Northwest Fisheries Science Center

Newportal Blog

A gateway to oceanographic adventures from the Newport Line and beyond

Blog Entries for December 2017

Name that blob

By Samantha Zeman
December 29, 2017

If you call yourself a marine biologist, people expect you to be able to identify every shell, carapace, carcass, or blob that washes up on the beach. That was no exception this week when I was asked to ID gelatinous blobs that were dotting the beaches in Newport. Made of 95% water, identifying jellies on the beach can be difficult. Fortunately, I recognized them as some common residents.

Pacific sea nettles. Some smaller individuals that can be identified by their brown-colored bell and dark brown tentacles (top specimen).

Moon jellies (Aurelia labiata) and Pacific sea nettles (Chrysaora fuscescens) are large scyphozoans that are familiar to most people as 'true jellies'. These jellies, especially the sea nettles, are seasonally abundant along our coast with their size and abundance peaking during late summer and early fall.

Moon jellies can be identified by their clear (juveniles) or opaque (mature individuals) bell and the horse-shaped gonads at the top of the bell that range in color from purple, pink, and brown.


Over the last few years, sea nettles and moon jellies have been scarce. But this year, these jellies have returned with a vengeance along the entire west coast. ODFW researchers have captured some stunning underwater images of sea nettle aggregations this fall and we have encountered similar aggregations at the surface during NH line trips. Some possible reasons for these population fluctuations are attributed to upwelling strength, basin-scale climate patterns such as the PDO, and ocean currents. It would seem that jellies enjoy cold, productive water. Even as charismatic species, much of jellyfish natural history is still a mystery and is an active area of research. Luckily, you can help track jellyfish distributions and movement by visiting or download the app to report or monitor sightings.

So next time you see a blob, take a closer look. It could be signaling the return of an old friend.  

In order to appreciate their beauty under the water, some illustrations of common gelatinous organisms on our coast (credit: Clare Hansen). 

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Going back to Cali

By Samantha Zeman
December 14, 2017

Last week, we were lucky to travel down from Newport to La Jolla, California to attend the 2017 CalCOFI Conference. The CalCOFI program is a partnership between several agencies with a history of studying the marine ecosystem off California since 1949.

The famous Scripps pier. Also, notice the vegetation. A sign we aren't in the Pacific Northwest anymore.

This conference was an opportunity to interact and network with scientists and management to discuss current happenings in the California Current. Talks and posters included discussions of amphipod distributions off Baja California to modeling population fluctuations of forage fish species along the entire California Current. Attending conferences can keep you up-to-date on the latest science in your field, but they are also an opportunity to get out of your scientific 'comfort' zone. Do you know anything about modeling sardine populations? Well, now's your chance to find out.

We briefly toured the Scripps Pelagic Invertebrate Collection. Shelves and shelves of marine zooplankton!

Looking back on the days of presentations, an important take-home message stood out. As is evidenced by the scientific findings of programs like CalCOFI and the NH Line, long-term time-series are imperative for understanding a dynamic ocean. How do we know if something is anomalous if we aren't out on the water? Most of the talks echoed this statement and made extensive use of long-term survey data. Which reminds me, I need to prepare for our upcoming Elakha trip!

The sun setting on another successful day of marine science talks.

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Recent visitors ubiquitous offshore

By Jennifer Fisher
December 8, 2017

We finally got a break in the stormy seas and sampled offshore to 85 miles off Newport aboard the F/V Timmy Boy earlier this week. While the seas were not as calm as I had wanted, the skies were clear and the air was crisp. We were anxious about what we'd find offshore, since pyrosomes had recently been washing up on Oregon beaches by the millions.

Thomas rinsing the plankton sample into the jar at night. When the boat is rocking, it's much easier to sit while working than to fight the rocking boat while trying to stand upright.
The pyrosomes were much smaller nearshore (left) on the continental shelf and increased in size as we sampled farther offshore out to 85 miles (right).

Indeed, at every station from 10 miles off Newport out to 85 miles- we collected pyrosomes in our plankton nets in fairly high densities. The animals were smaller nearshore, on the continental shelf, ranging from 20-60 mm. Once off the continental shelf, the pyrosomes became larger- reaching 140 mm.

The plankton samples we collected from 1 mile offshore (far left) to 85 miles offshore (far right). There isn't much difference in the volume of the samples as you move farther offshore. This is typical of winter conditions when strong storms mix the seas.

With the exception of the pyrosomes, the plankton samples were not very dense with zooplankton. However, this is the normal pattern during winter, increased winds result in a mixed water column and there is reduced phytoplankton and zooplankton production.

Very large Velella velella (blue discs) were collected offshore. These were the largest specimens I have seen with diameters of ~100 mm (left). You can see that small animals were also collected (right) as well as animals that had died recently and lost their pigments and were completely clear.

A common visitor was collected offshore, the By-the-Wind sailor, Velella velella. We often collect Velella at the surface in our neuston net, but what struck us this trip, was how large the Velella were. Some of the animals we collected were the largest I have ever seen- diameters reaching approximately 100 mm. The other striking characteristic of these large animals was how thick their float was.

The super moon rising behind rough seas.

Tagged: NH Line, CoOp

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