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Dive Dry with Dr. Bill

#552: DO Feed the Animals

No, I'm not writing about Eric Burdon and The Animals in this column. However, they did play at the freshman spring dance my first year at Harvard and probably was the reason the lovely Pam accepted my invitation to the dance. This week I'm thinking more about the signs you see posted in zoos and parks throughout the English speaking world: "Don't Feed the Animals."

The Marine Life Protection Act actually allows people to "feed the animals" in the two marine protected areas (MPAs) within Avalon's boundaries, Lover's Cove and Casino Point. Personally, I found it strange when an act designed to protect the marine life in our waters allowed humans to feed them. This is especially true when you consider some of the things snorkelers offer like Cheez Whiz. Even I wouldn't eat that! Frozen peas are not part of the natural diet of kelp bass and garibaldi. I doubt they are a problem, but have you ever seen either species wandering through the produce or frozen foods section at Vons? I rest my case.

Although I frown on adding chemicals like Cheez Whiz to the critter's diets, I don't mind feeding some of them their natural foods (even if it does mean I'm interfering with Mother Nature). However, I refuse to do what some divers used to... kill sea urchins to feed the fish. That's strictly illegal here. There are places where the urchins are in unnaturally high numbers because we've reduced their natural predators like sheephead and lobster, but in marine protected areas you are not allowed to kill critters. Heck, I'm not even allowed to remove the nasty non-native and highly invasive Asian seaweed that infests our waters.

On my night dives I enjoy feeding one very special group of snails. I'm speaking of the green and pink abalone that are being seen again in our waters. Of course I remember the days when they were incredibly abundant and were feeding me... with help from the lobster, scallops, sanddabs and rock cod I used to catch. Ah, those were the days. However, I do occasionally come upon them now and get pleasure from picking up some of the kelp litter on the bottom and offering them a tasty and healthy snack... some seaweed salad. I think they must get enough food as it is because I rarely see them move far from the "scar" on the rocks that is their home base suggesting they don't have to go far from home to munch..

A big, juicy kelp blade is a treat for them. Most of their diet comes from bits and pieces of drift kelp that enters the nooks, crannies and crevices where they live. When I offer them an entire blade. they lift up and stomp down to trap it with their foot. It's fun to watch the shell rise up and the tongue-like foot reach out to grab the delicacy. Occasionally I observe them feeding on less tender fare such as the tough southern sea palm kelp. I'd liken that to being forced to eat asparagus (yuck). I've also seen them munching on the tender red seaweed known as Plocamium. I guess they like some variety in their diet, but they pretty much stick to a vegan menu.

On my night dives I'm also responsible for feeding other species, although not directly. My video lights illuminate all sorts of potential prey such as the blacksmith and kelp surfperch the kelp bass and morays chow down on, as well as the spawning worms that they and kelp rockfish occasionally take as they wiggle their way towards the surface and... ecstasy! I suppose I should feel bad about the critters that are munched under my spotlights, but it does make for some spectacular video!

I mentioned recently that I've been observing and filming our local kelp bass as they "shadow" morays out on the prowl. The moray acts like a hunting dog, "flushing" small fish out from the reef. If the kelp bass is quick enough, it grabs the fleeing fish. Last week I was filming two kelp bass following a large moray when one of them lunged for what must have been a blacksmith. I kept the camera rolling in case it turned and came towards me with its prey dangling from its mouth.

Instead, the kelp bass did a 180 and came straight at me with its mouth WIDE open! Then it began what I can only describe as choking. Suddenly a large blade of kelp was ejected from its innards. I guess the kelp bass was none too fond of seaweed salad! It prefers its plant material highly processed... plant plankton eaten by animal plankton, then consumed by the blacksmith to provide a suitable meal for these carnivores. Like me, there is no way they'd survive as vegans!

© 2013 Dr. Bill Bushing. Watch the "Dive Dry with Dr. Bill" underwater videos on Catalina Cable TV channel 29, 10:00 AM weekdays and on Charter Communications Cable channel 33 at 7:30 PM on Tuesdays in the Riverside/Norco area. You can also watch these episodes in iPod format on YouTube through my channel there (drbillbushing). Please help me climb out of self-imposed poverty... buy my DVD's (see this link). Yes, take Dr. Bill home with you... we'll both be glad you did!

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Abalone munching on sweet, tender giant kelp blades; and kelp bass choking on its seaweed salad.

This document maintained by Dr. Bill Bushing.
Material and images © 2013 Star Thrower Educational Multimedia