By Anouk Janess

Andy Murch (photo, left) is someone of hidden celebrity on Vancouver Island. He is the founder and creator of Elasmodiver: Shark and Ray Field Guide, Predators in Peril Project that works to bring awareness to our vital predators of the sea, and eco-tourism business: Big Fish Expeditions. I contacted Andy over email and was able to ask him about his journey to success.

Andy Murch was born in London, England. He grew up in Pilgrim’s Hatch – a small village in Essex. About his interests as a child he says, “I grew up watching BBC documentaries with David Attenborough.” Living in the country, he could often be found in the fields or forests, far from the coast – that came much later. His parents had a pond in their yard but that was it, so he didn’t have much of a connection with the marine environment until after he dropped out of Chelmer University in Essex, and decided to travel the world.

“My career path was a little unorthodox,” says Murch. “When I quit university, I traveled through 70 countries in seven years. My first job on the ocean was as a deckhand on an Israeli schooner on the Red Sea.” Eventually, he settled down in Canada and opened an import company. This allowed him to take time off in the winter to travel to the tropics and it was then that he learned to dive and later bought his first underwater camera. At 37, in the late 90s, he quit his company to become a dive instructor and later a submersible pilot. The ocean, taunting and inviting, called to him. “I became very passionate about the ocean, especially about sharks,” he says. “They were obviously ‘cool’ but the more I learned, the more I realized they were in trouble.”

He started Elasmodiver, a play on the scientific name elasmobranchs for sharks and rays, as “my first attempt to educate others about the plight of sharks.” A few years later he started the Predators In Peril Project (PiP). PiP provides original, unedited images used to educate others about the severity of illegal fishing of elasmobranchs. From then he built a large underwater photography portfolio with many shark and ray images from which he was able to make a modest living. He clarifies that he still had to get odd jobs now and then to supplement his income. Once he made a name for himself as a shark photographer, he started running the very busy, very successful eco-tourism business, Big Fish Expeditions, which offers diving trips to the world’s best places to see and photograph sharks, rays and whales in their natural habitat.

Mr. Murch explains to all young people considering their future career path that it was very important for him to find a career where he could live comfortably, do what he loves (working with animals) and be able to help protect the environment in some way. “Obviously, I didn’t have a traditional career plan,” he says. “The key was to identify career opportunities when they presented themselves and then not be afraid to stop what I was doing and seize those opportunities.” Andy Murch started with little more than a camera and a sense of curiosity, but now, thanks to his work and images, humans on land can gain a better understanding of sharks and rays, these misunderstood and imperiled creatures from deep within the ocean.

Left, he shares his impressive photo of the endangered Great Hammerhead Shark that he is most proud of.

Kelp Clingfish

by Hannah Hayworth

Scientific Name: Rimicola muscarum

Size range: Up to 8 cm (3 inches)

Identifying features
Kelp Clingfish have a slender body that’s flat at the head and tapers toward the tail. They have a single dorsal fin well back on the body and a small suction disk underneath. They are usually the colour of kelp (ranging from green to brown) but are sometimes banded with red, gray, or orange. Kelp Clingfish are small and grow up to 3 inches. They mostly cling to kelp, occasionally moving for shelter.

Habitat
These fish can be found in the Pacific Ocean, throughout the coast of British Columbia and down to California.   They are not usually found in intertidal pools but are often found on the blades of kelp growing from the edges of dock.  They also love to rest on the blades of Bull Kelp in more open water.

Food
Kelp Clingfish feed on small creatures like crustaceans, snails, worms, and shrimp.  The ones we have had in our aquarium prefer to feed by hovering around the top water column and quickly grow to like chopped up krill or whole mysid shrimp.

Predators
They must watch out for predators like shorebirds, mammals, and fish larger than them. However, Kelp Clingfish do have hiding and camouflage advantages, as they usually can blend into their habitat.

Life Cycle
Clingfish generally mature when they are around 8 cm long. They lay relatively large eggs in groups of 2 dozen or more. They’re laid on fronds of giant kelp. Young Clingfish are similar in appearance to adults, just smaller.


References

Bailly, N. (2012). Rimicola muscarum. Meek & Pierson

Hart, J. (1988). Pacific Fishes of Canada. Ottawa: Canadian Government Publishing

(2011) The Regents of the University of California. Retrieved January 14th, 2013 from
http://content.cdlib.org/view?docId=kt9t1nb3sh;NAAN=13030&doc.view=frames&chunk.id=d0e3386&toc.id=d0e288&brand=calisphere

Rock, J. (2010) Kelp Clingfish. Oceana. Retrieved January 14’th, 2013 from
http://www.jimirock.com/seaschool/index.php?search=Kelp%20Clingfish


Canary Rockfish

Scientific Name: Sebastes pinniger

More information on this species is coming soon!


Pacific Spiny Lumpsucker

By Madeline Baldrey and Erin Pringle

Scientific name:  Eumicrotremus orbis

Size range:  2.5 to12.7 cm (1 to 5 inches)

Identifying Features:  Lumpsuckers are quite small and come in many colours (red, orange, purple, green and brown). They can also have silvery patches on their backs. Their round bodies are covered in spiny lumps called tubercles. The females have more tubercles than males. Lumpsuckers have large protruding eyes with light blue pupils that change colour in certain light. They have a dorsal fin, a tail fin, thin transparent pectoral fins and a specialized sucker disk on their stomachs formed by their modified pelvic fins. Their mouths are wide with flat large lips.

Habitat:  Pacific Spiny Lumpsuckers are salt-water fish. They are mostly found in the Pacific Ocean along the coast of British Columbia and Asia. They can also be found in the northern Atlantic Ocean. Lumpsuckers are found as deep as 146 meters (480 ft.). They aren’t very strong swimmers so they are typically found in eel grass beds stuck to rocks.

Food:  Pacific Spiny Lumpsuckers chow down on invertebrates such as polychaete worms, crustaceans and molluscs. In captivity they eat frozen brine shrimp and when desperate have been known to bite into nudibranchs such as the Lemon Nudibranch (Archidoris montereyensis) and the Hooded Nudibranch (Melibe leonina). These marine organisms contain toxins so after securing a bit in its mouth the Lumpsucker promptly spat it out.

Predators:  Lumpsuckers are eaten by Pacific Cod, Sable Fish, Lancet Fish and other larger fish. They avoid being eaten through camouflage or hiding amongst rocks and seaweed.

Food:  Pacific Spiny Lumpsuckers chow down on invertebrates such as polychaete worms, crustaceans and molluscs. In captivity they eat frozen brine shrimp and when desperate have been known to bite into nudibranchs such as the Lemon Nudibranch (Archidoris montereyensis) and the Hooded Nudibranch (Melibe leonina). These marine organisms contain toxins so after securing a bit in its mouth the Lumpsucker promptly spat it out.

Predators:  Lumpsuckers are eaten by Pacific Cod, Sable Fish, Lancet Fish and other larger fish. They avoid being eaten through camouflage or hiding amongst rocks and seaweed.

Life Cycle:  Lumpsuckers travel to spawn in shallow warmer water during the spring and summer. The females lay large spherical orange eggs that the males guard. You are able to see the ovaries in a ripe female. They stay in the warm water until the young fish are fully grown. In old age some Lumpsuckers lose their colour and become a dull light brown colour. They are solitary creatures and are often found alone.

Lumpsuckers at Victoria High School

Victoria High School has housed three Pacific Spiny Lumpsuckers over the past two years. When they first arrived they ate live shrimp but they were quickly domesticated and learned to eat frozen brine shrimp. When a new Lumpsucker is introduced into a tank with another one of its kind, the first Lumpsucker can be territorial and dominant, especially if the newer one is smaller.

REFERENCES:

(July 2005) Animal fact files: Lumpsucker. BBC: Science & Nature: Animals. Retrieved January 10th 2010 from

[http://www.bbc.co.uk/nature/blueplanet/factfiles/fish/lumpsucker_bg.shtml]

Hart, J. L. (1988). Pacific fishes of Canada. Ottawa: Canadian Government Publishing Center.

We would also like to thank Dr. Jeff Marliave, Vice President of Marine Science at the Vancouver Aquarium, for his helpful information.

Photographs by E. Pringle and D. Young

Video by D. Young

Author: Kathryn Taddei

Common  name:  Wolf Eel

Scientific name: Anarrhichthys occelatus

Size range: The Wolf Eel has been found to grow up to an average of 2 meters (8 feet) in length.


Identifying features:

Sometimes referred to as the “Ugly old man of the sea,” the Wolf Eel has a bulbous head with a strong jaw and sharp teeth. The adult Wolf Eel ranges from light brown to dark gray in colour, with a long, dot-covered body. These dots may differ in size and colour depending on the individual and its gender, and are frequently surrounded by a light ring. It is easy to differentiate between male and female wolf eels; the males tend to have larger, more grotesque heads, whereas the females possess a smaller jaw and are often darker in colour. Juveniles are a startling orange marked with dark orange splotches. The wolf eel’s dorsal fin extends from its head to the tip of its sleek body; its pectoral fins, located at the base of the head, are large and rounded.

Habitat:

The Wolf Eel has been found to live anywhere from Japan to the islands of Racerocks off of British Columbia’s coast. It tends to keep to shallow to medium depth waters, making its home in the hollows between rocks, which oftentimes look as though they would not be able to fit its wide head. The deepest a Wolf Eel has ever been uncovered is 225 meters below the surface.

Food:

The Wolf Eel is a rather intimidating-looking carnivore, adapted perfectly to suit its murky environment. Its jaw is designed especially for mowing down on hard-shelled creatures such as crustaceans, mussels, clams, sea urchins, snails, and some other fish.

Predators:

Although full-grown Wolf Eels have next to no predators (save the occasional harbor seal), their eggs often fall prey to rockfish and Kelp Greenlings.

Life Cycle:

Wolf Eels are unique in the way they go about their lives because (despite how they may initially appear) they are in fact quite the romantics- they mate for life. These creatures seek out their partners at four years of age, but will not reproduce until around seven. The male will court his female first by bumping his head up against her abdomen, then enveloping her entirely with his long slender body. Females can produce up to an astounding ten thousand eggs at once. The parents will closely guard their offspring for a period of around sixteen weeks, until at last they hatch.

Photos by D. Young and Mature Wolf Eel photo kindly provided by Erik Schauff

Video by Allie Graff

Read more

Tidepool Sculpin

Author: Taylor Dew-Jones

Common Name:  Tidepool Sculpin

Scientific Name:  Oligocottus maculosus

Size Range:  up to 9cm (3.5 inches)


Identifying Features:  All Tidepool Sculpins look very similar to one another, though distinct from other tide pool creatures. They have long, thin bodies with big heads and stripes all the way down the length of their body. Frequently you will find around 5 stripes on their body. Common Tidepool Sculpin colouring is grey or green, but their colour is not limited to that; you can find tidepool sculpins of almost every colour.

Habitat:  Tidepool Sculpins are salt water fish that live in tidepools and in sheltered intertidal areas. They are usually found near rocks in the low-level of the tide pool. Tidepool Sculpins have been known to live in water as cold as 0.5C (33 F). Interestingly enough, Tidepool Sculpins are able to find their way back to their favourite tidepools following a high tide.

Food:  Tidepool Sculpins eat small Invertebrates, isopods, amphipods, shrimp and worms. They can change the colouring of their bodies to blend in with their surroundings allowing them to ambush their prey. By surprising their prey and quickly chowing down, it is an effective way to hunt.

Predators:  Tidepool Sculpins have a number of predators. Common predators of the Tidepool Sculpin are the Great Blue Heron (Ardea Herodias), larger fish and crabs but they are also likely eaten by other shore birds, river otters and foraging raccoons.  Luckily for them, they were graced with speed and the ability to blend and hide allowing them to protect themselves from creatures who would like to eat them.

Life Cycle:  Tidepool Sculpins generally live to be 5 years old. They are oviparous, meaning they lay eggs. The color of the eggs can vary depending on where they are laid. Typically they will be green or pink. It falls on the fins of the male tidepool sculpins to watch the eggs for the majority of the time.

Photographs and video by D. Young and E. Pringle

Read more

Author: Alberta Trelawny and Dakoda McGregor

Common Name: Spotted Ratfish

Scientific Name: Hydrolagus colliei

Size range: 7.510 inches, varying on sex and maturity.              


Identifying features : The Spotted ratfish is a cartilaginous shark relative. It has many distinctive features and is in the chimaera family. It is said to look like a rabbit and its scientific name: Hydrolagus colliei, literally translates to “water hare.” The H. colliei has plate-like permanent teeth and a large, bulky, snout-like snub nose.  The Spotted Ratfish’s body tapers towards its posterior end and composes about half of its length. The spotted Ratfish can reach sizes of 14-20 inches long (body length) and females usually reach a height of 10 inches at their mature stage, most young specimens tend to measure in at around 5 inches. The Spotted Ratfish has a large, sharp and venomous dorsal fin that can inflict a painful wound; and a long, leaf-like and delicate fin follows the dorsal. This long fin undulates which gives it the appearance of being three separate appendages. The Spotted Ratfish also has two pectoral fins which extend straight out from its body, similar to airplane wings. One of the H. colliei’s most distinctive feature is it smooth, scale less and iridescent skin. Its colouring can range from silvery to a golden green usually with a darker brown background that reflects light; the fish is also usually covered in white, opalescent spots which helps add to its distinctive luster. Another particular feature is the Spotted Ratfish’s large eyes; they are often green in colour and reflect light, much like those of a cat.

Habitat: The ratfish is usually found in depths of 1000-2000 ft. deep in anywhere between southern pacific waters to northern pacific waters. It may also be found in some parts of European waters. A great place to see the spotted ratfish locally while diving is just off of Ogden point, Victoria, British Columbia. The ratfish tends to favour waters near the cost of B.C, California and Alaska. When food in the deeper waters becomes scarce the H. colliei will often move to shallower waters, hanging near the ocean floor.
Food/Prey : The Ratfish enjoys a diet of crustaceans, marine worms, small fish and mollusks. The ratfish is able to grind the shells with its plate like teeth. The spotted ratfish is also a chronicled cannibal, often eating their own egg cases as well as other ratfishes.

Predators : Marine species who feed on the Ratfish include different types of sharks such as the six gill shark, seven gill sharks, tope sharks, the spiny dogfish, and big carnivorous fish such as the giant sea bass, ling cod, rock fish, Pacific Halibut, and other marine mammals (such as seal, orcas, porpoises etc.) Humans do not consume the Ratfish as they are unpalatable, it can also inflict a painful wound with its venomous dorsal fin and may also give a painful bite.

Life Cycle: The Ratfish begins its reproduction cycle during the autumn/spring seasons by conducting complicated courtship patterns during the mating season; both sex’s complete distinct manoeuvers and the males undergo extensive color changes.  The females begin to expel eggs in pairs; they birth these eggs into muddy areas every 10-14 days and their fertile period will last several months.  The female ratfishes labor can last anywhere between 18-30 hours. The eggs then hang freely from their mother attached by a thin filament. They hang attached for 4-6 days until they are planted in the ground. The eggs begin to hatch around a year later, which means the baby fish goes through a long gestation period and is born relatively matured. The young usually appear from the case at approximately 5.5 inches and grow about 11.8 inches in their first year.

Photos courtesy of Andy Murch at www.elasmodiver.com

Illustration by Alberta Trelawny

Read more

Spiny Dogfish

Author: Cara Mackenzie

Scientific Name: Squalus suckleyi ( Also referred to as Squalus acanthia suckleyi)

Common Name: Spiny Dogfish or Piked Dogfish

Maximum Size: 160cm (63 Inches)

Size at Maturity:

Males 56-80cm (22-31 1/2 inches), Females 60- 100cm (23 ½ -39 ½ inches)


Identifying features:

The Spiny Dogfish has no anal fin. The dorsal surface is bluish grey or brown with distinct small white spots. It has a slender and elegant body, with quite a flat head. The snout is slender, narrowing down to a pointed edge. It also has five short gill slits. Spines are visible in front of each dorsal fin.

Habitat:

The Spiny Dogfish lives on continental shelves, insular slopes, and upper slopes. They live in depths of 30.5 – 92 metres (100-300 ft) with males living in shallower water than females. They are comfortable in temperatures of 6 – 11C (43-52 F).

Prey:

Spiny Dogfish love to eat bony fish such as salmon as well as cartilaginous fish. They have a very diverse diet that can include cephalopods, gastropods, crustaceans, sea cucumbers, ctenophores, hydrozoans, jelly fish, squid, octopus, herring, menhadens, capelins, sand lances, and mackerels. They travel and hunt in packs. The pack size can range from hundreds to thousands of Spiny Dogfish. The pack is sometimes segregated by gender. Spiny Dogfish are frequently spotted hunting in packs.

Predators:

Some of the predators of Spiny Dogfish include cod, red hake, goose fish, and other Spiny Dogfish. They use their spines on the dorsal fin to defend themselves.  Despite having venom in the spines many fish will still attack and eat the Spiny Dogfish.  It also curls up into a bow and strikes at any predator that threatens it.

Life Cycle:

Males mature at 11 years and females become mature at about 18 to 21 years. They typically mate during the winter. Mating is ovoviviparous. Mating usually takes place in offshore waters and it is internal fertilization. Once the eggs are fertilized, the mother produces a thin, horny, transparent shell around them called a candle, and here they develop within her body feeding off the egg yolk. The litter can range anywhere from 2 to 11 pups and are approximately 20-30cm at birth.  The gestation period of the Spiny Dogfish is 18 to 24 months, one of the longest of any vertebrates.  They live for at least 44 years but can live for as long as 100 years. The population has decreased drastically over the years due to the fact that it takes them a long time to mature and they have such a lengthy gestation period.  They are fished to be used as pet food, fish and chips, fertilizers, oils, and a cheaper version of shark fin’s soup.

Photo kindly provided by Andy Murch

Read more

Identifying Features Known as “Ugliest creature identified,” the Smooth Dreamer has a massive head with a gigantic, crescent-shaped mouth that is filled with sharp, translucent teeth angled inwards to prevent prey from escaping. Smooth Dreamers have roughly 25-51 teeth in the upper jaw and 33-53 teeth in the lower jaw. They are a dark grey […]

Slimy Snailfish

Author: Amanda Brager

Common Name: Slimy Snailfish

Scientific name: Liparis mucosus

Size: Slimy snailfish grow to at least 7cm (2.75 inches) in length.


Identifying features:

Slimy Snailfish (Liparis mucosus) do not have scales. Their bodies are shaped like a tadpole and they have a small tail. They also have dorsal fins that almost connect to their tail fin. These are an interesting looking fish with miniscule eyes and tiny teeth, combined with a long skinny body. Snailfish attach to the ground using a small sucking disk below their head. These fish don’t have a strict colouring. They can be found with and without patterns and vary in colour.  They are mostly red, brown, pink, a greenish brown colour, and a yellowy green colour.

Habitat:

The Slimy Snailfish lives can be found in Alaska, the northeast Pacific, to southern British Columbia, Canada and down to Baja, Mexico. Depending upon the species, snailfish can live in shallow waters or up to 7500m deep.

Prey:

These Snailfish feed on small benthic crustaceans, mollusks, polychaete worms, and other small invertebrates. Snailfish will use their pelvic disk to attach to a rock while they wait patiently for something to swim by. They have sensory pores in their head and can feel vibrations when food is near. They eat by sucking in all of the water in front of them and filtering out the food.

Life cycle:

Snailfish lay only a few large eggs, being around 4.5-mm in size. The reason for this is so that their young develop properly; as well as being able to escape predators easier. The young Slimy Snailfish look more like a tadpole than the fully grown fish do. They lack a defined shape to there body and appear almost rod like.

Video by Amanda Brager and D. Young

Photos by D.Young

Read more