The muscles of SCUBA

Scuba can be a lazy sport, but it is a physical activity and as such, being in good physical health is important.

Some muscles are more valuable than others in scuba, for instance:

Glutes: Nothing like walking up 30 or 40 stairs, dripping wet, carrying 20 lbs of lead weight to let you know your ass is dragging.  You will also be climbing up ladders on boats.  And squatting to pick up tanks or weights.  Strong glutes go a long way.

Abs: This is a funny one, but oftentimes on the boat, I see people put their gear on while seated and then grunt, struggling to pull their gear forward and up with them! In this case, it’s about core strength.  If your core is not strong enough to take the weight of your bcd and integrated weights, it’s going to be very hard to stand up with your gear on.

Calves: SCUBA is all swimming legs, no swimming arms.  Although this is a hard lesson to learn for many, once you stop using your arms and wasting your air, you may find an increase in calf cramps: your calves may not be used to that much love! Even if your calves are super tone, you may still get cramps due to dehydration or malnourishment.  Prepare yourself for long surface swims with some calf exercises.

Heart: Scuba puts a lot of pressure on your heart, and being heart healthy is important.  Plus, doing cardio to strengthen your heart can help you prepare for surface swims, or long dives powered exclusively by your legs. If you can’t walk a mile comfortably, or go up a set of stairs without getting winded, you should not be diving.  This is a very serious topic, as many people will die from heart attacks while diving, and if you are a smoker, or live a sedentary life style, scuba is not for you.

Thanks Dudley, for capturing some SCUBA strength in profile.

Thanks Dudley, for capturing some SCUBA strength in profile.

Shoulders: Tank lifting, weight lifting, swimming.  Having strong shoulders can make the weight lighter, and your life easier.

In general, scuba can be very easy going.  Once you’re in the water, and weightless, and cruising using your fins, and the current to your advantage, it can all feel like a breeze. But if the conditions turn on you, you may find that you are the mercy of your weaknesses.

stay strong, divers.


A Short History of Nearly Everything

Electric Jellies at the Aquarium of the Pacific

I just finished reading “A Short History of Nearly Everything” by Bill Bryson, and I can’t sing its praises enough. What a wonderful book!  This week, an excerpt.

“I mention all this to make the point that if you were designing an organism to look after life in our lonely cosmos, to monitor where it is going and keep a record of where it has been, you wouldn’t choose human beings for the job.

But here’s the extremely salient point: we have been chosen, by fate or Providence or whatever you wish to call it. As far as we can tell, we are the best there is. We may  be all there is. It’s an unnerving thought that we may be the living universe’s supreme achievement and its worst nightmare simultaneously.

Because we are so remarkably careless about looking after things, both when alive and when not, we have no idea-really none at all-about how many things have died off permanently, or may soon, or may never, and what role have played in any part of the process.


If this book has a lesson, it is that we are awfully lucky to be here-and by “we” i mean every living thing.  To attain any kind of life in this universe of ours appears to be quite an achievement. As humans we are doubly lucky of course: we enjoy not only the privilege of existence but also the singular ability to appreciate it and even, in a multitude of ways, to make it better. It is a talent we have only barely begun to grasp.”


a school of fish, playing it safe.

entitlement brings with it the duty of stewardship.  We are entitled beings, stamping out 20,000 species per year. Or more. We don’t even know, and can never be sure on that number!!  But we have the ability to appreciate what we do have, and more, the ability to slow down or stop the damage. Instead of being discouraged and overwhelmed by the idea that people are causing the next great mass extinction, be grateful for this short period we are permitted

and seriously, read this book.


Whale Fall

Welcome to a new recurring segment on my blog called: Ocean Vocab.  I thought it would be fun to choose interesting words and phrases in relationship to the ocean, and explore them a bit.

For our first Ocean Vocab, “Whale Fall”.  What is a whale fall?

A whale fall in Santa Cruz, 18 months along.

A whale fall in Santa Cruz, 18 months along.

A whale fall is kind of like Thanksgiving dinner for the inhabitants in the deep sea (between 2ooo feet and 6600 feet). A lot of nutrients in the ocean come from shallower waters, and are passed through to organisms deeper down by death, and currents.  For instance, when a whale dies, its carcass will drift to the bottom of the sea, where those inhabitants will waste no time in making the most of situation.

Some of these organisms go long periods of time without eating, and must take advantage of a feast (or famine) scenario. When a whale falls, it creates a localized ecosystem

Hagfish. Not known for being the cutest of fish.

Hagfish. Not known for being the cutest of fish.

The animals to arrive first are free swimming animals: sleeper sharks and hag fish.  They can move freely, so they book it over to get the meat, and will eat until the meat is all gone.  For some whales (a blue whale for instance) this can take up to FIVE years.

Once the meat is gone,  the free swimmers go too, and thus come the worms and the mollusks and bacteria mats, to clean up the bones. This stage ends when all the oxygen in the area is used up, or up to 4 more years.

a whale bone being hauled up 5 years later after an experimental placement.

a whale bone being hauled up 5 years later after an experimental placement.

Now the only thing left is the bare, squeaky clean bones. But even this is yummy, yummy nourishment for someone. Anaerobic bacteria eat up the fat inside the bones, which helps convert sulphate to sulphide (which is food for EVEN MORE ANIMALS).  OMG. This stage can last 80 years, or even up to 100 years! Can you imagine, from the death of one whale, a whole ecosystem develops and is sustained for longer than the average life of a human.

Waste not, want not.


PS it’s thought that many species went extinct when commercial whaling began hauling up more catch and whale falls were less and less common.

The Bystander Effect

The bystander effect is a theory that the more witnesses there are to a crime or a violent event, the less likely anyone is to intervene.  Some people believe that the higher amounts of witnesses to an event inversely affects the probability that someone will help.

I could list gruesome and depressing stories of the bystander theory, but I think that every single reader can probably conjure one to mind.  What I want to do is draw relation to the bystander affect and the current state of our ocean.

Screen shot 2012-07-09 at 6.16.53 PM

Depending on your news settings, you will notice varying amounts of articles and news about  ocean pollution, the extinction of creatures, Fukushima radiation, shark fin soup, violence, sadness, and defeat.  If you pay close enough attention, it’s a constant barrage of violent news, enough suffering to shut down a person, to prevent them from doing even the littlest effort to help.

So often I hear, why bother? The news is distributed over  so many people, either scientists will fix it, or someone else will,  or nobody can.  They think throwing a cigarette butt on the ground, or walking past a piece of trash, or choosing to eat unsustainable seafood won’t matter. Somebody else will fix it, throw it away, somebody else will care.

There are five stages a bystander goes through:

  • Notice the event
  • Realize the emergency
  • Assume a degree of responsibility
  • Decide what can be done
  • Act, or decide not to act.

So what can you do to counteract becoming just another bystander effect?  First acknowledge that you are being a passive spectator, and then make a decision to act. If you are aware, you can determine the amount of action to take.  Be it to pick up a piece of trash, to care about what you are reading, to learn more about what you read, or to put your money where your heart is (which is a form of action in itself, aiding others to act in your behalf).

The bottom line is, witnessing any bad situation puts you in some degree of responsibility.

Screen shot 2012-07-18 at 2.38.04 PM

This attitude can be applied to all the things you love.  For me, it is the ocean.  For you, it may the forest, your neighborhood, dogs, public transport, a farmers market, a local shop, a school.  Don’t be a  bystander, don’t assume someone will act; take an interest, and become more.


Being a bystander doesn't save you.

Remaining a bystander doesn’t save you.

Why I keep a handwritten log book

I keep a handwritten log book for my dives.  When I started out, it was the norm, but as I dive more and more I see it less often.

Dive computers are set up to connect to your computer via USB, and increasingly, blue tooth.  It is no longer necessary to manually write out each dive, as the dive date and information can be transferred so easily. I should say, some information can be transferred so easily.

my little piece of diving history.

my little piece of diving history.

But I still find joy in keeping a handwritten log book.  I have my book from my open water class, and, encouraged by my instructor, the notes I wrote to accompany each dive.  It’s so endearing….The notes from the very  beginning. The wonder, the excitement, the hurried scrawls.  The drips of water on the page, and with them, the memory of sitting and writing them on a park bench by the beach in Goleta.

I’ve gone through four log books. I use a water proof notepad now, and sometimes dives just constitute a single line: depth, time, dive site, date, dive #.  Sometimes I put notes in about new equipment, or changes in weight.  Sometimes I write notes for my personal liability, if something happened that I needed to remember.

But sometimes, the notes are just for the sheer joy of the dive.  “On this dive, I saw 10 TURTLES.  M puked through his regulator and I could hear everyone else laughing through theirs underwater”.  “Remember to check out the cave on this dive site….” “WEAR EXTRA WEIGHTS HERE.”

“Best. Dive. Ever.”

I don’t keep a journal, but these hand written notes are like little love letters to my future self,  and to the ocean, my dive buddies, and to the wildlife I’ve encountered.  Old notes are like finding some embarrassing poem you wrote in high school, and that’s how the notes I write now will look in 10 years.  But it’s my personal evolution, my personal story, sometimes told in sparse words, sometimes in many paragraphs, and sometimes just in the way of the writing.

Keep logging merfolks


Some word for word excerpts.

Dive 4: “Zero visibility.  Jaws?”

Dive 94 “Saw Bad. Ass. Turtle.”

Dive 64: “We overshot the boat! Saw an eel”

Dive 100: “100th Dive!!!! Christina helped me undress…”

Dive 173: “Narced!!”

Dive 284: “La Chimena….One of the coolest dives yet”


Dive 411 “must have seen 20 sea lions.  <3 <3 <3 <3 <3″

What’s your best logged dive?

Underwater Naturalist Specialty

This week I wanted to share a video made by a student and friend  of mine during the Underwater Naturalist specialty.  Kevin, of Bucket List Diving, made a video for each dive, showcasing some plants and animals of beautiful Southern California, and their relationships. Enjoy!

Dive one: plants and animals.

Dive two: Relationships


PS if you enjoyed these videos, check out more from Bucket List Diver on youtube and subscribe.

Happy Valentine’s Day Earth!

Are you from Earth? Do you know someone who is? Great!

There’s no better day to show Earth you care than Valentine’s day!


Instead of flowers-try shorter showers!

Happy Valentine’s day lovers,



California’s Drought: A reminder that water is precious

California is experiencing a drought, the worst we have seen since 1977…maybe longer.  And it’s only expected to get worse…

A high pressure zone off the Pacific coast is preventing storms from coming to us, stopped snow falling in the Sierra Nevada, stopped Los Angeles from getting the rain it needs during January.  Some are calling this the “Ridiculously Resilient Ridge” and no one has ANY idea when this ridge will leave and let some water in. It could be months or even years.  This drought may be our new normal.

The Dust Bowl: 1936, South Dakota. Let’s manage our water California!

Many communities will run out of DRINKING water by March or April.  Farmers are not being allotted water from the state’s reservoir systems starting in the Spring. This is troubling news for us…and for the whole country. More than 50% of the United States’ fruits, veggies and nuts come from California, and a lot of dairy as well.

It’s important for each of us to do our part to conserve the precious water we do have, and not to waste it on non essential things.  Although our planet is covered in water, only about 2% of it is fresh water.  How can we Californians, and all people in general make the most of what we have?

Some tips for water conservation:

Limit your showers. Try turning off the water in between lathers and rinses.  If you can keep your shower to five minutes or less, you may be able to save up to 1000 gallons per month(!!!!)

Invest in dry shampoo.  It sprays on dry hair and lengthens the time between washes.

Don’t flush the toilet as often.

Skip watering the lawn. Let it go dormant during the winter.

Screw lawns: Plant succulents, and plants native to your location. let’s embrace the desert we live in.

Don’t waste water on a pool.

Use less dishes: less dishes mean less washing.

Don’t thaw meat under running water: set it in the fridge to thaw.

Turn off the faucet while you brush your teeth.

Check your water meter, check your bill, check for leaks and unintended usage.

Eat less meat and dairy.  Do you know how much water goes to help produce each serving of beef? A quarter pounder is worth the equivalent of 30 showers….keep that in mind.

And the number one best tip for saving water? Treat it like it’s gold, like it’s the most valuable thing in your home.  Be conscious and aware every time you turn on the tap.  We are lucky to live in a place that has potable water in every home: let’s not squander this blessing.


Water. Use it Wisely. More tips.

National Geographic’s Water Conservation Tips.

What is shark culling? Australia and the whole wide world

There is a debate happening right now in Australia….to cull sharks or not?

To start, what is shark culling? Culling literally means “to collect”, but in this instance, or when referring to animals, culling generally means to kill the collected animals, in an effort to control the population in some way.

Culling sharks means killing sharks that come too close to popular beaches, by baited nets, and by fishing out animals and killing them pointblank (in the instance of shark culling in Western Australia, sharks are literally being shot in the head).

The logic here seems sound: kill potentially dangerous animals when they get too close to humans; but is it?

There have been eleven fatalities in western australia beaches due to shark attacks since 2000.  Since then, Australia has reversed legislation that protected sharks, and allowed fisherman to kill sharks larger than 3 meters within a certain distance of popular beaches, by using baited nets to catch them, and other means of killing them.

Us vs. them? We don't come from very different places, really.

Us vs. them? We don’t come from very different places, really. (shark egg)

Does this make beaches safer? Unfortunately, not really.  Sharks will be there, regardless, and we need them to be.  They keep the balance in the ocean, they help keep it healthy regardless of how hard humans try to make it sick.  And honestly, sharks smaller than 3 meters can do fatal damage to humans: but they are unlikely to because sharks are highly unlikely to do harm to humans in general.

So why are there increased fatalities from shark attacks? A few reasons: sharks are coming closer to shore to look for food because of overfishing and lack of their natural open ocean diets.  And the second is just higher percentages of people, more swimmers and surfers in the water mean higher likelihood a shark will mistake a people for a seal.

puny humans next to the true kings of the sea: why must we kill the things that we fear?

puny humans next to the true kings of the sea: why must we kill the things that we fear?

How does culling sharks protect people? It doesn’t….and in the long run, and honestly the immediate future, it negatively affects everyone, by removing the apex predator from the food chain of the largest eco system on the planet, we are really just shooting ourselves in the foot (head). A global study released a week ago found that nearly 1/4 of all sharks and rays face extinction: let’s not speed this up.


“People need to come to terms with the environments they go into to recreate,” said Van Sommeran, the founder and director of the Pelagic Shark Research Foundation. “There are streams with crocodiles and forests with poisonous snakes, and there are sharks in the water. You just need to adjust your behavior to a place, not the other way around.”

(quoted from this lovely article on the, “Why the idea of Killing Sharks to Make Waters Safer is Absurd“)

Why seeing a gray whale is so special

A couple of weeks ago, I was lucky to go whale watching in southern california.  This is a good time of year to go, because whales are migrating and seeing one is highly likely.

With Anna-Belle, on the way out, the voyage is full of potential.

With Anna-Belle, on the way out, the voyage is full of potential.

Seeing a whale in the ocean is a special thing, something that not every one will get to experience, and it sends chills down my spine every time.  For me, it opens my mind to the existence of an animal.  It’s one thing, me telling you about whales.  It’s another to have one 10 yards away breathing, living, diving, scarred and shiny and amazing.  What is this whale doing/thinking? where is this whale going? What has this whale SEEN?

Gray whales travel south from Canada, along the western United States, and down into Mexico’s Baja peninsula. It takes approximately 3 months to make this 6000 mile journey south.  This brings their round trip to an astounding 12,000 miles, the longest migration of any animal. In the world.

Gray whale breaching. These awesome pictures not taken by me.

Gray whale breaching. These awesome pictures not taken by me.

They get their name from the gray coloring, but most people also recognize their memorable barnacles that latch on for the ride. And the fact that their snouts tend to veer in one direction or the other.  Did you know this is because gray whales filter feed thru mud, sand and silt on the bottom of the ocean, scooping down to put the mud in their mouths by rolling on their preferred side (like how many people are “righty” or “lefty”). This can even cause blindness in one eye in many older whales on the side they roll on to.

Orcas and humans are the gray whales only known predators.  In fact, humans were such a fierce predator that they practically wiped gray whales from the face of the earth in a show of incredible power and masculinity (jk).  Luckily, we didn’t kill them all, and in 1973 they were placed on the endangered species list. They were removed once their population boomed again, and even now it continues to grow.  A gray whale was spotted in Israel, and even Namibia, which is the first gray whale spotted in the southern hemisphere, and suggests that the whales are spreading back out again.

Gray whales are the only species in their genus and family.  There are two Pacific populations, the larger one residing on my side of the world (the other, smaller group outside of Korea).  Which brings me to my final point: to see a gray whale in the ocean is immeasurably special.  A 40 foot whale that follows instinct and kin on the longest migration pattern anyone’s ever heard of….to see a migrating whale is to  see one of the wonders of the world. Almost made extinct, but making a spectacular comeback.

happy campers at the end of the day.  Four fin whales and three gray whales later,  all smiles.

happy campers at the end of the day. Four fin whales and three gray whales later, all smiles.

What I’m saying is, the whales are heading down to Mexico right now, and if you have the chance, get out and watch for some. They can be seen in shallow water, and our good winter conditions have made sightings even easier.  Stand on the cliffs of PV, or Laguna, and with any luck you’ll spot some when they come up for a breath of air. A majestic sight.