Life in the ocean: what lies beneath the surface?

As a species, we humans have always been curious about what goes on deep in the ocean where we can’t see. But since the deep ocean and ocean floor remained inaccessible for a long time, we made up stories for what could be there instead. Well, we looked and I’ll share what we found with you but before that, let me ask: what do YOU think we’d find if we look on the ocean floor?

There are generally two lines of thought:


The city of Atlantis – source:



Bikini Bottom – Souce:


In this case (and to everyone’s surprise), we didn’t find either. Actually, how we were able to take a peak at what lies on the ocean floor was not through direct observation. Instead, we used a technique called dredging.

Dredging is a way of collecting material (sand, stones and living creatures) that lie on the ocean floor and bringing them up to the surface. In practice, this is done by sending down a small net and dragging the net on the ocean floor using a boat and then bringing the net back up.

Here’s a visual of what that looks like:


What dredging looks like – source:

We were lucky enough to be able to do this at Barkley Sound where there are a vast diversity of creates dwelling on the ocean floor. What we found was that the ocean floor hosts a lively and flourishing community of animals!

There are crabs, sea cucumbers, many sorts of sea stars, clams and giant moon snails that all call the ocean floor their home!


When dredging, you also get a lot of broken shells and remains of other animals (usually their bicarbonate exoskeleton). Some of these shells can reveal how the animals that once lived in them met their deadly faith….

When you pick up a lot of empty shells, you might notice that despite their variety, some of them share a common property: they have a peculiarly  round hole in their shell. Well, these holes are driven by snails that use their tough set of teeth-like structures (radulla) to drill into the shells and get their treat! Pretty cool, right?


A typical shell with a snail-drilled hole – Source: Nature on the Edge of NYC

So on the ocean floor lies the remains of animals past and the bodies of animals present and alive. It’s a thriving community of living creatures! Now, everytime we dredge a certain area, we essentially disrupt a part of this thriving community by sweeping everything from the ocean floor and bringing them up to the surface. As you can imagine, this can be quite damaging to the animals and the ocean floor habitat.

We must take extra caution to not dredge in overly sensitive habitats and make sure that we don’t dredge a large area repeatedly – or else we can risk damaging the area extensively and destroying the natural habitat of its organisms.

If you like to find out more about what lies on the ocean floor (and do so without damaging its sensitive habitat so much), BBC has an awesome series of videos that highlights the creatures that live on the sea floor.

You can check them out here:

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Photo edited by me.


What’s been swept under the carpet

Normally you sweep things under the carpet that you don’t really want to think about, or deal with. While in bamfield we did a dredge, which is essentially dragging a bucket along the bottom of the ocean. While there was quite the literal carpet of broken shells and silt, what was beneath it was fascinating.


In just our group’s dredge we found half a29136691_1902592716479326_5675367740529967104_o dozen species of sea stars of varying colours, A snail whose shell was the size of a tennis ball, but the snail itself was the size of a small dinner plate. There were several sea cucumbers, like purple, spiny, slimy subway foot longs. And a bunch of crabs, hermit crabs, and worms. It really was incredible, as you can see in all these pictures, for a place with potentially low amounts of light, there is a lot of colour.

Most often you don’t get a chance to see what goes on the bottom of our local oceans, and this opportunity really was a treat. While I know it is a frequently talked about, but of what our changing climate will due to the diversity that we are so privileged to have around us on the coast of British Columbia is important to think about. We fortunate enough to be able to go down the beach to stare at tide pools and hike the mountains in the same day. Carbon dioxide emissions, the warming of the planet, clean fuel sources etc, get talked about a lot and the concern is real. But the oceans have really come to our rescue.29137006_1902593003145964_563038275128786944_o

Over half of the carbon that humans have put into the atmosphere since the start of the industrial revolution has been absorbed by the ocean. This does not come without a price. It is common news that the ocean is warming with the rest of the planet, but our oceans are also becoming more acidic. This is potentially a big issue for many of the aquatic organisms that form shells, such as crabs, snails, or corals. One of the main compounds these organisms use to build their shells, bicarbonate, is used up in the presence of carbon dioxide (A similar process is used in our bodies to balance acidity). So, while the ocean absorbs a lot of our released carbon dioxide and helps slow climate change, these bicarbonate molecules get used up and it is harder for organisms to make their shells. This could lead to reduced numbers or even extinction of some of these organisms. We need to make sure these incredible organisms don’t actually get swept under the rug.

Here are a couple links to follow up with anything pique your interest:




NIGHT VS. DAY: The West Coast Rocky Intertidal

Ever gone and checked out your local intertidal? Most of the time you may venture to the shore during the day, But what comes out at night…?


Image 1: Night time crab fest

Throughout my life I have gone searching through the intertidal shores of British Columbia, studying the tide pools and mussel beds, but only during the day. It didn’t really seem like the brightest idea to try to make my way over slippery, uneven ground in pitch black, with the ocean roaring right beside me… But as it happens, with a snug life-jacket, headlamp and some trusty rubber boots, it went A-OK and was well worth it.

Still why go? Throughout the year, low tides vary at what time they occur during that day and sometimes these peak low tides occur at night. Not only that, but intertidal creatures tend to come out more at night because they have the darkness to hide from predators, like seagulls.

Let us compare what kinds of animals you might see at night to those seen during the day.




Image 2: California’s Striped Shore Crab (Top) and a Kelp Crab (Bottom)

Turn over a rock and it looks as though the entire bottom surface is moving…. But as you look closer you see that it is just crabs on crabs, and of all kinds of species (see Image 1). This can be seen at low tide during the day as well, so it is not too different. Some of these bigger crabs (Image 2) are less likely to be seen higher up on the rocky shore when the tide isn’t as far out. Fun fact about the Striped Shore Crab in Image 2: these crabs are native to California, but sometimes during an El Nino event, larvae may travel through the currents and end up having to grow up in a little chillier waters.



Image 3: An eel? A worm? WHAT is that thing?

It may be a bit difficult to see, but this is actually a type of fish with very small pelvic fins, known as a gunnel. These fellas tend to live in the forests of algae, but when winter comes, they hide under the rocks where we get to see them (red arrow)!


During the low tides at night, you can get a chance to see these efficient predators in action (Image 4), as well get a brilliant contrast of their beautiful colours against the rocks. Sea stars feed on barnacles, muscles and marine snails; pretty much just about anything they can catch!

Image 4: Bamfield Sea Stars

And that is just the beginning of it! These are just a few of the organisms you can get to see if you get the chance to head out into the night.

Not to say going in the day isn’t any good, here are some photos from a day trip to another of Bamfield’s beautiful protected beaches.

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Most of these creatures are still there at night time, but seeing them can be a little more difficult! Also it is safer to go out further on the rocks because you have a full view of the ocean.

All of these photos were taken in the surrounding area of Bamfield, British Columbia on Huu-ay-aht Territory.

The Powerhouse of the Ocean

What comes in to your mind when someone says the powerhouse? You probably thought about mitochondria. Everyone has heard that the powerhouse of the cell is mitochondria. Mitochondria does cellular respiration and in this process makes energy in the form of ATP. But have you ever thought about what the powerhouse of the ocean could be. Well, the powerhouse of the ocean is the microscopic organisms called plankton. Plankton float in the ocean and are eaten by other organisms to obtain energy.

There is vast diversity among plankton in the oceans. There are two types of plankton which are zooplankton and phytoplankton. As their name suggests phytoplankton is plant like while zooplankton is animal like. Phytoplankton are able to perform photosynthesis while zooplankton are not photosynthetic. Phytoplankton live at the surface of the ocean that receives sunlight and is called the photic zone. Zooplankton also lives near the surface of the ocean and feed on the phytoplankton. Zooplankton can vary in size and includes organisms such as jellyfish, krill and copepods. These organisms are unable to swim against the current therefore they drift with the current.

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These are examples of Zooplankton. Picture taken from: 

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These are different types of phytoplankton. Picture taken from: 

Plankton provides energy too many organisms as it is at the bottom of the food chain.  Phytoplankton consist of the bottom of the food chain as they use sunlight to produce their own food and then other organisms feed on them. Therefore, plankton provides energy to many organisms and can be considered as the powerhouse of the ocean. Changes in the amount of plankton can greatly affect the marine food chain. If the amount of plankton decreases in the ocean it can negatively affect the ocean food chain while algae blooms can positively affect the food chain. Algae blooms can happen due to runoff and this results in more plankton to be produced. The more the plankton that is available the more energy that is available to other organisms.

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This is a picture of the food chain in the ocean. Picture taken from:

We performed a plankton tow at Bamfield. We used a mesh net and put it at the surface of the ocean to grab only the plankton near the surface. Then we put the plankton we gathered into a bucket. After gathering the plankton, we viewed the plankton under the microscope to look at the vast diversity in plankton in the ocean. We found many zooplankton under the microscope while we did not find any phytoplankton.

There is so much diversity in the plankton that can be seen in the ocean. You should go out and explore the oceans. You will be amazed by the diversity of these microscopic organisms.

Good Things Come In Small Packages

Have you ever received a gift from someone and thought why it’s so small? Size does not matter, it’s the thought that counts and sometimes that small gift can help you solve big problems. The same goes for plankton in this case. Even though plankton is very small in size compared to other organisms, they are the foundation of the aquatic food web. Without plankton, many organisms would not be in this world.

There are two type of plankton: Phytoplankton and zooplankton. Zooplankton are organisms that feed on phytoplankton and float in the water column. On the other hand, phytoplankton obtain energy through photosynthesis, this involves converting sunlight into useable chemical energy that can be used later. Phytoplankton occupy the top surface of the ocean because they need sunlight for energy while zooplankton can be found near the top or even deeper. Plankton are at the bottom of the food chain, therefore providing primary production in the ocean.

You’re probably wondering how would we even capture plankton in the first place. During my field trip to Bamfield Marine Science Center, we used a technique called “plankton tow”. This involved us lowering a fine mesh net into the water that was attached to a jar, while we still drove the boat in circles. After a few minutes you would pull the mesh net back up and the jar would contain the organisms. Then the jar was emptied into a different container. In the jar, I did not see anything that seemed interesting because everything looked like green dots.

We brought the plankton back to the lab so we could view them under a microscope. I was astonished for the next few minutes.  The small dots turned into many organisms moving around rapidly. For the next view minutes, we identified the different plankton. We were able to find many zooplankton (including a jelly fish larva) but no phytoplankton.

Plankton may be small in the size but any ocean ecosystem would not be possible without them. We should not underestimate the power of plankton because they help the food chain thrive.

To learn about more interesting facts about plankton, click the links below:

Bamfield Namco Presents: Ultra Shore Fighter II: The Rocky Intertidal Zone

Yes! You might have no heard of the first one, but in this new generation of shoreline invertebrate fighting games, we bring you: Ultra Shore Fighter II: The Rocky Intertidal Zone


In this iteration of the game, we not only have the returning cast such as Ochre Star and Dog Whelk, but brand new fighters that have ventured all the way from Bamfield to enter the fray! Many of these new fighters can be found in the rocky intertidal zone, an area that is submerged during high tide and exposed during low tide. Usually you will find them training and recovering under rocks or tide pools, as the moisture will keep them in tip top shape for their next tournament for food.


Our first new character introduced is Shore Crab. Its pincers make it an excellent grappler, as it can firmly grasp its foes and combo into various attacks such as biting or tearing. In addition, the hard carapace armour it has gives it excellent protection against incoming attacks. Not only that, but it gains a special ability when it is under rocks! By staying under a rock located in a stage, it gains evasion bonuses from predators and prevents damage from the sun.


Shore Crab pinches its way to victory!

The second character to join the roster is Sea Cucumber. Although a very slow character, it can firm up using water pressure and block weaker attacks from its foes! It can also extend out its feeding tentacles to recover HP by gathering food from its surroundings. However, its secret move is the organ evisceration. It ejects out its intestines from its cloaca which can trap and distract foes while it escapes! Watch out though, as there is a cooldown on this move.


Sea Cucumber readies its organs for battle!

Finally, the final character to enter the fight is Sea Anemone. Another very slow character, it has many tentacles that are loaded with nematocysts, cells with a small harpoon structure loaded inside, that sting and hook onto foes upon contact. Despite the seemingly passive nature of this fighter, the cnidocytes can combo up and rack up much damage on opponents with weaker defences! Like Sea Cucumber, it also has an escape mechanism. Sea Anemone can release itself from its attached surface and swim awkwardly away!


Sea Anemone enters the tidal pool tournament!

There are also many hidden fighters that can be unlocked in the game. All you have to do is come visit us at Bamfield Marine Science Center or even your local rocky intertidal zone and flip over some rocks to discover your new favourite fighter! But remember to place them back and flip the rocks back to normal afterward, as we do not want to disturb them during their important training sessions.

Four Coolest Creatures You Didn’t Realize You Were Swimming Over

Have you ever been swimming in deep water and wondered what’s beneath you? Or, perhaps you have watched Jaws a few too many times and avoid imagining what might be lurking below the surface. I am here to inform you that there are some incredible animals down on the ocean floor, and don’t worry, there are no sharks!

While staying at the Bamfield Marine Sciences Center, myself and the entire BIOL 326 class had the opportunity to see what animals inhabit the ocean floor beyond where we can see from the surface. To do this, we journeyed out into the Barkley Sound and used a small basket to scoop up what was lying on the ocean floor about 15-20m down. We saw a bunch of different organisms, but here are the top 4 coolest animals you didn’t realize you were swimming over!

4) Tunicates


If you don’t have any background in invertebrate biology, you probably want to know if that is even an animal. Well, of all the creatures on this list, that blob of slime is your closest relative! Before they mature to what we see above, these colonial filter feeders actually share many features with us during development, such as a dorsal nerve cord. In fact, they resemble a small tadpole in youth before they settle down in their old age.

3) Sea Cucumbers



It is hard not to love sea cucumbers, these relatives of sea urchins and sea stars seem to just lay on the ocean floor and not do much of anything, except look cool. However, sea cucumbers actually have large tentacles which they unfurl to filter feed. It is best not to handle these animals for too long, as stressing them out will cause them to eviscerate – AKA spewing their guts all over the place.

2) Sea stars, sea stars, and more sea stars



Most people have seen their fair share of sea stars along the beach, but the shore is a poor sample of what is really out there. There is a wealth of diversity amongst sea stars on the ocean floor; we found 6 species in our one small basket. Sea stars are a major predator of the deep, despite their slow movement.
1) Moon Snail


The moon snail has perhaps the most majestic name of all the animals on our list, and in my opinion, it has earned it. The moon snail is another killer of the deep to be feared, if you’re a clam that is. Moon snails engulf their prey and use a hard structure near their mouths called a radula to drill a hole through the shell, giving them full access to the delicious insides. Fun fact: the sandy coloured wrapping around the snail is called a collar and it contains the moon snail’s eggs!

When water is dark and mysterious, we often forget what may be underneath. As you can see, many animals call this area their home. So, next time you swim into their territory, remember to be mindful that you don’t do anything that can harm their home!

If after reading this list you become fascinated with the wonderful world of marine invertebrates, and want to know what else is lurking beneath the waves, check out this video clip about sea stars: