Life in a Jar

Windy days meant time for the quieter chores.

Not much has been happening here, lately.
We got laid up the last few days, waiting out a gale...
I got some sort of boring cold and since it was too rough in the anchorage to even go out in the dingy-
We just lazed about took care of mending all the torn and broken stuff and baked banana bread and drank pots and pots of tea.

I had time to sort through some of our old photographs and I realized, I forgot to share a nifty little mystery we "discovered".

A while back, on a dive with Manta, I spotted an unusual creature swimming in the upper water column. 
The dive had been pretty uneventful, not much sea life and poor visibility, heavy current...
on our safety stop, as we clung to the anchor line, floating in the current, like technologically endowed sea horses-this little guy swam right by my mask. 
I signaled to Dawn. 
It took her a minute to see what I was blurbbling about. 
He was really small-maybe only a half an inch across and was swimming pretty vigorously, with a sort of fluid, fluttering motion, like a flounder or a halibut. 
Orangish with black spots and interesting little tentacle-like antennae on the front of his head. 
Dawn pointed him out to Terry who gave me a surprised, "I have no idea...!" look.
This was interesting.
Terry has been in the Sea of Cortes, for thirty years. 
He's pretty hard to surprise when it comes to the critters swimming around in the waters here.

We had no specimen jars with us at the time, so we let him go on his merry way.
When we climbed back in the dingy Terry and Dawn both confirmed that hey had NEVER seen anything like it.

Later that day, we were anchored somewhere new and Kai and Jon went  freediving for clams for dinner.
I took the opportunity to use the signal from the big hotel on the beach and spent a couple of  hours on the internet  trying to identify the mysterious creature form the upper water column-all to no avail.
But I sure saw a lot of cool stuff I never knew existed.
The next time anyone needs inspiration for a color palette or a creature for a  space movie-they should really check out the whole nudibranch, sea slug, sea-angel thing.
There are gobs and gobs of these magnificent , invertebrate animals in the sea and many of them are not even classified properly yet.
Owing to the huge numbers of  both amateur and professional divers and underwater photographers, 
the scientific community can't keep up with all the new discoveries.

Isn't that cool?
I mean, really, really cool.

Anybody can go down there and just discover a species. 
Something new, something no one even knew existed...
I think we should create a program where kids in public schools get to classify and name these new creatures...
Wouldn't that make science class more fun?
Wouldn't that touch the landlocked kids in Kansas and connect them to how amazing and precious our ocean is?

That was all there was to my sighting of this little guy, although every time I got in the water for the next few weeks -I looked for him but I never saw another one.

A few weeks later, on a nearby island, I was making a shore run in the dingy with the kids when I spotted something unusual in the water. 
Little orange-brown spots floating by.
"Stop!" i yelled at Kai.
Kai cut the engine and I nearly jumped into the water trying to get a closer look.
"That's them!" I gasped.
"...look how many there are!"
"Hurry,  back to the boat and get the jars!" the kids squealed.

We raced back to the boat and grabbed sterilized jars and zoomed back to the spot. 
Joy of joys, the little guys were still swimming around in the same area.
"What are they?" asked Hunter, peering in her little jar.
"I have no idea," i said.
"...but we're gonna find out".
Unfortunately, we had to weigh anchor right away as the wind was picking up and putting us on a lee shore-so I only had time to snap of a couple of quick shots with not enough light and my stabilizer wasn't on-so they aren't the best shots. 

I tossed them back  in the ocean before they got too uncomfortable.
I didn't want to kill the little guys, we're so eager to identity.
We aim for non-intrusive examinations-unless, of course, we plan on eating them for lunch, afterwards.

No matter how many sites I searched or phylums I tried, I couldn't find this guy.

A few days later, one of the small research cruise ships that frequent the Sea of Cortes came into Escondido as we were resupplying.
We hopped in the dingy and knocked on their giant blue hull and a very crisp officer came out to the massive swim platform where they launch tourists into zodiacs or kit them out in their snorkel/ exploring gear before gently pushing them off to explore.

Kai and Hunter held up an 8x10 copy of my terrible shot and asked in their sweetest voices if they might speak to the resident Naturalist aboard.

I was very proud.

I felt sure he would come out and gasp and run to the bridge, our blurry picture in hand and demand the captain to make an urgent call on the satellite phone and a conference would be scheduled, of the top scientific minds in the world and they would meet in Geneva to discuss the importance of this miraculous...well, you get the point.

The Naturalist gave the shot a perfunctory glance and said;

That's it.

Then he handed Hunter back the photo.

Hunter eyed him suspiciously.
The resident Naturalist had donned a life jacket, before venturing onto the oversized swim platform- sand his ship was still tied to a dock.
My 8 year old was less than impressed.
"You didn't look very closely" Hunter said to him-and folded her arms across her chest.
"Shush" I growled at her.
"But mommy, he didn't..."
"It's a terrible picture...' I explained to the man who seemed eager to go back inside his massive ship.
I was hoping I could get him to look a little closer.
"But i can tell you all about what it looked like..." I offered, not very scientific-like. 

Terry looked at Hunter's grouchy little face.
Manta had followed us over in their dingy.

"I've been here a long time and I've never seen anything like it.."  said Terry, smiling up at the guy with his coolest guy-ever look.

At least he had my back. I felt better...
and Terry is convincing. 

The Naturalist reached out a hand and Hunter handed back the shot -with a smug little look.

We all held our breath.

"Tunicate" pronounced the Naturalist again and then handed back the picture.

Well, there was no arguing with the man in the life jacket.

So, we all went back to our boats.

I spent the next few weeks looking up tunicates every time we had a signal.
I am sorry to say, I'm not convinced by the hypothesis of the life-jacket Naturalist.

Our creature was free-swimming and clearly of a much more highly developed structure.

So, a mystery it remains... for now.
I hope to come upon them again one day-and get a better shot.
But who knows?
Maybe, there was just this one chance. 
Maybe, they live thirty year life-cycles and this is why Terry has never seen one before...
And maybe, the next time someone finds one, they will send it to an inner-city high school and the kids will say it is a new creature and they will name it...

The Brooklyn PS.321-Phishzillaseamonkey-

Now, THAT would be cool.

My apologies for the terrible pics. They remind me of those ridiculous, grainy, "saskwatch lives!"  or "Alien's were on my rooftop!" shots printed in some National Enquirer rag mag.

 In reality, this creature was beautiful and intricate, with a definite "tail" and "head" ...

If anyone comes up with what "he" or "she" is... it might even be an "swings both ways" scenario here...please let us know!


  1. Oh beautiful!!! It's a Rastafarian hyperswimmus. I see them all the time. Well... on your blog, anyway.
    And I notice: Positive side-effect of no job: Jon gets to keep his hair!! And seriously what is the point of being an actor if they don't let you rock matching awesome hairstyles with your kids. OK I know that only a completely non-actor would ever say something like that, but. There. I said it anyway. :-)

  2. Ssssshhh!!! They were spawning aliens!

  3. Let's send a pic of life jacket naturalist to the inner city high schools and have those bright kids rename HIM! :)

    Love ya guys!!!xxoo
    More discoveries!!!