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Spider CrabThe tidepools carry the little crabs and the reefs the big ones. Most commonly caught in our area are rockcrabs, which have much thicker claws and more meat than the ubiquitous Dungeness. Spider crabs, which are the long crawly-legged variety, are also common here. In recent weeks, a spider crab some 20 pounds was pulled up on the Wharf.

Others to be found are kelp crabs, striped shore crabs, purple shore crabs, porcelain crabs, red crabs, purple shore crabs, and Dungeness.

If one goes snorkeling in the cove on a clear-water day, one can see rock crabs sitting on the sandy bottom with their claws held up waiting to grab things going by. They will even chase a bait through the water jumping up from the bottom to snatch it.

Kelp Beds

KelpWe have a number of kelp species in the area. They are algaes, radically different than terrestrial plants. Most evident are the floating brown bull kelp (with big floating balls) and giant perennial kelp (with long waving "leaves") growing around lighthouse point. Submerged in the reefs are such kelps as Turkish towel, iridescent seaweed, winged kelp, feather boa, sugar wrack, sea lettuce, sea palm, sea sack, little rockweed, fir needle, nailbrush, black pine, coralline algae, encrusting coral, eelgrass, surf grass, and green algae.

Wharf Piling Communities: Mussels, barnacles, sponges, anenomies, tunicates

Barnacles & StarfishThe kinds of creatures one finds exposed on the wharf pilings at low tide are the same ones that inhabit the rocks and reefs. Wharves are, in this way, artificial reefs.

A number of mussels and barnacles are present. Found clumped around the pilings and washed up on the beach are blue mussels, black mussels, horse mussels, gooseneck barnacles, leaf barnacles, acorn barnacles, razor mussels, fan-shaped horse mussels,volcano barnacles, little stripped barnacles, and thatched barnacles. All of these are free swimming or floating in their larval stages to become entirely sedentary in their rooted adult stages.

Sharing the stage are sea anemomies, which look more like flowers than animals, red and yellow sponges, and bulb-like tunicates. Crawling past and over all these travel the starfish, the echinoderms. Many scientists think an ancestral larval form of echinoderm gave rise to all the vertebrate creatures.


JellyfishWhat we call jellyfish (which are not fish at all) are in the Class Scyphozoa in the Phylum Cnidaria. They have no backbones and fishes do.

There are days when Monterey Bay seems to shelter a living galaxy of jellyfishes. On calm days, traveling by boat, one may think he or she has left earth altogether for another planet to see thousands of jellyfish like lanterns flaring in the depths. They are all sizes and shapes; some brightly colored and some evolved to be invisible. Some trail tentacles a yard long, and others are mere glimmers as big as your thumb.

Most commonly seen are purple jellyfish, moon jellyfish, by-the-wind sailors, hydromedusas, penicillate jellyfish, sea gooseberries, comb jellies, lion mane, and radolarians.

The tentacled jellies have stinging cells, the nematocysts. In our waters, the stinging cells of these creatures are not long enough to penetrate human skin. In tropical waters, Portuguese Man-of-War are notorious for causing painful rashes if stepped on.


By-the-Wind-SailorsWith a common name as pretty as its Latin scientific name, these Velella velellas, or By-the-Wind-Sailors, are hydrozoans in the phylum Cnidaria.

Like many creatures of the open ocean, they seem too dainty to be out there. Originating in warm tropical seas, their presence here in Spring time illustrates the overlapping marine regimes we enjoy here in Monterey Bay. Warm southern sea water mixes with cold northern Pacific waters and bring their associated creatures with them.

Locals also call them purple sailors and, true to name, they sail across the ocean surface by the tens of thousands feeding on little planktonic things as they drift. They are generally a couple inches in diameter and can reach four inches. They have nematocyts, or stinging cells, although these are too short to penetrate human skin. Surfers, however, have reported that several hours of swimming among them will produce "an itch".

One local angler reports that he has seen calico and olive rockfish by the school follow the drifting purple sailors to gobble them up like candy. This seems curious, since, only sea turtles seem to otherwise be able to stomach the jellyfishes. One speculation is that the purple sailors--in one of the endless symbiotic relationships of the sea--carry crab eggs among their short tentacles. It's possible the rockfish get the most gusto from these row.

One thing for certain. If you find them along the high tide line of shore, you know it is Spring.

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© 1997 Michael Harris, Under the Wharf Magazine & Photography, 831-469-0443

Last updated: 8/3/2009 5:00:33 PM