Thursday, October 24, 2013

Four Dead Malibu Sea Lions May Have Been Squid Season Casualties

Squid season closed on Friday, Oct. 18, at noon. The California Department of Fish and Wildlife closed the commercial fishery for market squid, "Based on landings information and projections, [that] the season’s harvest limit of 118,000 short tons of market squid will be reached," a press release stated. The news was followed by confirmation from the Marine Mammal Care Center in San Pedro that two sea lions appear to have been shot to death in Malibu waters this month. One sea lion was recovered alive at Broad Beach. It later died of multiple bullet wounds. The other marine mammal was found dead with one bullet wound. A third shooting-related sea lion death on Oct. 3 has been confirmed. A fourth animal was found shot in August.
Squid fishers are authorized to use a type of loud firecracker or paint gun to scare off sea lions, but it is illegal to kill or harm the animals in any way. However, sea lion shooting reports seem to coincide with peak squid season in the fall as sea lions, attracted to the fishing activity, compete with the boat crews for a share of the squid take. Two men on a squid fishery light boat were arrested last year and charged with deliberately harassing sea lions. All marine mammals are protected under the federal Marine Mammal Protection Act. Individuals convicted of harming a sea lion can be fined and jailed, depending on the circumstances.
The squid fishing season runs from April through the following March of each year. Because the quota has already been met, the fishery will remain closed until March 31, 2014.
The Malibu Times has a good article on the incidents. Any one with any information about the sea lion shooting incidents is encouraged to contact:
Special Agent David L. Reilly
National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)
National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) Office of Law Enforcement
501 West Ocean Blvd Suite 4300 Long Beach, CA 90802
(562) 980-4056 Office
(562) 9804058 Fax
(800 ) 853-1964 Hotline 24/7

Friday, October 18, 2013

Between the Tides

October low tides this week, generated by the full moon, reveal the hidden world of tide pools at Point Dume. 
It's a strange and perilous world inhabited by ethereal and alien beauties and swift and deadly predators. The afternoon low tides generated by the full moon on Friday offered an opportunity to explore that hidden world, which  exists between the tides along Point Dume's rocky shore.

Volcanic rock, which weathers more slowly than the surrounding matrix of sedimentary stone, forms an elaborate network of pools along the shore from Paradise Cove to Point Dume. The entire area is now a Marine Protected Area. It's also an Area of Special Biological Significance. It's easy to see why: the rocks and colorful seaweeds hide an amazing variety of species, including crabs, snails, fish, anemones, urchins, starfish, octopus, barnacles, mussels, chitons, nudibranch, and a host of other organisms, that range from the mundane to the extraordinary.

Anthropleura elegantissima, the aggregating anemone, lives up to its Latin name, with elegant but deadly tentacles that it uses to paralyze small prey. The green color is generated by symbiotic algae. 

A great egret forages for supper among the tide pools.
Life in the intertidal zone is challenging. Organisms face pounding surf, periods of exposure during low tides. They are also impacted by pollution, and in some places are being loved to death by humans, who inadvertently trample habitat and disturb or remove plants and animals.

According to the OC Marine Project, a study conducted by Richard Ambrose, and J.R. Smith, in 2004,  "found that rocky intertidal sites within Santa Monica Bay were subjected to an alarming number of visitors at high use sites (25,000-50,000 visitors per year per 100 m shoreline)."

Point Dume's tide pools are still fairly pristine, due mostly to the fact that the visitors have to walk to the location, unlike areas that are located close to Pacific Coast Highway and easy parking. Humans enjoy exploring the tide pools for fun and education, but birds, like the great egret, above, and other coastal species depend on the intertidal zone for survival.

For thousands of years, humans also depended on the rocky shore for survival. One has only to climb to the top of the Point Dume headlands to find the evidence: scattered all over the cliffs are the shattered remains of sea shells. Bits of mussels and clam shells are everywhere. Abalone shell fragments, still iridescent and beautiful even after hundreds of years, are a reminder of a vanished era when the Chumash made their home here. Abalone where abundant then. They were plentiful even when I was a child. Today, the shards that surface from the ancient Chumash settlement are almost the only reminder that this species flourished here once. It's a sobering reminder of just how fragile the balance really is.

Ochre stars, which are more often orange or purple than anything that could be called ochre, and a colony of mussels occupy the rocks off Point Dume. These tide pools, located at the eastern edge of the headland, are constantly battered by powerful surf, but they are also protected from terrestrial predators, because they are only accessible by during the lowest tides. 

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Squid Fishers

The squid fleet begins to arrive at Zuma Beach. By the time the sun goes down the bay will be full of boats. 

Curious Squid, so called because, as well as being squid, they were curious. That is to say, their curiosity was the curious thing about them.
—Terry Pratchett, Jingo
I always watch for them, this time of year. The eerie glow of the squid fleet's light boats  is a sure sign of autumn in Malibu. Along the coast, from Westward Beach to Point Mugu, the boats give the illusion of the lights of a phantom city out to sea.
Like the Curious Squid that inhabit the Discworld’s Circle Sea, Loligo Opalescence, otherwise known as market squid, are curious. They are attracted to the powerful floodlights, and are scooped up by purse seiners.
According to NOAA Fisheries Service, market squid is “the state’s largest and most lucrative commercial fishery, valued at over $69 million last season.” Most of the local catch is frozen and shipped to Asia, some squid is sold for bait, but fresh and frozen Malibu squid will appear on menus all over the world. As of October 8, “total landings of market squid are estimated to be 107,057.1 short tons. The DFW sets a limit of 118,000 “short tons” per season.
Market squid live for less than a year—usually just six to eight months. Commercial fishing is not permitted on weekends to “give the squid a break.” Although the state of California has regulated the market squid fishery since 2005, many aspects of the life history of market squid reportedly remain unknown.
The commercial squid boat crews aren’t the only ones depending on squid for a living, these small cephalopods are an essential food source for marine mammals and birds like the California brown pelicans. 
I was told once by a squid fisher that “It’s really weird to be surrounded not by water but by a sea of millions of squid. They watch you with those eyes. They also squeak. If you don’t take adequate precautions they’ll clog your engine, all your pumps. It’s like something from a science fiction movie.” 
For Malibu residents, the appearance of the squid fleet at dusk, without even a glimpse of their curious quarry, often seems like an alien invasion. The boats follow to squid, using sonar to track them. Like the squid themselves, their presence off the coast is short-lived.

By nightfall, squid light boats illuminate the bay. Their arrival is a sure sign of autumn in Malibu.

New Beginnings

The name Malibu is derived from the ancient Chumash place name  "humaliwu," which means "the place where the surf sounds." Despite massive changes along the coast in the past 20 years, the surf still sounds loudly along this 22-mile stretch of Southern California coast.

This blog will take a look at life in Malibu, past and present.

Sun, surf, and wind generate a rainbow at Malibu's Leo Carrillo State Park.