we noticed that the brittle stars in general had no preference between light and shade. Therefore, we posed a new question: Do the brittle stars hide under rocks for the darkness or simply for contact?

This led us to our next experiment: the brittle stars were tested to see if they preferred a dark environment or a rock in full sunlight. We extended this experiment and tested the same question at night using just overhead red wavelength light. For that, we concluded that the stars definitely preferred darkness rather than contact.

A brittle star, resting at night on top of one of their beloved rocks.

A brittle star, resting at night on top of one of their beloved rocks.

Our final set of five experiments tested wavelengths of light rather than purely intensity of light such as in the other experiments. We used primary color filters (red, blue, and yellow) for cross-comparison of colors for the first three experiments. After concluding that red was the most preferred color and blue was the least, we decided, for our last two experiments, to compare Dark versus Red and Blue versus Light. The data gathered from these two experiments was certainly the most interesting, but for now it remains a mystery what kind of conclusions will be drawn until data analysis is completed.

Another brittle star, exhausted after a long day of wavelength testing.

Another brittle star, exhausted after a long day of wavelength testing.

Finally finishing our lab trials, we came to appreciate how unique and interesting the brittle stars are. After 432 trials, it will be interesting to see what conclusions can be drawn in the near future.

Detailed lower structure of a brittle star.

Detailed lower structure of a brittle star.

Tune in again next week for the last update before CatShore moved from the land of brittle stardom back to the land of the stars.

Rolling in the shallow

We’ve been having some difficulties this week finding good sites for our urchin surveying on SCUBA. In order for us to compare sites in different areas, they must be as similar to each other as possible. Satthea and I decided to use sites with a solid rocky reef or bouldery substrate, areas where we should find urchins if they’re there. We also want to conduct each survey at the same depth, and we selected 10 meters for the deep transects. This week I was focusing on the invertebrate-protected zone west of Lion’s Head, but this area is relatively shallow. A lot of the rocky areas were only under about 5 meters of water, giving way to sand flats and seagrass meadows below.

After a bit of reconnaissance, Dawn and I finally found three more separate rocky sites deep enough to satisfy our criteria.


Dawn swims through the surviving Macrocystis


A grumpy garibaldi (Hypsypops rubicundus) fends off the paparazzi


A school of opaleye (Girella nigricans) swarms a señorita (Oxyjulis californica). Looks like they want to be cleaned. Might have read something about that…


A juvenile sheephead (Semicossyphus pulcher), one of our target species on the transect. Juveniles are bright orange with black spots, very distinct from the peach-colored females and black-headed males. Yes, it’s there — click on the picture to enlarge.

Meanwhile in our living room… Satthea was hard at work crunching the data from our snorkeling transects in R. Using an analysis of variance (ANOVA), we are able to report a significant difference in urchin density across the three levels of protection, with the density in the unprotected areas the highest by far. And there was much rejoicing! Using a linear regression, we also can report that urchin density does not correlate with percent cover of the southern sea palm (Eisenia arborea), one of their known food items, which suggests that all our sites are comparable in this way. I also ran the data for lobster and sheephead densities, but these were very low across the three levels of protection and did not vary significantly.

On a fun side adventure, Dawn and I did some search and recovery. Some visiting high schoolers had capsized their kayak and lost a pair of glasses, so we dove just a few meters down to comb the area for them. The area was pretty rocky with lots of dark crevices and seaweed clumps, so I was beginning to think there was no way we’d find them. Just then, I turned my head and there they were, perched on top of a rock! Since it took us less than half an hour, we swam around Habitat Reef for a while before heading in.

Alas, my good ocean karma would not last me the week. Kelly and I wanted to grab a few more sea hares for our final trial, but today the wind really kicked up. Our collection site was totally stirred up, and visibility underwater was less than a foot. Since I didn’t bring my weights, Dovi had to step on my back to hold me underwater so I could get close enough to the bottom to see anything. We came back in the afternoon to try again, and it was clearer, but there were not slugs to be found. It looks like we’ll have to proceed with the seven sea hares we already collected.

— Colin

Dancing with the Brittle Stars

unnamed 230

baby brittle star!

This past week has been very eventful as we have been finishing up our lab experiments in attempting to identify wavelength and intensity preference in brittle stars. In our most recent experiment, we compared the least preferred color (blue) between combinations of red vs. yellow, red vs. blue, and yellow vs. blue, to light with no color. We wanted to see if there would be any preference or if they can distinguish between blue and plain light, and our results pointed to the brittle stars having no preference between the two. This was surprising given that we assumed that they would go to the darker area caused by the blue filter, but there appears to be no preference.


Satthea and I kayaking back from Cherry Cove!

DSCF0414This past week, once we organized our data, I also took a trip to Cherry Cove and Fourth of July Cove to check out the rock layout to see if either would be a good fit to survey for our field experiment. Cherry Cove proved to be our best option, not completely ideal, but had a decent distribution of rocks within our size limit, but Fourth of July Cove wasn’t a good fit for what we are looking for due to rock distribution. So we need to check out other possible sites so we can expand on our data outside of Isthmus Cove and try to do transects at Cherry Cove and possibly Little Harbor if possible at a later time.


unnamed 228

view from our “Megastraea Mountain” hike

unnamed 229

Dr Gordon’s look of surprise for his birthday!

Invasion of the Shell-Snatchers!

Yet another week has come and went on the lovely Santa Catalina Island, and now only one week remains of our 5 week journey! This week was a cloudy one, which worked out just fine for Kim and I because our goal was to finish up our lab trials as best we could in order to return to the field for our final week.  In lab, we did about ten trials per day testing hermit crab preference of shell weight.  We presented a shell-less hermit crab with the option of 4 shells of the same species, but of different weights. We tested this in three different shell groups: Megastrea, Tegula and Whelk (made up of mostly Kelletia and Ceratostoma and a few Maxwellia).


This Pagurus selected the lightest of the 4 shells

In the middle of one of our trials a small light pink object began appearing out of one of the shells.  At first I thought it could be a hermit crab leg (wouldn’t be the first time!) but once we saw it was definitely moving, we determined it was a worm… apparently shells make a good home for more than just snails and hermit crabs!


This worm wasn’t the only thing that had snatched a shell… As a fun educational (!) break Kim and I took a boat ride past Lions Head with Colin, Satthea, and Dawn to check out the area and do some snorkeling.  With only a week left its about time to be thinking of collecting some souvenirs to bring back to the mainland and when I came across a beautiful, seemingly empty, large Megastrea undosa shell I snagged it.  Little did I know, a larger hermit crab had snatched this shell too!


I found the poor thing lying underneath the shell the following day (I was just a liiiitle startled), probably extremely hot and dry after a day without being in any water 😦 We attempted to salvage it by placing it in our tank with the shell and some food, hoping that eventually it will re-inhabit the shell, however this is yet to be observed… that will teach me to remove things from the natural environment!


The guilt is consuming me… fingers crossed for a speedy recovery!

While we are attempting to fiddle with R Studio, hoping that it will tell us our data is significant, we are also gearing up to return to the field next week to retrieve iButtons and survey quadrats in Little Harbor.  We hope we will be able to collect all the data we are planning to by the end of next week as well as make the most of our last few days on the island!


New Lab Nurs-hare-y

Isthmus Cove at Sunset

Isthmus Cove at Sunset

This week, Colin and I have started another set of trials with 18 new sea hares (19 if you count the baby sea hare that somehow ended up in the tank too!). With 12 experimental animals, we’ve squirted our specimens 240 times in the last two days. The sea hares in the warmer tanks (20 and 25°C) have, again, released multiple eggs. One sea hare released eggs two days in a row! On the other hand, animals in the 15°C water don’t seem as fertile in the chilling water. We are seeing similar results as last week as well. Animals in warmer temperatures have shorter defense responses and are not as phased by the squirt as animals in the 15°C water.

On day 1 of trials, one sea decided it was “small” enough to fit through one of the small holes in the plastic egg-crate… but unfortunately it was quite a big bigger than it thought. It got stuck after three-fourths of it’s body was already through the hole. For the most part, sea hares are quite flexible and can fit through very very small spaces since the only “hard” part of their body is a small internal shell. However, if the internal shell does get stuck in the space, the sea can no longer move and has a high chance of dying. In our circumstance, we were able to break pieces of the egg-crate to release the sea hare from the brink of death. He did ink quite a bit, so we had to siphon out the contaminated water and place him in another tank to recover, removing him from the experiment.

Overall, we are on our way to finishing up with this batch of sea hares and are going to start more next week. We are out collecting more sea hares every chance we get. There have actually been enough in Isthmus Cove (our original take site) to continue our studies.

The one that got away

The one that got away

We must’ve of collected a few baby sea hares when we brought back some algae for our sea hares to nibble on —or should I say, feast on. Everyday, someone in the group reports that they found another in the algae holding tanks.

It is hare-y small!

It is hare-y small!

In the field, Noor and I have had to wait until this upcoming week to finish up our field work because the low tides have been at unworkable hours (i.e. too much darkness) or not low enough for us to be able to use our entire nine meter transect. This week has been focused on setting up our data for the statistical analysis program R. We wrote up our methods section for our final paper and have been working out the kinks of entering our data into R. Working with R, and running analysis on our data will be quite the adventure, but one I think Noor and I can handle.

Can’t believe we only have one week left, I still have to hike the unofficially named “Megastrea Mountain”!


Urchins and lobsters and seals? Oh, my!


These guys are hard to spot sometimes

Today marked the very last snorkeling transect Colin and I had left to complete (cue sad music because this means our time at Catalina is coming to an end.) Colin, Dawn and I got on the RV Loper bright and early and made our way to Lion’s head (a rock that actually looks somewhat like a Lion’s head) which marks the beginning of an invertebrate protected zone. After anchoring the boat, we jumped in, ready to finish our last two snorkeling transects. Colin and I once again battled a little bit of surge as we looked under cracks and crevices for urchins and lobsters as well as recording the algae based on point contact every meter along our transect. Surprisingly, we saw very few urchins today, which I did not necessarily expect. Since we were snorkeling in an invertebrate protected area, I thought that the urchins would be more abundant than in the unprotected areas, but it turns out that was not what we found. But I guess we will have to wait and see what the statistics tells us.


Too cute!


I couldn’t get a photo fast enough…but they’re there!

The story does not end here for today. As Colin and I made our way to the second site of the day, we were approached by a curious little (or maybe not so little) harbor seal and we could not resist taking a few photos of the little guy. After spending some time watching our seal friend swim around, we went on to complete our last transect of the day. We were even joined by a few more seals playing nearby.

With our precious data strapped to us and all of our equipment in hand, we jumped back onto the boat and rode off back to Wrigley, just in time for lunch. Just a few more SCUBA transects to complete, then we’ll be ready to start analyzing our data. It is difficult to wrap my mind around the fact that we’re almost done with the data collection phase of this project. It seems like it really was not that long ago when we first stepped onto the island. All cheesiness aside, I actually am a little excited to see what our data will show.

Until next time


The tides stop for no one.

This week has been so incredibly busy in the field! The tides stop for no one, so Kelly and I have been hustling to take advantage of the great low tides we’ve been having this week. So far we have fully surveyed Isthmus Cove, Two Harbors Campground, the East and West sides of Catalina Harbor, the North- and South-facing sides of the Fourth of July Cove, as well as the South-facing side of Cherry Cove. Though the Two Harbors Campground is still in the lead for the greatest density of sea anemones, it turns out that the South-facing side of Cherry Cove that we surveyed yesterday is a close second! Unfortunately, it took much longer than we had anticipated to survey our seven transects for that area, so we were unable to also survey the North-facing side of the Cherry Cove as planned. Instead, we will have to do it next week when the tides are better during daylight hours.

In the meantime, we have started measuring the light intensity in each of our regions using a UV light meter. Today, Kelly and I woke up at the crack of dawn, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, excited to quantify how much light Isthmus Cove and Two Harbors Campground typically get over the course of a day.


Kelly trekking across the shore of the Two Harbors Campground

Although we’ve been getting a lot done, we’ve also been having a lot of fun. Friday was my first time kayaking ever, and I really enjoyed it! I was surprised to see that I could actually spot the bright orange Garibaldi deep in the water while kayaking. I was also surprised to see how friendly the sea lions were. At one point I actually became concerned by how avidly one sea lion was following me — he was on my tail for at least 5 minutes!

Saturday Night Dive was a great way to end the week. It was cool to actually see the bioluminescence I had always read about in textbooks (and seen on YouTube). Although the bioluminescence did not show up well on the GoPro, I have a great video of the rest of the experience (which WordPress will not let me upload *sadness*).


One of the many unintentional selfies I took trying to operate the GoPro.

– Noor

(P.S. Please excuse the dearth of quality images in this post. Some seawater seeped into my phone and I haven’t been able to upload new pictures in a few days — collateral damage of an intense week in the field!)

Brittle Mermaids

Look at this star….


Isn’t it neat? Wouldn’t you think our collection’s complete? Wouldn’t you think we’re the group, the group who has everything? We’re here to tell you that although we’ve made great strides in-lab, it hasn’t been a total walk on the beach since we’re finally just getting our feet on the ground with protocol for testing our captured brittle stars.

I can happily blog that we have successfully completed four in-lab experiments with useful data. We’ve learned that yes, brittle stars prefer a dark environment over light. We’ve also discovered that they prefer a dark environment over a rocky, well-lit environment and generally a preference for shade over light. No preference for either shade or dark was noted in our fourth experiment.

Coach Kirsten encouraging the stars into making their in-lab decisions

Coach Kirsten encouraging the stars into making their in-lab decisions

 During our trials, we have also noticed that both species of brittle stars tend to leave one or two of their arms outside of their environmental preferences. Whether that be from a tendency to watch their surroundings through eyespots or just feeling comfortable around Coach Kirsten and I, this behavior is significant when acknowledging their daily, natural behavior.


On Friday night, Coach Kirsten and I prepared a nighttime lab setup for a unique experiment. Starlit by the stars above and the brittle stars’ enthusiasm to participate in our trials, our outdoor lab glowed with anticipation of new knowledge and artificial red light to keep the outdoor lab setup as close to pitch black as possible. Due to random results on choice of rock or covered environment, we added evidence to our hypothesis that the brittle stars hide under rocks to avoid light, rather than for physical contact.

With nearly 200 trials completed now in lab and nearly the same amount to go, Coach Kirsten and I have our work cut out for the next two weeks. During a low point in our trials when we just want to be inside with the rest of the lab groups, Coach Kirsten and I remind each other:

The seaweed is always greener, in somebody else’s tank. You dream about going up there, but that is a big mistake. Just look at the world around you, right here on the ocean shore. Such wonderful things surround you, what more are you looking for? At USC, darling it’s better, down where it’s wetter, take it from me.

Clouds passing by our outdoor lab setup

Clouds passing by our outdoor lab setup

Two dozen brittle stars clumped together, celebrating the end to a long, successful lab day

Two dozen brittle stars clumped together, celebrating the end to a long, successful lab day

Since beginning our experiments, our brittle stars seem to be enjoying their time in-lab as much as we have. They gained weight to the point of near immobility off of dead sea urchins we have been feeding them. They also seem to have become quite close with one another and are all happily coexisting.

Friendships made and bellies full, we believe that our brittle stars are quite content within our lab. In fact, we hypothesize the following to be the mindset of other wild brittle stars which haven’t been selected for testing:

When’s it my turn? Wouldn’t I love, love to explore CatShore up above? Out of the sea, wish I could be, part of that world.

Tune in next week for another starstruck update of our shining brittle stars.

– Jordan

Surprise, surprise

It started as a typical day in paradise: sleeping in, balmy weather, and lunch with an ocean view. Lexey and I were planning on kayaking to two sites: Campground and Isthmus. Our goal for the day was to conduct 4 quadrats at Campground and 5 at Isthmus, which would finish up all we needed for these locations.

The perfect day for SCIENCE!

The perfect day for SCIENCE!

We haven’t been able to get a lot of quadrats done the past few days because our quadrats wouldn’t have any hermit crabs in them. Fortunately hermit crabs were everywhere today so we had no trouble finding them in our quadrats. There are other cool creatures, too; it just takes a good eye to spot ’em.

There's a tentacle in here somewhere.

There’s a tentacle in here somewhere.

Fog had started to roll in but Lexey and I didn’t worry about it too much. Big mistake.


The whole beach was covered in fog within the hour. It would be very dangerous to kayak in the fog so we quickly finished our remaining quadrats. and the race with the fog was on. The fog hadn’t gone out into the water yet, but it was creeping pretty fast. We paddled for our lives. It was bone-chillingly cold and the ominous weather made it seem like a horde of blood-sucking pirate dementors was out to get us. Finally rounding the corner into Big Fisherman’s Cove was one of the few times I’ve been glad to see anything with “USC” on it.