Your Week in Ocean: Strange Sightings [UPDATED] [PHOTOS]

Jennifer Savage / Thursday, July 17 @ 9:16 a.m. / Ocean

Photo by M. Sid Kelly – follow him on Twitter for more stunning photos and general knowledge goodness.

“What IS this?” is the common refrain this month. While most folks recognize the Velellas (above, commonly known as “by-the-wind sailors”) carpeting the sand, other images have recently popped up in my inbox demanding identification. Like these:

Along with the above photos, Kym forwarded a note from LoCO reader Veronica Daw:

“Hi, saw this at clam beach on Monday surrounded by vultures and ravens.  I thought the big round thing in it’s head was wierd, like a tumor or somthing.  My friend thinks it’s a porpoise.”

Local marine mammal biologist Jeff Jacobsen agrees:

“Harbor porpoise is my first and second guess. Big round thing is the skull, a hole pecked in it. Probably a calf, there is a peak in calving and calves on beaches July 4, this one a bit late, looks small, though no obvious fetal folds or umbilicus, both of which could have faded by now, and sand covers a lot of it. Flukes don’t seem curled, common in neonates. So this kid could be a few weeks old. The bones would be soft and fragile on a calf, easy to peck into, get those tasty rich brains.”

Congrats, Veronica’s friend! You are correct! (Sorry, no prize other than the satisfaction of being right, friend.)

Meanwhile, avid beachgoer, NCJ staffer and my good pal Amy Barnes happened upon a gooseneck barnacle-laden buoy on Clam Beach – be sure to check out her son’s video of the bizarro buggers. 

In less creepy critter news, the Humboldt Bay Critter Crawl happened! 

Any LoCO readers inspired to utilize the bay this way? Background here.

If you’re wondering what to do with all your expired Advil, outdated birth control pills and other pharmaceuticals taking up space in your medicine cabinet, City of Eureka Public Works Pollution Expert Justin Boyes explained exactly why you should neither trash nor flush them yesterday on Coastal Currents. (Spoiler: Take them to an Open Door clinic. Unless they’re a controlled substance – Oxycontin for example – in which case, call Humboldt Waste Management Authority to ask about the next hazardous waste collection date.

Things to do

The Northcoast Environmental Center is building on its beach stewardship history this summer with (Re)Debris, a marine debris educational sculpture utilizing trash gathered from North Coast beach cleanups built in collaboration with SCRAP Humboldt and sponsored by a grant from the Coastal Commission. Community members can help build the creature by attending any in a series of workshops at SCRAP Humboldt’s The (Re)Workshop, 101 H St., Arcata, including one tonight from 7 to 8:30 p.m. Future workshops are Tuesday, July 22, Tuesday July 29 and Tuesday, Aug. 5, all from 7 to 8:30 p.m. 

You can join the PacOut Green Team for a trash cleanup in Arcata this Saturday, July 9 at 8:30 a.m.: PacOut Green Team vs Redwood Curtain Disc Golf Course Front 9 – Sponsored by Shafer’s Ace Hardware. (The group has helpfully mapped out a year’s worth of cleanups. Plan accordingly.)

Humboldt Baykeeper and the Northcoast Environmental Center are partnering with the Humboldt Bay Aquatic Center and the Humboldt Bay Harbor, Recreation and Conservation District to offer free monthly bilingual tours covering a variety of topics related to Humboldt Bay. For the first time, the “Bay Explorations” tours will be narrated in both Spanish and English. A motorized tour takes place this Saturday, July 19 – email or call 786-3754 for more info or to join.

Join an experienced Friends of the Dunes naturalist for Nature Story Time at the Humboldt Coastal Nature Center on Saturday, July 19 from 2 to 3 p.m. Geared for ages 3 to 6, story time will focus on local wildlife and a simple craft project. Reserve a space by calling 444-1397.

Friends of the Dunes also offers the Dune Detectives Summer Camp at the Humboldt Coastal Nature Center. This week-long day camp program for ages 5 to 8 will connect participants to the diverse coastal habitats of the Samoa Peninsula. Participants will visit beaches, dunes, wetlands, and coastal forests while learning about nature and history through inquiry based learning and creative expression. While exploring diverse coastal habitats, participants will learn about the animals and plants that live there through games, songs, and hands-on exploration. The cost of this half day program is $80 for Friends of the Dunes members and $95 for non-members. To sign up, call 444-1397 or stop by the Humboldt Coastal Nature Center. Registration closes Monday, July 21.


Can we get one of these for Humboldt Bay?

“For people who find it hard to believe the Earth really is warming, new visual evidence will soon be available – two atlases, one showing graphically the retreat of Arctic ice, the other the human and economic price exacted by extreme weather.” 

Happy #NudibranchWeek!

Palmer’s Point nudi


Mind the Plovers

Jennifer Savage / Friday, July 11 @ 6 a.m. /

Newly hatched western snowy plover chicks. Photo by Sean McAllister.

Friends of the Dunes sent the following announcement:

For the first time in decades, a pair of nesting western snowy plovers has been sighted in Manila. 

This small threatened shorebird nests on bare sand just above the high tide line, and forages for invertebrates in wet and dry sand. Friends of the Dunes would like to remind community members to share the beach with snowy plovers that are nesting and raising their young from March to September.

The best way to avoid disturbing a nest is to keep activities on the waveslope (the area between the high tide line and the ocean), and to view wildlife from a distance. Dogs should be kept on the waveslope as well, and should be under voice control or on a leash. And always remember to pack out your trash, litter and food waste can attract predators such as ravens to areas where snowy plovers nest.

Wildlife biologists use a series of 4 colored leg bands to identify individual adult western snowy plovers. Photo by Sean McAllister.

The Pacific Coast population of the western snowy plover is a distinct sub-population that is federally was listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act in 1993, and is a Bird Species of Special Concern in California. This Pacific Coast population breeds along tidal waters from Washington to Baja California, and a small population breeds in coastal Northern California. In 2013, there were 41 breeding adults in Humboldt and Mendocino Counties.

In recent years, snowy plovers have nested at Gold Bluff Beach, Stone Lagoon, Big Lagoon, Little River State Beach, Clam Beach, Mad River Beach, Eel River Wildlife Area and Centerville Beach. But a nest has not been recorded in Manila since 1977.

For more information about the western snowy plover you can call Friends of the Dunes at (707) 444-1397, stop by the Humboldt Coastal Nature Center located at 220 Stamps Lane in Manila, or visit

Biking On Bridges: Why Can’t Humboldt Get Non-Motorized Transportation Right?

Jennifer Savage / Tuesday, July 8 @ 11:22 a.m. / Op-Ed

Bicycling over the bridges linking the Samoa peninsula to Eureka is an exercise in cheating death. Between the wall and the lane lies a space that feels about the width of my handlebars. No room for error, on either my part or a driver’s, exists. Some drivers give a courtesy berth. I love them. Some drivers roar past so close I could bang on their cars with my fist – and would, if it wouldn’t endanger me.

Many drivers are oblivious, busy talking, texting, finding a song on their iPod, lighting a cigarette, cursing the blob of mayo that just fell out of the sandwich they’re shoving into their mouths while rushing to work, any of those things we’ve grown accustomed to doing since cars became an extension of our living rooms.

Bicycling over the bridges is amazing. I can savor the view far more from my bike than my car. I see more herons, harbor seals, take a longer look at that peregrine falcon. The sight of the fishing boats reflecting past and present in the water surrounding them, sun angling through masts, is one of my favorite moments as is noting the rowers sculling across the bay, perfect strokes propelling them faster than I can pedal. In between the moments of fear, I inevitably grin.

And the exercise helps keep me healthy as long as the cars don’t kill me. Eureka is so close, the ride easy enough (again, aside from the substantial threat of vehicular manslaughter) – it seems silly to drive there on pretty days. Heading to Arcata is scarcely better – the side of the highway offers a similarly narrow option, the only difference being my body might wind up in a ditch rather than over the side.

Legally, a cyclist can utilize the same lane as the cars when “substandard width lanes” make sticking to the right-hand edge unsafe (California VC 21202a3). But I doubt most drivers have the patience to drive slowly behind a cyclist – especially the ones who don’t have enough patience to drive the speed limit, a significant problem on 255. I think some drivers would react to a cyclist slowing them down as an act of aggression, rather than concern, thus making for an even less safe situation.

I thought about all this after pedaling through downtown Brooklyn this week. On every block, cars honked, buses wheezed, other cyclists rang their bells – much more charming than bellowing, “On your left!” – dozens of pedestrians moved at varying speeds. Navigating through it all kept me exponentially alert, no time for daydreaming or making any but the most cursory cultural observations. Glance too long at an interesting bit of architecture and blammo! into a knot of strollers I’d go. 

But in certain ways, I felt safer than I do in Arcata and definitely more so than I am on Broadway in Eureka. Primarily because everyone’s attention level is elevated – it has to be. The dance is a complicated one. Nobody wants to miss a step.

When I reached the Brooklyn Bridge, motorized vehicles ceased to be a threat completely as I cycled up the bike path, grateful for the stunning view of Manhattan, the cool breeze making the summer heat bearable and a dedicated corridor allowing me to enjoy both. I still had to make my way past the pedestrians who would wander into the bike lanes from their demarcated trail – tourists! – but unlike home, I had no reason to fear death.

According to the New York City Department of Transportation, more than 120,000 vehicles, 4,000 pedestrians and 2,600 bicyclists cross the Brooklyn Bridge daily. Eureka and Arcata combined have a population of about 53,000. I don’t have the car vs bicycle fatalities per capita handy, but as a human person who occasionally rides a bike for transportation, pleasure, exercise, all of the above, the fact that I felt safe in New York City in a way I never do cycling around Humboldt Bay startled me. It seems wrong to live in such a beautiful place where the climate is sometimes politically progressive and mostly atmospherically mild and have what should be a celebration of health feel marred by a sense of inevitable doom.

I’m lucky – I bike by choice. But given the minimal/nonexistent level of public transportation from the spit and the percentage of people without reliable cars, safe cycling options from the peninsula to Eureka and Arcata could potentially change lives. Beginning with not ending them.

Humboldt County Bicycling Resources

Humboldt Bay Bicycle Commuters Association

Humboldt Trails Council

Happy Trails

Green Wheels

Your Week in Ocean: Not Completely Doomed

Jennifer Savage / Wednesday, July 2 @ 7:57 a.m. / Activism , Ocean , Science

#EurekaRising via #DrownYourTown

“It’s like when you get bad news from the doctor,” explained author John Englander to the audience prior to speaking about his book, High Tide on Main Street, last Thursday at San Francisco’s Aquarium of the Bay. His premise? It’s better to know. 

“I promise not to be all doom-and-gloom,” he continued. The doom element proved unavoidable, however, as a significant part of Englander’s message is, “It’s too late.” Without digressing into the harm anti-science forces have done on a number of fronts, let’s consider his recommended options when assessing the future sea level rise that’s going to happen:

1. Move to higher ground. Here’s a useful tool: The Humboldt Bay Sea Level Rise Planning Project. (Also, #DrownYourTown!)

2. Share the reality of what can be expected. Upwell, sharers of all the hot ocean gossip, makes it easy.

3. Pressure elected representatives to make policy accordingly. Need some talking points? Here’s a bipartisan report, appropriately titled “Risky Business,” released last week. In an attempt to create a solid source of information, California Assemblyman Rich Gordon has a bill in the works that would task the Natural Resources Agency with creating a public website and database to warehouse response plans, studies, maps, computer models and Local Coastal Programs related to sea-level rise. (Sacto nerds, see here.)

Coastal Commission unshackled

On the topic of recent legislation, a recent bill gave the California Coastal Commission the ability to levy fines on landowners who prevent access to public beaches. As often happens, a law designed to prevent such abuse of California’s citizens already exists – the increase in power simply puts some much-needed teeth in it.

The Commission’s empowerment correlates with a high-profile case down in Half Moon Bay, where surfers and other beach-goers are fighting for their right to access Martin’s Beach. This is hardly a unique circumstance – even Trinidad has been embroiled in the public vs private interests battle.

Happily, access to Humboldt Bay continues to improve. Note trails in progress, below, and download the entire project brochure via KHUM.

Interested in exploring Humboldt Bay while paddling a kayak or from the more leisurely deck of a motorized boat? With help from a Coastal Conservancy grant, Humboldt Baykeeper has partnered with HSU’s Aquatic Center and the Humboldt Bay Harbor, Recreation and Conservation District to offer monthly bilingual tours covering a variety of topics on Humboldt Bay. Email for more info or to join a tour.

  • Tours with the Harbor District are scheduled for the following Saturdays: July 19, August 16, September 13 and October 11.
  • Tours with HSU’s Aquatic Center are scheduled for the following Thursdays: July 24, August 28, September 25 and October 23.

‘Rare and vulnerable’

Another place to explore with the help of an expert is the Lanphere Dunes. Join botanist Lisa Hoover for a free, guided exploration of ecological relationships in the coastal dunes on Saturday, July 5 from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. You’ll leave with a deeper understanding of the importance of conserving the natural diversity of this rare and vulnerable habitat. Meet at Pacific Union School, 3001 Janes Road in Arcata to carpool. For more information visit or call (707) 444-1397.

Save the Devil’

Adam Black-capped Pestrel chick

 Adam Brown, a senior biologist with Environmental Protection in the Caribbean (EPIC), tells the story of working with one of the world’s most endangered seabirds, the Black-capped Petrel (below), on one of the world’s poorest island nations, Haiti. Follow him through finding the first Black-capped Petrel nest ever to working with a family of Haitian farmers to save one of the last known nesting colonies of this imperiled species in a free lecture sponsored by Explore North Coast on Monday, July 14 at the HSU Aquatic Center in Eureka.

From Save the Devil, the feature documentary chronicling these efforts, “This is a story of two families. One is a family of Haitian farmers struggling daily to feed their children. And one is a family of birds on the brink of extinction living in one of the last places on earth they can hide.”

Local people helping you do things better

You know we like our fish local. If you’re angling to catch your own, the T-S’ “Fishing the North Coast” is your best source to what’s happening on the water.

You also know we like our beaches clean. If you’re looking to help make that so, the PacOut Green Team’s Saturday cleanup events are the places to be. This Saturday, it’s a post-July 4 trash collection on the north end of Manila Beach. Details via the team’s Facebook page.

‘Coastal Currents’ on vacation this week, Ocean Night bumped to July 10

Due to your co-hosts both being on vacation simultaneously, your ears will have to wait till next Wednesday, July 9 for an aural look at Humboldt’s coastal happenings.

Due to July being a notoriously light month when it comes to presenting moving documentaries inspiring audiences to action, this month’s Ocean Night will be a “Surf Flick Spectacular” – expect the visual equivalent of getting pitted, so pitted, on Thursday, July 10. Doors at 6:30 p.m., films at 7 p.m. More info next week.

Your Week in Ocean: Don’t Eat the Unagi

Jennifer Savage / Wednesday, June 18 @ 10:01 a.m. / Ocean

Humboldt loves sushi, no question. Hopefully you already pay attention to Seafood Watch either by consulting the foldout guide in your pocket or checking the app on your phone against menu options. Now, here’s one to add to the “Avoid” list: Unagi. The International Union for Conservation of Nature this week designated the Japanese eel as endangered, a move that could lead to global restrictions.

As with most fish stocks, the root of the problem is overfishing. According to U.S. government reports, a third of all major fish stocks are overfished and half of the rest are fished to their limit and at risk of being depleted. In an effort to address these and other threats, President Obama announced on Tuesday a proposal to protect significantly more ocean by making it off-limits to fishing, energy exploration and other activities. At hand, 782,000 square miles of central Pacific Ocean. 

California, of course, leads the nation in marine protection, with 120 underwater refuges along the state’s coast, extending from Oregon to Mexico. Right here in Humboldt, you can launch from the Hookton Slough Unit of the Humboldt Bay Wildlife Refuge – at a high tide – and paddle over to the Humboldt Bay marine protected area. Look for a high incoming tide in the morning for the very best experience.

Even LoCo’s Andrew Goff kayaks in the bay! You can, too!

And while we’re on the topic of maximizing your local fun times, Friends of the Dunes hosts their annual Sand Sculpture Festival out from the Manila Community Center trail this Saturday. Registration at 8 a.m., recommended viewing from noon to 3 p.m. 

For further discussion on these and other ocean-beach-bay-coast issues, tune into Coastal Currents on KHUM 104.7 FM today at noon.