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Going Nudi in California: Part XI
By Mike Bartick, April 24, 2010 @ 11:19 AM (EST)
Shortly after my return from the Philippines and 80-degree water, I made my way back into California diving. "Alarmingly cold" were the first descriptive words that come into mind, followed by a few other choice words when I actually hit the water. When I submerged though, I remembered why I love diving California -- you just never know what is going to turn up.

In the last article I talked briefly about new nudibranch species and how they are recognized in the field. One of the main characters was a Polycera sp. and, oddly enough, the Polyceras are beginning to populate places in Southern California that I haven’t seen them in before.

Recently while diving Santa Catalina, I made some rather odd and interesting finds.  I thought a quick comparison follow up would be in good measure, since it’s interesting how similar the species can look, despite living so far apart.

Take for instance the specimen we collected while in the Philippines. It’s obviously a Polycera, as it has all the distinguishing features -- clubbed tipped rhinophores, elongated oral tentacles and a branchial plume. When compared to the ones found in California, it’s almost identical.

polycera sp. from Philippines 
Polycera atra
Polycera hedgpethi
The Polycera hedgpethi is a rarity, seldom found off of its food source bryozoan Bugula. We found a small group of them in deeper waters on a single and small bunch of algae, complete with eggs. They are extremely cryptic and rather difficult to photograph. I was using my 60mm lens and 1.4 x teleconverter to get in tight on the head shot.

Catalina was never a spot that I would have selected to go nudi searching in, but this last year there has been some astounding finds here.
Sacolglossa sp.

This undescribed Sacolglossa is another recent discovery made on the island. This type of sapsucker feeds exclusively on marine algae using a set of revolving teeth.

Off the coast of Santa Cruz Island is a small spit of land called Gull Island. The area is known for California’s purple hydrocoral found in the shallow waters, but it’s also a hot spot for nudibranchs. Usually large populations of ornate nudis can be found here. This trip was definitely a winner as the crop of nudis was fantastic.

The highlights of the findings were two species in the aeolid family. Aeloids are interesting nudibranchs, often found feeding on eggs of other nudibranchs, hydroids and even the eggs of moon jellies. In fact, there is even a pelagic nudibranch that feeds on the infamous man-o-war jellies, munching away with impunity and complete abandonment.
Tritonia festiva

The Phidiana hiltoni’s deep, rich color makes it seemingly simple to get great exposure, but the white oral hood over exposes easily and details are lost quickly. A fine balance of strobe and speed are required for just the right photo. To get the shot I wanted, I tried a new technique that involves a natural diffuser and backlighting.
Phidiana hiltoni

I decided to begin shooting various nudibranchs through the kelp fronds, a soft form of backlighting. My friend Ken calls it table lighting which is a great indication of this technique. It works well with some subjects but it will require more work.

This edition of Going Nudi commemorates a yearlong study of the nudibranchs in Southern California and portions of the Philippines. Thanks for all the great e-mails and suggestions and I hope to hear from more of you as we dive into another great year of exploring, discovering and going nudi.

Until then, dive safe…

Special Thanks to SunDiver. Their crew and skills have allowed me to explore much of Catalina’s depths. Also a special thanks to Blue Abyss Photo for helping with last minute gear bail outs..



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