Let it be known, Nudi diving in Southern California is my obsession...
I have traveled the world in search of Nudibranchs. I muck dove the mysterious black sands of Lembeh and Bali, explored the coral reefs of the South Pacific, drifted walls and dropoffs in Micronesia with a macro lense. Even Nudi hunted the diverse and surprising mixed diving of the Philippine’s. But when I come right down to it, I love going Nudi in California.
As March rolls along I am reminded of the old adage “In like a lamb, out like a lion”.
Harsh cold weather has embraced much of the country while California remains warm and balmy topside. We have had some cooler winter water set in with temps dropping into the low fifties and headed even lower in some areas. However the Nudi’s love the cold so here we go!
For the last article I observed several different species mating so I have headed back to the same places In Santa Catalina and Point Loma to see what has transpired. I know that returning to dive the same place repeatedly affords a photographer the opportunity to observe some great behavior.
As I back roll into the calm California waters and descend, I realize what I had suspected. The repeated diving pays off as I begin to see egg masses everywhere.
Little Rosettes of eggs on kelp fronds, lacy ribbons on stripped hydroid stalks, even the purple algae has eggs on it. The egg masses take on different color patterns and textures ranging from tiny looking macaroni to massive circular ribbons. Different species lay different patterns and colors of eggs.*
I enlisted a friend and Nudibranch spotter for this sole purpose, Kim Mitchell. We dive the Point Loma area often but not always together. Today, with two divers (Kim and I) focused on one objective we find countless great examples of egg laying nudibranchs.
Why do they seem to be mating all at once? Well it seems to be a mystery to me so I must ask an expert. Dave Behrens, Nudibranch expert and Author:
“All animals tend to mate when they sense latent demise (die off). It’s the old, I'm going to war, and may not return, so I want to pass on my genes. Usually means food resources are getting low”. “It's unlikely that water temperature is related, as they mate in all seasons” - Very interesting, thanks Dave!
In order, the eggs of- Flabellina trilineata, Flabellina iodinae, Cadlina limbaughorum, Cadlina luteomarginata, Acanthadoris rhodoceras, Doriopsilla albopunctata, Acanthadoris Hudsoni, Melibe leonina
Nudibranchs will populate an area where their food source is readily available until they reach a critical mass. They will then consume the food source until it is depleted entirely. A die off will occur and the same nuds will seem to disappear almost overnight with just a few remaining to be seen. This cycle happens rather quickly and at different times for different species. However, In Southern California the months of January, February, March and the beginning of April seem to bring on a proliferation of a huge variety of Nudibranchs.
Catalina also has many wonderful nudibranchs to be found but they seem to like the cooler deeper water. It appears to be a desert at 80 feet but as soon as the 90 foot mark is passed voila! The Nudi’s are out and amorous.
The Acanthadoris rhodoceras and Acanthadoris hudsoni are a common Nudibranch found around Santa Catalina Island most of the year. A few months back I found what I think is a rare species the Noumeaella rubrofasciata. This tiny but colorful Aeolid with a distinctive red stripe on its head has somehow proved to be elusive. I have found it twice now in the same area if not the same exact rock.
The coloration and patterns of the cerata make it appear to be a very similar specie to the trilineata. But upon closer examination one will notice the color variance and lack of lines on the dorsum as well as the feathery looking Rhinophores.
Towards the upper west end of the island the Peltodoris mullineri can be found but again they seem to be seasonal. This Peltodoris is indeed an odd ball as the color of the Rhinophores and branchial plume are different from the norm. These more exotic looking Dorids are very shy and it’s tough to get a good shot of them. They’re cryptic Rhinophores and branchial plume will withdraw quickly if startled. The Dendronotus iris (White phase) can be found here too, but also proves to be elusive. Just like the Janolus I find them on the kelp fronds. The kelp fronds at depth can range in length.
Anywhere from three to thirty feet in length and slowly twist and turn like huge pythons of the deep. Turning the fronds slowly and examining them will reveal the tiny creatures living on them. Nudibranchs, Hairy Crabs, Poachers, Snails even a stray Pipefish will seek shelter from the elements and curious photographers
The flamboyant Janolus barberensi seem to be everywhere now and are a bit more seasonal. I shot a series of photos using a super macro setup. The Nikkor 105mm lense with a sealed +10 diopter custom built by Dave Hinkle at Blue Abyss Photo.
A little too much lense for the larger slugs but it will perfect for the tiny guys.
“So many Nuds and so little time” Who knew there were so many Nudibranchs in California. I for one am intrigued, the more I know, the more I want to know. I guess you could call “Going Nudi in California a full blown obsession,
* Reference-Nudibranch Behavior by Dave Behrens
Special thanks to :
Marissa dive charters
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