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Thresher Shark

A ten-foot common thresher shark caughtThere are actually two varieties of thresher, the common, pictured here, and the bigeye thresher, which can be told apart by, well, by the big eye. Also, the common thresher has 20-21 teeth on each side of its jaw, while the bigeye has 10-11. They both tend to cruise the surface over steep drops of marine shelfs. In these waters, they are more commonly found in summer, thought they can range from Baja up to British Columbia.

The biggest ever recorded thresher was some 20-ft long and 1000 obs. During the summer, smaller ones will come in to the kelp beds along Capitola and up to Davenport seemingly so bursting with energy that they leap up through the surface several feet into the air.

They are amazingly nimble and flexible creatures. I watched one playing with an anchovy it had apparently just stunned at the surface once. It could do a U-turn so quick that its head end met and passed its tail end as the tail continued forward.

The first question that pops into one's mouth is "what does it do with that big tail "which is fully as long as the rest of it's body. The answer apparently is, that among other things, it charges into a school of anchovies, sardines, mackeral, or squid and "threshes and thrashes" it around smashing its prey. As you can see, the mouth is fairly unimpressive for a big scary shark. It feeds on little fishes.

Threshers are volatile fighters and don't give up easy. More than one story goes that once inside the boat, they tore up and wrecked much of the inside of the those boats, even eating the seat cushions. And watch out for that tail.

Humbolt Squid

A gift of El Niño: a Humbolt Squid nearly three feet longAccording to Steven Webster, Science Director for the Monterey Aquarium, this Jumbo squid is a match to another one that washed ashore on Tuesday at Monterey the same week.

As Steve noted, these cephalapods are more common in the Gulf of Baja and are a direct demonstration of the El Niño winter we are continuing to experience here in Monterey Bay, leaving one to believe predictions of the Niño Bambino extending into Spring are accurate after all.

While definitely larger than our "average" Monterey squid, or Opalescent squid at 7-8 inches long, the Jumbo/Humbolts are not quite those giant squids of fable, Morrowthus at 20-ft long, or Architeuthis at 60-ft long.

The mentioned guidebook lists the Humbolt squids as reaching up to 13-ft long, although Steve Webster has personally found them to be in the 3-4 foot range. As a rule, the squid seem to favor the surface waters at night and drop to the depths during the day.

Walleye Perch

WalleyeDid you know that the surfperches are one of the few fishes that give birth to live young or, to be scientific about it, are ovoviviparous? They breed through October through December and give birth in Spring, which is now.

Walleye perch and live-born young. The two 25-cent coins denote scale. Notice here, the special "lateral lines" running and arching the length of the fish. This organ is definitive for the Class Pisces, and which is pressure sensitive.

Many of the ones being caught are pregnant females with 5-12 fully-formed tiny fishes in a placental sack. Several of the anglers have put their catch in a bucket of sea water, which is soon filled with the new swimming babies, to then pour the juveniles back into the sea.

Starry Flounder Platichthys stellatus

Starry FlounderOf the flatfishes, or flounders, the starry flounder is easiest to identify because it looks like it's dressed up. It sports striking black radiating stripes on its dorsal and ventral fins and making for a diamond-shaped body.

As we noted with the halibuts, while we humans may dote over the uniqueness of being right or left handed as we grow, the flounders can boast of something a little more unique. They grow to be right-eyed or left-eyed; that is, as juveniles they all start out with an eye on each side of its head, and as they grow up one shifts over to the other on a single side of the head.

Minky Whale

Minky WhaleMinky whales are found Pacific-wide, including in our Monterey Bay, but are not commonly noticed, since they are not very theatrical. They rise once or twice for air and are gone usually showing just the long back and characteristic falcate dorsal fin two-thirds down the back. They travel in ones and twos. They have a gray racing stripe on their pectoral fins, but this is not easily seen. When you do see one, you are likely to think you have just seen a huge dolphin.

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

Last updated: 8/3/2009 3:46:06 PM