Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Best of the Bay Aquatic

Dear little aquatic blog, you hold no boundaries. The 7 oceans, the trenches and estuaries, even the occasional seafood-topped pizza... your virtual explorations are many. But still, it's hard to imagine your existence without the physical beauty of the San Francisco Bay Area in your backyard. In fact, for the aquatic-minded, it's hard to imagine a more inspirational playground.

And so, my sweet blog, as I shift your homebase northward and we explore the craggy open coastline of the Pacific Northwest, lets reflect, just for a moment. As a small sendoff, here's a running list-- a sort of greatest hits -- of the aquatic wonderland that is the San Francisco Bay Area...

Best Forgotten Coast Line: San Mateo County Coast
Sure Marin is incredible, and Santa Cruz is great. But, for a short trip, or something new, don't forget about San Mateo (the coastline that is). There is much to explore if you head down highway 1 south of San Francisco: Half Moon Bay, San Gregorio, Pescadero, Pebble Beach... all good places to check out, and a beautiful of strip of highway 1.

Best Walk-In Beach: Tennessee Valley or Sculptured Beach in Point Reyes
Sculptured Beach is amazing. If only I had known about the annual sand sculpture contest there this year. I am practicing my sculpture skills for next year.

Best Shell-Collecting Beach
: Bolinas
Why is it that some beaches have so many shells, and other beaches have none? This is a great mystery to me. But Bolinas is an obsessive shell-collectors' dream...
Best Lighthouse and Seaside Hostel: Pigeon Point
There are several lighthouses that dot the California coast. But this is one of the better ones (and apparently the tallest in California). Even if you don't stay at the hostel, it is still worth visiting, as this bizarre virtual tower tour illustrates.
Best Pizza of the Sea: Clam Pizza at Golden Boy in San Francisco or Fellini's in Berkeley
The clam pizza is culinary genius. Enough said. But Golden Boy and Fellini's have really perfected the clam-to-garlic-parsley ratio. Golden Boy in North Beach has good hot, square slices. Fellini's is only by the pie- but quite a find, especially on UniversityAve. in Berkeley.
Best Bonfire Beach: Ocean Beach
Ocean Beach has it's moments. I mean, Baker is more beautiful, true. But Ocean Beach has such a nice urban feel to it. It sits at the end of the city, with this vastness and gritty kind of beauty. The bonfires there are a treat. But in the past couple of years, it's gotten a little trickier to host a bonfire though. So maybe you think oh they're such a hassle to organize now, or they're so Heartbreaking Work of A Staggering Genius...But on a clear night when you're all bundled up, walk maybe a few feet away from the fire: you can stare out at the ocean, watch the white waves breaking out in the darkness, and you feel the flickering fire and voices behind you, and the city behind that...
Best Tidepools: Fitzgerald Marine Reserve
You might have to knock down small children on school fieldtrips when you're scrambling around this reserve. But it's worth it. Sea stars abound.
Best First Time Surfing Beach: Linda Mar in Pacifica
Surfers, surfing are part of the California Coast Line. Like abalone divers, But I don't know the best abalone-diving-beaches. So we'll leave it at surfing for now.
Best Aquarium-I-Just-Can't-Wait-To-Visit: The New California Academy of Sciences Opening in Golden Gate Park on September 27th
If I could possibly postpone my move to see the grand opening of the new Steinhart Aquarium, I would do so. The academy of sciences has been under renovation since 2005, where it was temporary housed in a much smaller space on 5th St. Early insider informants tell me the renovation is quite impressive. I hear the aquarium is underground, the turtles are fierce, the roof is living and the planetarium is not to be missed. (Although, secretly, I hope they still have the moray eel and sea-bass tank from the temporary aquarium on 5th street. It was quite possibly the most amazing display of aquatic ugliness I've ever seen.)
Best Way to Clean Up Beaches: California Coastal Cleanup Day! (September 20th)
The San Francisco aquatic landscape has had a lot to contend with this past year, like massive oil spills (I swear that I still smell oil at the beach). I've had some very pleasant beach cleanup experiences (sunny day at Ocean Beach), and some not quite as pleasant (rainy day along the bay near the Oakland airport). But both made me feel kinda warm and fuzzy at the end: when beaches are gross and filthy, even the blog aquatic feels motivated to do a small blog part. Check out the annual Coastal Cleanup Day- or find a cleanup happening soon near you. Usually they give you some free food. Think of it as a nice walk on the beach- in sanitary gloves.

And of course, this is a running list. Best Beach Camping? Best Estuary? Feel free to add. Aquatic can mean anything and everything related to water (some confusion among blog aquatic fans). In other words... aquatic is for everyone!

Love... Seahorse Style

The blog aquatic went on a brief hiatus. Temporarily swallowed, chewed and spit out by a white shark. But the blog is back. A little salty, sure. But limbs in tact.

Just a brief post on one of the wonders of the aquatic world, the seahorse. More specifically: seahorse birds and bees.

So the rampant seahorse rumors are true: it is the male seahorse who gets pregnant and gives birth. The woman deposits her eggs in the male's so-called brood pouch. Then the male fertilizes the eggs, where they mature inside him for around 3 weeks.

When it comes time to give birth, the male goes into a sort of seahorse labor, where he has muscular contractions and expels the babies (anywhere from a dozen to hundreds). His body shrinks (seahorse stretch marks?) and he loses color. Typically this happens at night and yet- miraculously- he's usually ready for a new batch of eggs by morning.

...But before the babies, there is, of course, the courtship.

Seahorses are monogamous and their flirtation is elaborate. When two seahorses realize there is a mutual interest, they start a ritual 'pre-dawn' dance where they swim together, holding their tales or swirling around a single blade of grass. This can last for days. They dance, change color in a sort of seahorse-blush and tell eachother all the little hippocampus secrets of their heart.

Finally, they're ready... The two seahorses drift out of the sea grass, snout to snout, often twirling and spinning. The female deposits her eggs into the male- and to the brood pouch they go.

Throughout the male's pregnancy, the female continues to see the male for short daily morning visits, where they reenact their courtship days. “They change color, wheel around sea grass fronds, and finally promenade, holding each other’s tails. Then, the female swims away until the next morning, and the male goes back to vacuuming up food through his snout.” (from the article, "Pregnant- and Still Macho- Seahorses")

While the pregnancy and courtship rituals of seahorses are not exactly an evolutionary fluke, the male still expends less energy overall despite his pregnancy, and can exhibit aggressive competitive behavior...there's still something, well, sweet about the whole thing, from their twirling dances, to the male's brooding pouch.

In the food chain battles, trenched mysteries and general weirdness of the aquatic world, the seahorses are small reminders that, even in all this, there's room for a little lovin' - snout to snout, in the sea grass.