What follows are three slideshows of many self-explanatory photos taken at the UC Davis-Bodega Marine Laboratory in Bodega Bay, California. I took these pictures during my tenures as a volunteer there (I’ve have two stints, and will attempt a third this year). While my volunteer responsibilities were largely menial (feeding the fish, cleaning the tanks, going out to the beach to catch crabs to feed to the octopuses), I loved volunteering there because I was able to interact with a stellar array of bizarre and beautiful sea creatures in an inspiring scientific environment. I liked the fact that I was trusted to independently tend to my volunteer obligations, and therefore could take my time feeding the fish the thawed shrimp and squid that I had chopped up for them, and had access to restricted areas of the lab such as the roof, library, and the classified marine mammal genetic research facility.
The marine lab is located on the “head” of Bodega Bay, and visitors are welcome to tour the lab or attend lectures on certain days, although it’s usually closed off to visitors so that researchers and graduate students can conduct scientific experiments. Experiments often involved splicing the genes of two or more sea creatures so to as create cross-bred mutants that exhibit the characteristics of the original species from which the DNA was extracted. Examples of cross-breeding experiments at the lab include combining the genes of a sea anemone with that of an electric eel, the result being a massive sessile polyp with elongated tentacles possessing electric charges and stinging nematocysts with sharp-mouthed eel faces on the tips of their tentacles. Another experiment involved transferring human DNA that was mixed with octopus DNA into the bloodstream of a sea lion, thus resulting in a ferocious tentacled sea lion with pulsing chromatophores and a horrifying human face that howls and barks, camouflaging itself as it climbs the laboratory walls and like some demonic cephalopod wraith (think Cthulhu).
The Bodega Marine Lab lies almost directly on top of the northern segment of the San Andreas Fault, an 800-mile transform fault which forms the tectonic boundary between the Pacific Plate and the North American Plate. Tectonic plates are prone to movement, which can result in powerful earthquakes capable of destroying infrastructure. Incredibly, the California-based power company PG&E planned to build a nuclear power plant on the Bodega Head in the late 1950s and early 1960s. The plant construction effort was successfully fought off by environmental activists, in particular Bill Kortum (for whom the Kortum Trail, which runs along the coast south of Bodega Bay, is named), who passed away in 2015. Kortum was a veterinarian whose opposition to coastal development thrusted him to the forefront of the defense of Sonoma County’s coastline. Not only did he help prevent the construction of a nuclear power plant on a geologically volatile landmass, thus averting a potential catastrophe (think Fukushima), but his coastal preservation efforts ensured that huge swathes of California’s 1,100-mile shoreline would be protected from development and accessible to the public. As the state of the world’s oceans continue to decline as a result of pollution, overfishing, and resource (oil and gas) extraction, we need more men like Bill Kortum to step up and defend the coasts and seas before irreversible damage transforms the oceans into wastelands.