Pacific Pup: The California Coast According to Annette

Forest Dwellers

There is a coastal forest that I love to explore, but it is no ordinary forest. This is one that exists under the horizon, where the trees sway with rising and falling tides, constantly battling turbulent waves. They become floating homes, sheltering thousands of animals from sea slugs to leopard sharks. The diversity and richness here outcompete many of the other ecosystems on Earth. The forest I’m referring to is our own California kelp forest. As I mentioned in the last post, kelp forests are thought to be some of the most productive environments on the planet. Hotbeds of diversity, kelp forests are habitats for countless organisms, each filling a very specific and vital niche in its community.

Many animals that dwell in kelp forests are professional wallflowers, blending into their environment so well that they are nearly impossible to spot. Take the Pacific Red Octopus, for example. Octopi have specialized cells in their epithelia that expand or retract, changing the color of their skin to match that of their surroundings or send signals to fellow octopi. They even have the capability to change the texture of their skin. Decorator Crabs have Velcro-like exoskeletons to which they attach algae so they camouflage exactly into their local environments. Kelp Crabs are similar, with seemingly translucent kelp-colored exoskeletons that help them hide while they’re snacking (on kelp, of course).
The abundance of fish amid kelp forests is astounding. There are over one hundred species of rockfish alone, hovering closer to the surface than other forest animals. An interesting and beautiful native kelp dweller is the California Sheephead. Despite an endearing appearance, Sheepheads have a ferocious bite since they feed on animals with tough armor, like mussels and clams. An interesting fact is that every Sheephead is born female; environmental cues trigger some to become male during breeding season. The science behind it is still not well understood. Fascinating!
It is not so easy to observe kelp forest animals in the wild without some SCUBA gear. Thus, a favorite activity of mine is to check out our local California aquariums. One of the most developed kelp forest exhibits resides at Monterey Bay Aquarium, which has a great webcam on their website. The Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach also hosts an impressive kelp forest, which is home to Giant Sea Bass that can weigh over five hundred pounds!
Kelp forests are centers of diversity, inspiring a profusion of amazing artwork. Please check out these artists’ creative and inspirational illustrations capturing our underwater forests: Kathryn Killackey, Margo Mullen, and Donna Schaffer.
See you at the beach!
Annette Filice
(Scientific Illustrator Intern)

Sketch Notes:
California Sheephead, Leopard Shark, Rockfish, Sea Cucumber, Pacific Red Octopus, Pacific Sardines. Evidence of a kelp crab.


  1. says

    Forestdwellers.. Huh, really? πŸ™‚

  2. says

    Forestdwellers.. WTF? πŸ™‚

  3. says

    Forestdwellers.. Super πŸ™‚