Incredible Underwater Crop Circles

Mysterious underwater circles created by 5-inch fish seeking love

Oct. 3, 2013 at 11:48 AM ET


Kawase et al
These “mystery circles” found off Japan are about 7 feet wide and are made by a 5-inch fish.

In 1995, divers noticed a beautiful, strange circular pattern on the seafloor off Japan, and soon after, more circles were discovered nearby. Some likened these formations to “underwater crop circles.” The geometric formations mysteriously came and went, and for more than a decade, nobody knew what made them.

Finally, the creator of these remarkable formations was found: a newly discovered species of pufferfish. Further study showed these small pufferfish make the ornate circles to attract mates. Males laboriously flap their fins as they swim along the seafloor, resulting in disrupted sediment and amazing circular patterns. Although the fish are only about 12 centimeters (5 inches) long, the formations they make measure about 2 meters (7 feet) in diameter.

When the circles are finished, females come to inspect them. If they like what they see, they reproduce with the males, said Hiroshi Kawase, the curator of the Coastal Branch of Natural History Museum and Institute in Chiba, Japan. But nobody knows exactly what the females are looking for in these circles or what traits they find desirable, Kawase told LiveScience. [See Video of Pufferfish Making Seafloor Circles]


K. Ito
A male pufferfish making a valley in the seafloor with his fins on April 23, 2012.

Unique circles
Pufferfish mating involves females laying eggs in the fine sediments in the center of the circles, and then the males fertilizing them externally. Then, the females vanish, and the males stay for another six days, perhaps to guard the eggs, the study noted.

Males of some species of cichlids (a type of fish) are known to construct crater-shaped mounds that females visit to have their eggs fertilized, Kawase said. For example, male featherfin cichlids in Africa’s Lake Tanganyika build small bowls out of the sand, and display them to females before mating there, said Alex Jordan, a researcher at the University of Texas at Austin who wasn’t involved in this study.

But this new pufferfish’s geometric patterns have three features never seen before. First, they involve radially aligned ridges and valleys outside the nest site. Second, the male decorates these ridges with fragments of shells. Third, the male gathers fine sediments to give the resulting formation a distinctive look and coloring, Kawase said. [Photos: Pufferfish Make Seafloor Circles to Mate]

Strangely enough, the male “gathers” the fine sediments using the circular pattern itself, Kawase said. A fluid dynamics test using a half-size model of one of these circles found that the upstream portion of the circle funnels water and fine sediments toward the center. Then, the downstream peaks and valleys funnel the water outward. The speed of water was slowed by nearly 25 percent in the center, where the eggs are laid, the study noted.


Y. Okata
One of the circular formations in various stages of completion. “A” represents the early stage, B the middle stage and C the final stage. D shows the same circle one week after spawning.

Bowerbirds of the sea?
It takes about seven to nine days for the pufferfish to build the circles. The male pufferfish don’t maintain these formations, and underwater currents wash them away relatively quickly. Kawase said they likely give up their old formations because the circles exhaust the fine sediment in the area, and thus must be built anew in areas with fresh sediment.

When Jordan first heard about the circles, he guessed a much bigger fish would have made them. The fact that such a small animal makes such a large formation is “pretty cool, and suggests some underlying biological reason for the size, like poor visibility at depth, or distance between individuals that means males have to make large nests to be found by females,” he told LiveScience.

Research describing the pufferfish formations was published in July in the journal Scientific Reports. “It’s a nice clean study because it provides a definite answer to the question — something that is very rare in biology,” Jordan said.

The formations are very similar to so-called “bowers” — display sites built by various animals like bowerbirds in which to strut their stuff before mating. In this case, the formations may serve solely to gather fine sediments, which females could use to choose their mate, Jordan said.

But until this idea is tested, nobody will know. “The one caveat I have is that there is no evidence that females care about anything more than the fine sand, and even that’s a stretch,” Jordan said. “The beautiful lines and structure could serve only to channel those particles to the center, and have no aesthetic purpose.”

Although Jordan said he doesn’t think that’s the case, the idea that the fine sediments are important to females would be “biologically interesting, because it would suggest that function is more important than appearance,” he said.


Video, ALL Bluefin Tuna Caught In California Are Radioactive

Tsukiji Wholesale Fish Market Opens First Auction Of The New YearDo NOT eat tuna.  Period.    ALL the bluefin tuna is radioactive.  ALL.  A year ago they told us they were surprised to find the fish contaminated after limited exposure to radioactive water.   As this article points out, all of the bluefin tuna being caught now have spent their entire lives exposed to radioactive water. If you didn’t hear the warning a year ago, please hear it now.

Every bluefin tuna tested in the waters off California has shown to be contaminated with radiation that originated in Fukushima. Every single one.


Over a year ago, in May of 2012, the Wall Street Journal reported on a Stanford University study. Daniel Madigan, a marine ecologist who led the study, was quoted as saying, “The tuna packaged it up (the radiation) and brought it across the world’s largest ocean. We were definitely surprised to see it at all and even more surprised to see it in every one we measured.”


Another member of the study group, Marine biologist Nicholas Fisher at Stony Brook University in New York State reported, “We found that absolutely every one of them had comparable concentrations of cesium 134 and cesium 137.”

That was over a year ago. The fish that were tested had relatively little exposure to the radioactive waste being dumped into the ocean following the nuclear melt-through that occurred at the Fukushima Daiichi plant in March of 2011. Since that time, the flow of radioactive contaminants dumping into the ocean has continued unabated. Fish arriving at this juncture have been swimming in contaminants for all of their lives.

Radioactive cesium doesn’t sink to the sea floor, so fish swim through it and ingest it through their gills or by eating organisms that have already ingested it. It is a compound that does occur naturally in nature, however, the levels of cesium found in the tuna in 2012 had levels 3 percent higher than is usual. Measurements for this year haven’t been made available, or at least none that I have been able to find. I went looking for the effects of ingesting cesium. This is what I found:

When contact with radioactive cesium occurs, which is highly unlikely, a person can experience cell damage due to radiation of the cesium particles. Due to this, effects such as nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and bleeding may occur. When the exposure lasts a long time, people may even lose consciousness. Coma or even death may then follow. How serious the effects are depends upon the resistance of individual persons and the duration of exposure and the concentration a person is exposed to.

Looking Danger Square In the Eye

Good morning from Buckeye Flats

Good, Vibrant Morning! by Marybeth Haydon

TRAVELING ALONG THIS IMPRESSIVE RIVER, WHICH IS FLOWING NORTHWEST, paralleling the coast, I scramble up a hill for a photo op. Standing as close to the edge of my perch as safely possible, I hesitate to begin shooting. The awe and power of the river is complimented by the fantastic diversity of the rock walls and it is commanding my full attention. Clearly, iron dominates the rock canyon, leaving a fantastic rusty patina which is frequently interrupted with dark green trees and shrub. Gray to black mudstones, siltstones and sandstones further the pleasant variations. Even a swipe of golden brown color to complete the picture.

Rough pallet of color

Rugged Pallet of Color by Marybeth Haydon

The river’s edge cuts a raw, white, jagged saw tooth line, the salt-crusted shoreline and boulders that rise above the water, where the natural water’s pulse and current spray have frequently misted the protruding boulders, scatter these highlights throughout the landscape. The current is intense, furious whenever the canyon walls insinuate upon the channel.
There is an odd, captivating rock formation close to the more turbulent section of the channel. It appears as though molten gray rock has spilled from the canyon wall with a round, spoon-shaped end closest to the water’s edge with its wide handle, ladle-like, balancing on the upper riverbank.  This salmon-frequented river flows primarily northeast before changing course to southern pastures and wetlands.

7-17-12 Leaving Fortuna 011

Interesting Color Contrast by Marybeth Haydon

Only a few hours into the trek and I’m met with dry-grass contrasting a man-made path with lush forests of oak and pines and other trees that I can’t distinguish, looming into its distant future. This revs my energy level, the promise of cooler, green pastures is inviting.

It doesn’t take long to leave signs of civilization behind and soon the hushed, fog-covered forest embraces my curious nature.  Every step is soft, debris-mulched and fragrant under my boot.

This is true paradise.

Burlington campground Fortuna CA 092

Lush Greenery Abounds by Marybeth Haydon

On up the trail I continue, not knowing just why I feel I should get really deep into the forest today but I am very happy to be here, doing what I’m doing.  The scenery never gets old, thank You God. The wildflowers are in full bloom and some are exceedingly fragrant. Their youth is renewed every spring, man, what a thrill that must be! I continue to scan the ubiquitous plant life and deeply inhale the surrounding scents. The perfume of the forest, nothing can beat it. The fragrances change as I proceed, pine mingling with wild licorice, licorice mingling with bay, bay mingling with mustard … I’m not sure if the oak trees have a scent but their dropped acorns are like marbles under my boots.

There is a spot reserved for me under a very large sequoia, its branches outstretched in a welcoming, “Come hither, under my canopy and rest.”  I oblige.  I remove my pack, habitually snapping the belt closed and settle down for a snack.  The sound of rusting paper from my energy bar has apparently alerted many creatures, the most forward and aggressive of which is the scrub jay in front of me.  Not far behind are a few squirrels & chipmunks in various stages of anticipation and wariness, and I’m beginning to wonder where Thumper and Bambi are.

I ignore the advancing blue jay and tip my head back to see if I can see any sky.  What I do see sends my heart racing and my hands shaking.

My head now on a swivel, I check my surroundings more thoroughly, then up again into the trees.  I begin to rise, keeping my eyes on the trees above me, moving ever so carefully, forcing slow and deliberate movement.

Where is mama bear?

Two curious black bear cubs are peeking down and over the foliage of the pine that is right next to the big sequoia that I am against.  Still looking up, I reach for my pack, once again thankful for my habit of cinching the belt, and toss my power bar over past the oak that holds the cubs. Backing away, thankful for the soft, cushy debris and needle-carpeted ground I am looking everywhere. Seriously everywhere. Behind me, above me, beside me. No longer does my immediate forest hold a critter audience, the animals have left town.

I just can not even believe this is happening.

cubs in monrovia

Black bear cubs. courtesy Google images

My heart ratchets yet another level as I swing my eyes towards the scraping, then soft thump sound.  NO WAY! Those cubs are heading towards me, SNAP! I speak firmly to them, “No bear!” but apparently they don’t understand English. The larger of the two is still, although a bit hesitant, coming forward. I am nearly paralyzed with fear. WHERE IS MAMA BEAR?

Lord, please

I bump into a bush, maybe a tree I don’t really care and could not afford to be distracted with finding out. My entire body is shaking, my muscles feel weak, defenseless  and inadequate. I sneak a look and find the path I came in on still backing away. Both cubs seem to be very perplexed, the smaller a bit distracted with a flying insect of sorts, the other looking from its sibling then to me, sizing up the situation.  Thankfully they are remaining grounded where they are.  But for how long, and the million dollar question: Where’s mama bear?!

I need not wonder any longer.


Angry bear courtesy Google images

Emerging from the underbrush, sending a fleeting glance toward my power bar, is protective mama bear!  She brawls at her cubs like a mother admonishing her children for straying beyond the yard, then gives her full, very direct attention to me.  Somehow I continue to back away, averting eye contact, wild and insane thoughts swirling through my mind. Out of the corner of my eye I see the cubs scrambling up a tree to safety.  Obedient children now that mom’s back.

Realizing that I have been shaking my head in a “no, no, no!” while retreating further, I force every cell, every adrenalin dump into sniper-concentrated focus.  I know the choices on what to do, now how on earth do I choose which avenue to take?  “Read the body language” comes back to memory and I continue backing away, not saying a word, my hands needlessly out in a “stay away” gesture.

Mama grunts threats, her sounds deep and quite menacing, then makes a swipe at the ground in front of her, sending dust and sticks flying into the air, shaking her lowered head. I’m reminded of a bull about to charge and I’m certain I’m going to lose it completely, right here. Right now.  She has not charged me, I take this as a very good sign.  I am still backing away when suddenly I’m falling, and I still haven’t landed yet!

Tangled in brush and briars, I look up the hill to see if she has decided to follow, then end me.  Piece by piece, Marybeth-mulch nourishing the forest. At this point I have lost all reason, tearing my clothes and skin as I thrash through the sticky under brush in full panic mode. I don’t see her, I have lost my pack somewhere along the fall and I no longer care. I am completely overcome with irrational fear as I begin to run down the trail.  DO NOT RUN FROM A PREDATOR but I figure after the fall that I’m far enough away and I’m around the bend so that she can’t see me? Panic trumps reason, it really does.


Paradise behind me. Courtesy Google images

I am back to the manmade pathway, out of the dense forest and I have not heard any movement or growl behind me since the fall but every fiber of my being is still at high alert. I collapse in a sobbing heap, then I begin to laugh. I think perhaps I’m hysterical, just a thought.

Once I recovered and was shakily on my way home I was first, exceedingly grateful that I was reasonably unharmed. Physically. Emotionally I’ll probably never be the same. I thought about the good habit of keeping my keys and phone separate from my pack and for the habit of always fastening my pack belt. Even though I lost my pack, had I not fallen, I would have had it for minute protection or for the first aid kit inside it.

Establishing good hiking habits and knowing how to interpret and react to animal behavior goes a very long way. Even when you mess up the best laid plans.

red daisy

For information on safety, signs of presence, and first aid please click: 

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Amazing Capture on Film!

Must See Photo: Wild Dolphin Jump Spin Anomaly

Submitted by on June 17, 2013 – 8:48 AM

The animal kingdom never ceases to amaze me. From amazing maneuvers to unbelievable skills, we’ve seen many things in the wild that were thought to be virtually impossible.

I already knew that dolphins were very intelligent, so much so, that even military establishments have experimented with them in various capacities.

Now, a wild bottlenose dolphin has pushed the envelope of astonishing feats and it was done during a simple session of showing off for humans.

Here’s the splashy photo, along with some commentary on this event from GrindTV. Frankly, if not for the picture, I’d have never believed it.


Volunteer naturalist captures extraordinary image showing peculiar water formation around midsection of leaping mammal

Steve O’Toole was photographing playful dolphins Sunday afternoon off Dana Point, California, and did not realize until later that he had captured an extraordinary image.

It reveals a circular disc of water around the midsection of a leaping bottlenose dolphin, making it appear as though the mammal is hula-hooping.

O’Toole is a volunteer naturalist for Dana Wharf Whale Watch and a board member for the Orange County chapter of the American Cetacean Society. He said passengers aboard the Ocean Adventure encountered about 50 offshore bottlenose dolphins, which began jumping in the swift catamaran’s wake.

“This particular dolphin caught my attention because when leaping out of the water, it started twisting its body, whereas most dolphins only leap,” he said. “When the activity ended, I briefly looked at my camera’s screen to make sure the pics were there.

“I noticed something unusual with this particular picture and didn’t think much about it, knowing I’d take a closer look when downloading pics to my PC.”

The photo, which might be one of a kind, has been widely shared on Facebook and other websites.

Alisa Schulman-Janiger, an ACS researcher, said she has photographed thousands of dolphins during a span of 30 years, and has never captured or seen a similar photo.

Was I right? Is that amazing or what? Even in captivity, this is something that’s never been achieved or even imagined possible.

Did I hear someone say close up? Well, here it is!


I could go into a whole production about dolphins, but I don’t want to take anything away from this astonishing trick. Could it be just an accident or does this dolphin know exactly what he’s doing? Maybe dolphins can do this kind of thing, no sweat! Of course, I’ve never heard of anyone witnessing such an event, let alone getting evidence.

This is something I’ll never forget…..

More for the Fishing Lovers! Video

Ethereal, 8-foot-long ‘sea serpent’ caught on video

Scientists have released video of an 8-foot-long, shimmering oarfish taken  about 200 feet below the ocean surface — and it is breathtaking.

Elusive and alien-looking, the oarfish has a thin, eel-like body with squiggly iridescent markings that glow blue in the video. It also has a long dorsal fin that stretches the length of nearly half its body, and large round eyes rimmed in silver.

That bright white blob you see in the fish’s spiny dorsal fins is a parasitic isopod — sort of like an ocean version of the roly poly bug — that has attached itself to the fish. It is a common parasite of marine fish, but it is the first time one has been seen on an oarfish, said Mark Benfield, a marine biologist at Louisiana State University.

Benfield is the lead author of a paper describing the oarfish video, published in a recent issue of the Journal of Fish Biology.

PHOTOS: Weird sea creatures

Despite its great size, the fish orients itself vertically, with its head toward the ocean surface, and its blunt tail hanging down. This allows the fish to scan the water above for the krill and other small crustaceans that it eats, and may help it appear smaller to predators who are lurking below, said Benfield.

“The striking thing is they swim by undulating their dorsal fin like a propeller, and they can change direction instantly,” Benfield said. “Most of the time they move slowly and stealthily, but when they want to, they can move fast.”

Benfield’s research usually leans toward small sea animals such as zooplankton and shrimp. But since 2006 he has been working with several oil companies stationed in the Gulf of Mexico who have agreed to give him time on their remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) to scan the waters for marine life through a project called GulfSERPENT.

The ROVs, which are usually used to find new sources of oil, are not ideal for finding wildlife. They are noisy and large, about the size of small cars, and they shine bright lights and lasers at whatever they see. But Benfield said it is easier to get time on the hundreds of ROVs owned by oil companies stationed in the Gulf Coast than it is on the handful of ROVs around the world that are devoted to scientific research. Since he started working with the oil companies, he has collected about 40 hours of undersea footage from the Gulf Coast a week.

Since 2008, Benfield has captured video of the oarfish on four different occasions through the SERPENT project. The most recent video of the oarfish, shot in 2011, was collected when Benfield was working with the Natural Resource Damage Assessment group to determine the impact of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

“We were just finishing up scanning the water column about 200 feet below the surface when my technician yelled,” said Benfield. “I walked into the lab and saw this giant oarfish. I was like, ‘Oh my God,’ and we followed that thing for 10 minutes.”

When you watch the video below, keep in mind that the oarfish is looking at a large, bright, noisy object in the water that is unlike anything that occurs in its natural environment.

“It starts by backing away from us tail-first, and then finally it got fed up and took off,” said Benfield.

The fish shimmers in and out of view for the first few minutes of the video below. If you don’t have time to watch the whole thing, I suggest starting at the five-minute mark to get a good look at it, and then fast-forwarding to the nine-minute mark where you can see it zip away like an underwater lightning streak.


Fishing Surprise, Video

Alaskan Killer Whale Gives Fishermen a Surprise

ne-pacific-transient-killer-whale-is-seen-in-this-undated-photograph-taken-in-alaskaA group of men fishing off the coast of Alaska got a reminder that the state known as the Last Frontier really is a wild place.

After snagging a halibut on to their fishing line and starting to reel the fish in, an orca swam up from the deep and stole their catch.

Frank Sanders recorded the killer whale stealing the fish and posted this video online. It has since gone viral; as of this writing the June 8 post on has garnered more than 6,800 likes and 28,000 shares on The Alaska Life Facebook page alone.

The video opens with a shot of a fisherman holding his pole while the cameraman stands behind. As the hooked halibut is being recorded an ocra swims up from the depths and tried to get the fish.

“Leave it there! Leave it there,” one of the men says, instructing the fisherman to allow the orca to eat the catch.

As the blog Pete Thomas Outdoors reported, the wider context of the incident is unclear; it is unknown whether the shot was contrived with the halibut used as bait for the killer whale.

In any case, the video should serve as a reminder to man that nature has a way of biting back — as should the one below, which features a shark stealing a fish from an angler on a kayak off the coast of Hawaii.

Definitely the Catch of the Day for UK Man!

slide_302087_2552199_free giant catfishGiant Wels Catfish Caught By Fisherman Rodney Hills Weighed Almost 115 Pounds

They call it the Duke, and it’s reportedly one of the most famous catfish in England. About time it had it’s picture taken, then.

The angler lucky enough to pose with the 115-pound wels catfish is 67-year-old Rodney Hills, who caught it earlier this month. Hill told the Bucks Free Press that it took about half an hour to reel in the massive fish and a couple of extra hands from his Catfish Conservation Group fishing party to actually get the monster out of the water and weigh it.

“It was quite a struggle,” Hills told the newspaper. The catfish was identified as the famous Duke by a circular scar near its dorsal fin, the report notes.

Following the photo-op, Hills returned the Duke to the Norfolk lake where he’d caught it. According to GrindTV, the bait that landed the massive catfish was a chunk of smoked pork sausage.

Make no mistake about it: 115 pounds is a whole lot of fish. But wels catfish, which are found in southern England and throughout continental Europe, have been known to grow even bigger.

According to Der Spiegel, wels catfish can grow to lengths of 10 feet and weigh upwards of 300 pounds. The species’ rapid expansion through German waters has excited sportsmen and puzzled researchers.

In France, wels catfish have been observed — and filmed — jumping out of water along shorelines to feed on pigeons.


Catch of the Day 1,300 Pound Shark

1442156_ME_mako_shark_GEM1,300-pound mako shark capture filmed for reality TV show

The fishermen who caught what is believed to be a record-breaking 1,323-pound mako shark off the coast of Huntington Beach weren’t just out fishing for pleasure.

At least two videographers involved in an Outdoor Channel reality television show — “Jim Shockey’s The Professionals” — were on the fishing boat and the massive catch is already being promoted online.

Kent Williams, who owns New Fishall Bait Co. in Gardena where the shark is being held, said the captain of the boat, Matt Potter, has been a customer for years and buys thousands of dollars’ worth of bait.

PHOTOS: Sharks and people — too close for comfort

About 3 p.m. on Monday, Williams received a text from Potter: “I think we got one over a grand, finally.”

The shark arrived at Williams’ Gardena facility about 7 p.m. The fish overloaded the first scale, so they moved it to another.

Williams said the crew pumped chum from a bait tank attached to the boat, luring the sharks toward them. The bait is a combination of ground sardines and mackerel — it runs $25-$35 dollars for a 30-pound bucket, depending on the quality of the chum.

Corey Knowlton, one of the co-hosts of the show, described the shark to KTLA: “It’s basically like a giant nightmare swimming around.”

David McGuire, director of Shark Stewards, a Bay Area-based nonprofit that advocates for the protection of sharks, said he believed the mako should have been released.

“I’m a little shocked by it,” he said. “It’s really something you see more in Florida than in California, where we have more of a conservation ethic.”

He said he “certainly would object” to a catch set up for a television show. “People should be viewing these sharks as wonderful animals that are important to the ocean and admiring how beautiful they are,” he said, not “spilling their blood and guts.”

“These kind of reality shows are not reality. The reality is we’re overfishing sharks and this macho big-game attitude should be a relic of the past,” he said. “This is not entertainment. It’s not right, in my view.”

Responding to criticism about the catch, Capt. Matt Potter -– who simply goes by “Mako Matt” –- said they abided by fishing laws.

“It’s just like any other fishing,” he said. “The state limit for mako is two per person per day. We only kept one mako for a total of 18 passengers out there three days.” The rest were released, he said.

Another fisherman on board, Jason Johnston, said that catching the shark isn’t hurting the population.

“There are not that many sharks being taken out of the water,” Johnston said. “It’s not hurting the population. If we pull four fish out of the water per year, that’s just four.”

Salmon Are a Sign of Hope for San Joaquin

_BRM__Salmon are a sign of hope in a long-dry stretch of the San Joaquin


Agriculture and the Friant Dam, built in the 1940s, dried up a 60-mile stretch of the river. After a long, tortuous effort, a chinook spawns 10 miles downstream from the dam.


By Bettina Boxall, Los Angeles Times


March 29, 2013

About 10 miles downstream from Friant Dam, two men gently guided their drift boat toward a spot where the riverbed gravel looked as if it had been swept clean.


There, in about a foot of water, they spied something that had vanished from the San Joaquin River more than 60 years ago: a spawning chinook salmon.


“How sweet,” said Matt Bigelow, an environmental scientist with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. “I put in a lot of work to get to this point.”

It was a small victory in a tortuous effort: to revive one of California’s most abused rivers by restoring a portion of its long-lost water and salmon runs.

The San Joaquin’s spring-run chinook once numbered in the hundreds of thousands. The salmon were so plentiful that farmers fed them to hogs. Settlers were kept awake at night by splashing fish as they struggled upstream to their spawning grounds.


The run dwindled as San Joaquin Valley agriculture sucked more and more water from the river system and hydropower dams blocked salmon from upstream passage. Then, in the 1940s, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation erected Friant Dam as part of the Central Valley Project, a massive irrigation system.


Most of the upper river flow was sent into two giant canals that fed irrigation ditches up and down the east side of the San Joaquin Valley. Sixty miles of the San Joaquin — the state’s second-biggest river — died, its bed turning to a ribbon of dry sand.


The spring-run chinook disappeared. Hatchery releases sustained a small population of fall-run chinook that spawn in the San Joaquin’s major tributaries.


In the late 1980s, environmentalists went to court to get back some of the San Joaquin’s water — and its salmon. Their legal arguments focused on an old provision of the state Fish and Game Code that required dam owners to release enough water downstream to sustain healthy fish populations.

After a nearly two-decade fight, environmental groups reached a settlement with the federal government and farmers supplied by the Friant operation. The 2006 pact called for irrigators to give up some of their supplies to restore year-round flows, and with them, part of the river’s historic salmon runs.


But no one thought that reviving a river as degraded as the San Joaquin would be a matter only of adding water and fish and stirring.


Stretches of the old riverbed were choked with shrubs and trees. In some areas, the channel was hemmed in by flood levees. Farmers accustomed to a half-dead river had for decades grown crops in the old flood plain. When the first test flows were released down the dry riverbed a few years ago, water seeped beneath adjacent fields and damaged crops.


Restoration isn’t like a light switch, where you flick it on.”

— Monty Schmitt.


The problems have pushed back by years the date when salmon will be able to swim all the way upriver to spawning grounds below Friant Dam.


“Restoration isn’t like a light switch, where you flick it on and flows are flowing and fish are coming back and birds are flying overhead and people are picnicking by the riverside,” said Monty Schmitt of the Natural Resources Defense Council, which led the restoration fight. “It is not something that happens all at once.”


_BRM__The salmon that Bigelow and Rene Henery of Trout Unlimited saw didn’t get within 10 miles of the dam on its own. It was one of 104 fall-run chinook trapped over a period of weeks late last year and hauled in tank trucks down California 99 — around dry riverbed not yet restored — for release in the upper river at Camp Pashayan on the outskirts of Fresno.


Biologists wanted to know what the salmon would do in a part of the river inaccessible to them since Harry Truman was in the White House. Would they find suitable places to spawn, or swim around in futility?


On a gray day in early December, the two scientists were scanning the San Joaquin for answers.


When they spotted the lone chinook lingering in shallow water, they turned on a portable receiver to see if they could pick up a signal from one of the acoustic tags that had been inserted in some of the trapped fish.


The receiver started clicking. The number 7379 popped up on the instrument screen. A check of the trapping log the next day revealed the fish was a 3-foot-long female, caught in mid-November.


Now she was guarding the gravel bed where she had laid several thousand eggs and covered them with swishes of her tail, leaving behind signs of her nest, or redd, as salmon nests are called.


Studying her, the men could see that she was in bad shape. Her fins were deteriorating. Fungus was growing on her. Soon she would die, her biological role fulfilled.


No. 7379 wasn’t the only female to find a gravel bed to her liking. Biologists counted 11 redds upstream of the release point.

Their presence proved that after more than a half-century absence, chinook would spawn in the wild in the upper San Joaquin.

But because water is still not flowing down the river’s longest dry stretch, the hatching salmon have nowhere to go. The juveniles will hang out in the upper river until they become a meal for other fish.

“The system is not ready,” said Cannon Michael, vice president of an agricultural company that farms 11,000 acres near the river. “You get some photo ops by trapping fish.”

He and other farmers who are not parties to the settlement have nonetheless been drawn into the program because their agricultural operations lie along the 153-mile length of the project, which extends upstream to Friant Dam from the confluence of the San Joaquin and the Merced rivers.

They fret that there won’t be enough government funding to fully implement all the elements of the program, which is likely to cost more than $1 billion. They worry that if spring-run chinook — protected under the federal Endangered Species Act — are reintroduced and don’t survive, they will be blamed. And they don’t want to lose cropland to the project.

“I don’t think it’s realistic. It’s hard to re-create that,” Jim Nickel said of the settlement goals. Like Michael, Nickel is a direct descendant of Henry Miller, who with Charles Lux built a cattle empire along the San Joaquin in the 1800s.

Nickel’s family owns 8,000 acres, some of it along a portion of the river, below Sack Dam, that has been dry since the 1950s. In 2009, the first year the restoration program released test flows down that stretch, he was driving past a field of tomatoes with a farm manager.

“I’m sure having trouble getting those tomatoes to grow,” the manager told him. They saw water in a field drain, even though the crop hadn’t been recently irrigated. When they tested soil samples, they found salts.

Nickel concluded that water was seeping beneath his fields from the newly wet riverbed, elevating the area’s already high water table and pushing harmful salts into the crops’ root zone. He installed a $250,000 interceptor drain to collect the seepage and filed a claim with the project, which reimbursed him and paid damages.

Nickel’s problem was solved, but it was evidence of a troublesome issue that has stalled the release of flows down miles of riverbed. The narrowness of the old channel is another obstacle.

As the San Joaquin flowed across the Central Valley, it historically divided into a braid of smaller channels during flood years. In some places, what remains is too overgrown and small to accommodate the full volume of flows called for under the settlement.

In response, the project has installed more than 150 groundwater monitoring wells near the river. There are plans for more interceptor drains. And the program hopes to purchase easements — or even land — from farmers who own property next to the problem stretches.

“We’re doing seepage projects, building levees, water control infrastructure,” said Ali Forsythe, who is overseeing the program for the reclamation bureau. “It definitely goes beyond what I think a lot of people typically think of as a river restoration project.”

It’s her job to get the program past its many hurdles and balance the conflicting interests of landowners and environmentalists. “It’s difficult,” she said. “Sometimes it’s emotionally taxing.”

Still, Forsythe is confident the river one day will have enough water to ferry thousands of spring-run chinook upstream all the way to Friant Dam in an ancient rite of birth and death. “It will just take more time and more work and more money than originally anticipated.”




California’s Disappearing Native Fish

California native fish could disappear with climate change

Climate change could be the final blow for many of California’s native fish species, pushing them to extinction with extended drought, warmer water temperatures and altered stream flow.

The authors of a new study published online in the journal PLOS ONE used 20 metrics — including species population trends, physiological tolerance to temperature increase and ability to disperse — to gauge the vulnerability of native fishes to climate change.

The results: 82% of 121 native species were deemed highly vulnerable.

“Almost all of those fishes are in decline already and climate change is going to accelerate the decline,” said Peter Moyle, a UC Davis professor of fish biology and lead author of the paper.

“Disappearing fish will include not only obscure species of minnows, suckers and pupfishes, but also coho salmon, most runs of steelhead trout and Chinook salmon, and Sacramento perch,” he said.

Generally speaking, Moyle said, native fish in California and the Southwest are more likely to suffer from the effects of a warming climate than natives in other parts of the country because they are already in competition with humans for water in an arid region.

Global warming will raise surface water temperatures and is expected to increase the severity of droughts, shrinking habitat and adding to environmental stressors. “Anything that reduces the amount of cool or cold water going down the river is going to be hard on native fish,” Moyle said.

But most of California’s nonnative fish — many of them introduced as game fish long ago — are adapted to lake environments and will do just fine. The researchers found that only 19% of 43 alien species were highly vulnerable to climate change.

That could mean a lot of carp, large mouth bass, fathead minnows and green sunfish replace the state’s unique fishes.

Moyle, an authority on California fish, added that conservation measures could lessen the effect on natives.

“One of the obvious things to do is to re-operate the reservoirs and get more fish-friendly flows below” them, he said. The establishment of cool-water refuges for native fish is needed, the authors wrote, “even in urban streams such as those in the San Francisco Bay region.”