Morning comes too soon for some of us after being rocked to sleep aboard the Exy Johnson last night, but we must catch our Catalina Island ferry where we hope to see our first sea creatures….and we do. Dolphins swim alongside and grey whales spout in the distance as we ride along in sunshine on calm seas.

On Catalina we clamber over slippery rocks covered with red algae (plocamium) called sea carrot. Anyone feeling a bit hungry takes a nibble, describing the taste as “a carrot in soy sauce.” We are in search of Pacific sized tide pools to catch eels and octopuses and anything else we can study without endangering. We drop our “hooks” (binder clips) into teeming tide pool waters and hope for good luck. In the beginning we are a bit grossed out with the fish bait, but soon we become old hands at handling and baiting our fish clips, anxious to collect specimens for study.

CIMI eels are sneaky and strong. One was as long as James was tall. They steal our bait, but drop off of our hooks before we can get them into our collecting pail. We can see their fangs as they try to get our bait by biting the fish right off the clip. One swims right over Mike’s foot, easily escaping our grasp. Even a bright orange garibaldi tries to steal our bait.

An octopus wraps around the fish bait at the end of our line. We know we have it because it caresses the bait with its arms, but when we pull it up it must realize that something is “fishy” and lets go. Octopuses are smart so it knew something was up and did not attempt to grab our bait again.

We tuck in Algae and Invertebrate Lab before dinner, getting an up close and personal with green, red, and brown algae. We meet sea stars, sea hares, sea urchins, sea anemone, an octopus, nudibranchs, lobsters, and other tide pool dwellers, which we now can see long enough to study and draw. There are abalone shells like the live one we saw stuck tightly to a rock in the tide pool so we can admire the beautiful inner shell’s glistening metallic, pinks and purples.

Moonshine reflects on the calm waters of Toyon Bay at the end of our first day at Catalina Island Marine Institute. Even though we are tired and full of learning from our day’s adventures, we linger with TJ, our Cimi teacher, in the Marine Mammal Hall where we study skeletons of seals, sea lions, whales, dolphins, walrus, and all manner of marine life. Devon becomes a toothed whale and Anna (assisted by Ella) becomes a baleen whale. Simulating how toothed whales eat, Devon may only devour one Cheerio (squid in real life), using only his teeth, at a time. As our baleen whale, Anna and Ella may slurp up as many tiny Cocoa Krispies as possible, but must spit out the milk before swallowing the tiny food morsels on which they live. Our results suggest baleen whales have the advantage. Anna and Ella consume more than Devon suggesting that baleen whales might have the advantage in the wild.

We stroke a velvety sea otter pelt and can finally truly understand why Russians and Aleuts came to the Channel Islands in the early 1800s and took thousands of pelts. Sea otters have 1 million hairs per each square inch of their pelts. Magically, at the end of the evening we even become seals and sea lions to demonstrate how they move. We are mother and baby seal lions calling to each other to simulate the cacophony of a seal rookery…even louder than a pack of Phoenix kids having fun. It must be bedtime!