Octopus at Coal Oil Point Reserve

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Octopus at Coal Oil Point Reserve
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By Robert Bernstein

My unicycling partner Danielle has a son Charles who is exceptionally skilled at finding and gently handling wildlife. We all met up at Coal Oil Point Reserve to see what Charles could find. The dream find would be an octopus.

Here are all my photos and videos!

While we were waiting to meet up with Danielle and Charles we met up with Cris Sandoval and Kevin Lafferty who have managed Coal Oil Point Reserve for decades.

They are scientists and also excellent caretakers of this precious habitat. One of their greatest successes has been the restoration of the snowy plover such that there have been generations of baby plovers born under their stewardship.

One of the greatest challenges has been with dogs, which are rightly perceived as a threat by the plovers. A plover does not have to be killed to keep it from breeding. Just a perceived threat is enough. Please do your part and do not bring dogs into any wildlife preserves.

Cris Sandoval explained that the tidepools at Coal Oil Point Reserve are a Marine Protected Area. She said that this protection keeps this area diverse and rich in marine life.

We saw these odd patches of broken seashells on the beach:

We quickly realized these were sea anemones that had been exposed at low tide. Kevin explained that the anemones actively collect the shell fragments to protect themselves from exposure. He also told us that many of these anemones are 100 years old or more! Even more reason to be careful where you walk around tidepools.

Of course this is how they look when happily submerged:

We also were happy to see vertebrate wildlife like this heron, with Isla Vista as its backdrop.

And this egret taking off nearby.

Eventually we met up with Danielle and Charles who had already been scouting for a while.

Charles soon spotted this small fish:

And a number of crabs, including this one:

Charles started carefully turning over rocks. After just a few tries, we saw a tentacle poking out. Yes! It was good-sized octopus! A two-spot octopus. So named because they can make two blue spots appear, one on each side. As you can clearly see below and to the right of the eye of the octopus in this photo:

Here is a video of Charles and Danielle with the octopus and a bit at the end where I got to briefly hold it.

Definitely the highlight of the day!

There were some other interesting finds as well. Charles pointed out this chiton embedded in a rock. Chitons are marine mollusks.

Related to this other mollusk that he found

And, of course, we saw plenty of these mollusks that we all know well!

And Merlie spotted this small shrimp which I briefly caught on video as it quickly darted around.

In case you don't recognize Danielle without her unicycle, here we were together just before the start of the Solstice Parade in 2017!

Here are more photos of us in Pali's Flaming Heart Grand Finale that year when the theme was "Celebrating Unity"!


[Ed Note: The article has been updated with an explanation that the tidepools are a protected area, per the author.]

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oceandrew Feb 22, 2021 02:20 PM
Octopus at Coal Oil Point Reserve

Thanks for sharing the lovely pics, ROBERT. It's nice to see experienced and knowledgeable folks leading tide pool excursions and probably also teaching proper handling and care for the beasties that are examined. Better than a bunch of yahoos stomping all over destroying everything they touch. Oh, and thanks for another excuse for the Ed drama to rear its ugly, polarized and often hateful excuse for human discourse.

SBsurfer77 Feb 22, 2021 02:38 PM
Octopus at Coal Oil Point Reserve

Thank you edhat and Robert for this experience, loved the pictures and video.
Disliked all the negativity in the comments.

patriciamalone Feb 22, 2021 03:26 PM
Octopus at Coal Oil Point Reserve

Thank you, thank you, Robert; the photos are beautiful! I recognize Charles from my student teaching year when he was in fifth grade; I'm delighted he is still exploring and appreciating nature! I still have an "Ode to a Squid" he wrote in fifth grade among my most treasured teaching mementos.

4nature Feb 22, 2021 04:30 PM
Octopus at Coal Oil Point Reserve

Thank you, Robert. There seems to be some confusion about the purpose of COPR so here is some information. We require a prior application for the use of the nature center, and field trips visits by classes, researchers, and organized groups. This is because we have a lot of users per year and need to track and schedule these users. Sands Beach and the pond trail are open to the public and visits by individuals do not require an application. Note that COPR is not a public park, it is a nature reserve. COPR is part of the UC Natural Reserve System since 1970 and it has a mission of supporting research, education, and conservation. We encourage all visitors to visit the COPR website to learn about natural history, protected areas, and activities permitted. Tidepooling, surfing, bird watching, jogging are examples of activities that can be compatible with wildlife. For activities such as sunbathing (where there is a lot of people), playing ball or frisbee, walking dogs, etc, are more appropriate for other beaches designated for recreation and have less wildlife. We manage Sands Beach with the goal to maintain public access and also protect the delicate wildlife that depends on it. This is one of the few beaches where you can see Snowy Plover chicks running around (ask a docent to show you in May, June and July). We do daily beach counts of the number of people, the number of dogs (on and off-leash), and the number of Snowy Plovers and their nests. If we did not study and manage the reserve (or the people coming to the reserve), there would not be so much wildlife for you to enjoy. We welcome the public and appreciate how much the reserve is important for many of you, particularly this last year. Thank all of you for helping preserve this beautiful area. Without this community’s support, the Snowy Plovers would not have been able to survive. If you want to help more, we have programs where you can volunteer as a plover docent, tour guide, or planting native species.

Babycakes Feb 22, 2021 05:26 PM
Octopus at Coal Oil Point Reserve

4Nature: Thank you so much for your dedication to protecting the environment, providing Edhatters with information and first-hand knowledge about COPR.
Is it okay if we (the visiting public) turn over rocks and pick up the things we see? I think it's a wonderful activity and learning experience to search out, find, and GENTLY handle sea creatures, Tidepooling is something that many of us have done for many/many years, but it seems that folks on this board firmly object to and are upset about the handling of this ONE octopus by the OP & Co (Robert Bernstein and friends).

4nature Feb 22, 2021 05:45 PM
Octopus at Coal Oil Point Reserve

Good question. The MPA rule is a bit general: "It is unlawful to injure, damage, take, or possess any living, geological, or cultural marine resource for commercial and/or recreational purposes, ". It seems to me that the MPA rule is OK with gentle handling of some species . It is important to know about the animal before deciding to handle it, as some tidepool creatures such as most snails (abalone or chiton, etc) cannot reattach themselves to the rock, and will die if removed. As a general rule of thumb, if the animal moves freely (octopus, hermit crabs), then a quick-handling is probably OK.

Notthatbad Feb 22, 2021 06:39 PM
Octopus at Coal Oil Point Reserve

I would not personally be comfortable disturbing an octopus. And I’ve seen the “My Octopus Teacher” documentary and everything.

The octopus is a delicate, exquisite creature. Feel bad just passing one back and forth. But if the people in the video somehow know what they’re doing... thanks for that, at least.

Hado_Ken_57 Feb 22, 2021 07:12 PM
Octopus at Coal Oil Point Reserve

It is indeed... especially with a nice sauce and cooked correctly so it isn't rubbery. Best food I've ever had.

Ahchooo Feb 22, 2021 08:37 PM
Octopus at Coal Oil Point Reserve

I love the photo of the egret taking off. Look at those beautiful yellow feet! And the perfectly groomed feathers.

biguglystick Feb 23, 2021 10:27 AM
Octopus at Coal Oil Point Reserve

BasicInfo805: Find your compassion for other intelligent forms of life. Watch the movie My Octopus Teacher and DON'T EAT THEM.

little ocean Feb 22, 2021 10:55 PM
Octopus at Coal Oil Point Reserve

Octopuses have gills, they live and breathe in water. They get some gas exchange through their skin, if it stays wet, and thereby can survive out of water for a few minutes under the right conditions. I know these 3 explorers are well-intended but octopuses should be left in water, I don't think this story adequately conveys that.

PitMix Feb 23, 2021 07:53 AM
Octopus at Coal Oil Point Reserve

This reminds me of the stories in the LA Times about early in the pandemic where people were going to their tidepools and wiping out the marine life there. If you like something natural, publicizing it is the best way to ruin it. They are very sensitive to human impacts.

https://www.latimes.com/environment/story/2020-07-17/unprecedented-crowds-are-harvesting-sea-creatures-from-san-pedros-famous-tide-pools

tMo Feb 23, 2021 07:54 AM
Octopus at Coal Oil Point Reserve

Thank you for the beautiful photographs. I am sure the author is a well meaning advocate for nature. However, I cringe when I see low tides packed with people foraging the tide pools for anything alive that they can pick up and handle. Regardless of what the experts say it seems like common sense that they're better off left alone. The tide pools today are a barren wasteland compared to what they were in the 1960s. Let's let's enjoy them with our eyes please....

SBZZ Feb 23, 2021 09:12 AM
Octopus at Coal Oil Point Reserve

After watching My Octopus Teacher, I vote to protect these amazing creatures from harm world-wide. Robert, what are you thinking grabbing an octopus in a marine protection area?!

biguglystick Feb 23, 2021 10:37 AM
Octopus at Coal Oil Point Reserve

As a very small child I picked up marine life and examined it when I walked the beaches. There was a heck of a LOT more of it back then. The minute I realized that I was disturbing a living creature that was minding its own business I stopped touching or picking up any marine life. It's GOOD to be curious and want to learn, but look with your eyes. Learn with your eyes. Please don't pick up wildlife! ANY wildlife! Leave them be and observe. How would you like it if a creature 100 times your size came and snatched you up to hold you at dizzying heights and examine you. Yes. Think about it. Please BE KIND TO ALL KINDS.

sacjon Feb 23, 2021 10:52 AM
Octopus at Coal Oil Point Reserve

BIGUGLY - have you ever been to the Sea Center, or Monterey Bay Aquarium, or the UCSB Marine Biology lab or any of those places? Scientists at these places ENCOURAGE kids to pick up and look at star fish, sea slugs, mollusks, etc. How are we to learn about our fellow animals without sometimes touching them to examine them? YES, handling an octopus for this long was not a good idea, as I've said over and over, but I am not falling for the never touch anything argument. As humans, we learn through experience. Sometimes, examining some forms of wildlife is part of that experience.

PitMix Feb 23, 2021 01:30 PM
Octopus at Coal Oil Point Reserve

Yeah, those touching pools at the Sea Center and Aquariums also seem weird to me. I think they have a lot more to do with catering to the public and what they like, and also maybe hoping to get people interested in conservation, than some scientist really thinking that being handled is the best thing for that particular creature. What kind of life is that? Just another zoo, really.

a-1614109182 Feb 23, 2021 11:39 AM
Octopus at Coal Oil Point Reserve

While the photos and video were nice, the octopus was clearly trying to escape. Picking up and turning over creatures, whether tide pool octopus or nesting snowy plover chicks, seems counter productive to a "reserve", "preserve" or "refuge" area status. Would be helpful to marine life if some areas were protected from human incursion, as the vast majority of the marine world is not protected.

SBZZ Feb 23, 2021 12:49 PM
Octopus at Coal Oil Point Reserve

Robert, as your undesignated lawyer, you might want to take down this post, as it verifies your illegal behavior - no charge for my services (this time) -

Campus Point State Marine Conservation Area - It is unlawful to injure, damage, take, or possess any living, geological, or cultural marine resource for commercial and/or recreational purposes, with the following specified exceptions: Take pursuant to the operation and maintenance of artificial structures inside the conservation area is allowed pursuant to any required federal, state and local permits, or as otherwise authorized by the Department.

sacjon Feb 23, 2021 12:52 PM
Octopus at Coal Oil Point Reserve

SBZZ - If you were a "lawyer," you'd research the intent of the meaning behind "take" and discover that it doesn't apply to gently picking up an octopus in a tide pool to look at.

PitMix Feb 23, 2021 01:27 PM
Octopus at Coal Oil Point Reserve

Sacjon, unless you were present on the excursion, your testimony on how the protected marine animal was handled cannot be entered into the court record. But in general Robert seems to be a nice thoughtful person so hopefully he didn't inadvertently harm this beautiful creature.

sacjon Feb 23, 2021 01:52 PM
Octopus at Coal Oil Point Reserve

PITMIX - Haha nice try playing "lawyer" there, but I made no testimony to proffer as evidence. Nope, just read the plain meaning of the statute, along with this Q&A with a CFDW official, stating " the pursuit as listed within the “take” definition includes only pursuits that result in take or attempted take of the animal." ------https://californiaoutdoors.wordpress.com/2011/08/18/is-pursuing-wildlife-for-a-photo-a-form-of-take/

Artemisia Feb 23, 2021 01:48 PM
Octopus at Coal Oil Point Reserve

California Fish & Game code, section 86 : “Take” means hunt, pursue, catch, capture, or kill, or attempt to hunt, pursue, catch, capture, or kill.
Clearly what Robert & friends were doing to the octopus falls under the legal definition of "take," according to legal regulations, regardless of whether they eventually let it go.

sacjon Feb 23, 2021 01:54 PM
Octopus at Coal Oil Point Reserve

ARTESMISIA - no, not according to a CDFW official. " the pursuit as listed within the “take” definition includes only pursuits that result in take or attempted take of the animal. " ---- https://californiaoutdoors.wordpress.com/2011/08/18/is-pursuing-wildlife-for-a-photo-a-form-of-take/

Artemisia Feb 23, 2021 02:21 PM
Octopus at Coal Oil Point Reserve

Selective reading, Sacjon. Earlier in that same article, which is only talking about photography: "For the sake of discussion, please assume photography is for recreation, habitat is not altered and that **wildlife is never touched, possessed or otherwise under the control of the individual** behind the lens."
The definition of "take" in the code still applies.

sacjon Feb 23, 2021 02:46 PM
Octopus at Coal Oil Point Reserve

ARTEMISIA - right, but you missed the main point - that " the pursuit as listed within the “take” definition includes only pursuits that result in take or attempted take of the animal." - That means, unless touching and holding the octopus for a brief time was intended or did result in a taking, then it was not a "pursuit." Look, what I'm getting at is that all these claims that Robert broke the law for taking a marine animal are excessive. You can finagle all you want with the language, but you would never get a court to convict for a taking when you pick up an octopus to look at it briefly. Now, if it were an endangered species, you'd have a better point.

Bottom line: people are allowed to explore the tide pools and pick up animals gently to observe. If you feel so strongly, please file a report with the CDFW and let us know how that goes.

sacjon Feb 23, 2021 03:07 PM
Octopus at Coal Oil Point Reserve

ARTEMISIA - looking at the Federal code on this gives more context to the definition of take:

"The term “take” means to harass, harm, pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap, capture, or collect, or to attempt to engage in any such conduct." (Sec 3371 (j)(1)). --- Pretty clear the intent of the legislation was to prevent actions that cause harm to the wildlife. Picking up an octopus for a few minutes may be disruptive, but it's not harming it to the extent that it would be a "taking."

Basicinfo805 Feb 23, 2021 02:14 PM
Octopus at Coal Oil Point Reserve

Enough speculation. Let's ask Lafferty and Sandoval - they're the academics who have taken over Coal Oil Point. Let's have the author get them on the record - can you pick up a crab or not?

SBZZ Feb 23, 2021 02:16 PM
Octopus at Coal Oil Point Reserve

Sac - My extensive legal experience (=0) tells me that injure, damage, possess also come into play - take your pick.

sacjon Feb 23, 2021 02:47 PM
Octopus at Coal Oil Point Reserve

SBZZ - where did Robert or his conservationist friends "injure, damage, or possess" anything. No, holding an octopus for 2 minutes is not "possession."

ZeroHawk Feb 23, 2021 04:05 PM
Octopus at Coal Oil Point Reserve

hey folks, bottom line is this. we will always continue to explore tide pools. if you don't like it, that's good for you. keep it to yourselves. Sac, you are the voice of reason on this entire thread. thank you. i meant that. i can't stand when people whine and wank about others doing things like exploring a tide pool...cmon. really? are they so frustrated and angry at the world that they just lash out when anyone else has a good time or learns something? i mean that, it's awful and pathetic really. Sac, you're cool. Sail, for someone who sails, and I do too, don't you think you're doing harm when you sail? you sure are and don't even try to wiggle out of that one. I've been a sailor for years and even I know once we cast off, we endanger many things in the sea. If you think that's untrue, research whale strikes and many other things that happen right in our channel. go cry about that now

sacjon Feb 23, 2021 04:41 PM
Octopus at Coal Oil Point Reserve

ZERO - I'm the "voice of reason" here? Well howdy ho now.... hear that VOR? Looks like you'll need to change your name haha!

a-1614130394 Feb 23, 2021 05:33 PM
Octopus at Coal Oil Point Reserve

What I learned from this exchange: we should not pick up sea snails, abalone, chitons, or any sea life that attaches to rocks and such, because they generally cannot reattach, and will die. Critters that move about freely can probably be handled safely, but be brief and gentle. Octopuses don’t much like being handled, but a brief, gentle handling probably won’t kill them. Keep dogs away from beach critters.

PitMix Feb 24, 2021 08:07 AM
Octopus at Coal Oil Point Reserve

But simply touching animals or coral can be as damaging in the long run as intentionally killing or catching them. Many animals, including turtles, rays and many species of sharks, can become vulnerable to harmful bacteria through human contact, leaving them susceptible to disease. These creatures rely on bio-films (a kind of protective slime) to keep out infection, which we can compromise through touch.

https://scubadiverlife.com/touching-never-okay/

4nature Feb 24, 2021 12:58 PM
Octopus at Coal Oil Point Reserve

I am loving this discussion. Thank you all for your thoughts. Collectively, these posts reflect the diversity of feelings, awareness, and ethics among us. They are all valid and important because they illustrate our own dilemma with our human needs and the impacts they cause. This discussion helps us discover how to share our space with other creatures and how to live sustainably. Sometimes our explorations of the natural world cause some temporary disturbance, but these discoveries lead to a deeper attachment with nature. You love what know and you protect what you love.

SBLoc1960 Feb 25, 2021 04:22 PM
Octopus at Coal Oil Point Reserve

These photos, videos and report reeks of scientific/environmentalist elitism...

You, Bob, et al. were actively involved with groups which advocated very heavily to put in the MPA closures on the coast including at Coal Oil Point. You boast of being with scientists and talk about flipping over rocks until you find an octopus which you handle.

AS PER A WARDEN - this IS considered TAKE and would be illegal. Feel free to call CalTip and ask them what they think about your actions 1-888-334-CalTIP (888-334-2258)

Using the same logic found in this thread, it would be ok for us to go and pick up a plover chick and hold it, pass it around, take photos, as long as we returned it to the ground, maybe near the nest, after we have kicked around the area to find the chicks??? I promise I was a good greenie and paid my Surfrider dues and will wear my patagonia puffy and ugg boots...

Come on people, this is having your cake and eating it too. YOU were a big part of why we have the rules that exist there now, so YOU should follow them...

NOT COOL... you are giving environmentalists and scientists a bad name... Actions like this are why there is such distrust in the environmental movement and groups like the sierra club. (Do as I tell you, not as I do...)

{insert PrincessBrideQueenOfGarbage}SHAME SHAME SHAME{/PrincessBrideQueenOfGarbage}

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