Saturday, February 4, 2012

Best Santa Barbara Marine Animals: 2011 and 2050

Today's post  is a list of the top nine marine animals in the Greater Santa Barbara Ecosystem (GSBE). Like most top lists, all are best in their categories, according to some system of categorization and rating. Also like most lists, some of the categories are more or less universal, using standardized metrics such as fastest, while other categories are improvisational and based on personal aesthetics, aka judgment. Improvisational categories arise in response to the immediate environment and are most meaningful when the practitioner has both knowledge and understanding of the improvised domain. One of the most common ways Evolution reinforces skillful improvisation is the reward of "just having fun".

That said, the species occupying top spot in the cognitive niche (Homo sapiens) is born to categorize, judge, and order, usually homo-centrically and often according to personal aesthetics. Humans also tend to be naturally good at improvisation as well as driven to have fun. They are also biologically programmed to predict and plan for the future.

So this list reflect all of the above.

  Top Marine Animals  in Greater Santa Barbara Ecosystem for 2011 and 2050
 Categories                                                      Top Species for 2011 and 2050
Most paradoxical local marine animal: world's fastest, strongest, most common zooplankton: the copepod, also known as a drifter

Most likely to succeed by 2050
 2. The colonial tunicate Didemnum Vexillum

Top emerging California fishery, 2011
3. Kellet’s whelk: Kelletia kelletii
Most evolved, 2011
4. California Scorpion fish:Scorpaena guttata
Most likely to work as an aphrodisiac
5. Pacific oyster: Crassostrea gigas
Least Evolved, second most likely to succeed as key commercial fishery in 2050, least likely to work as an aphrodisiac, most challenging as a food item, most likely to be voted the world's biggest slime-ball
6. Pacific Hagfish: Eptatretus stoutii
World's most expensive gonads, most likely to be extinct in the wild by 2050, most likely to be the top aquacultured species in Santa Barbara in 2050
 7. Red sea urchin: Strongylocentrotus franciscanus,
Most important commercial fishery in California in 2011, best in Santa Barbara, fastest up and comer for upscale menus over last 50 years
 8. Market squid: Loligo opalescens

Most likely to rise to top 10 food fisheries in 2050, with Santa Barbara a key harvest area
 9.  warty sea cucumber: Parastichopus parvimensis

Best of the best: Tied for top animal in most categories: 2. the colonial tunicate Didemnum Vexillum and #6. Pacific Hagfish: Eptatretus stoutii

Conclusions and Rationales

We are eating our way down the food chain, developed over millions of years, faster than Evolution can promote species up it, faster than a speeding copepod.  In 2050, our daily menus are likely to feature sea cucumbers, whelks, and hagfish, one of the least evolved of all marine creatures. None can be considered highly mobile, or champions of the seas, or gorgeous, muscular, superbly adapted to their niches, like wild salmon and tuna, both still found on upscale restaurant menus. High-end foods that are sessile (not so mobile) organisms like sea urchins and oysters will be aquacultured for menus. Plan for it. Whelks are small, so in terms of pounds of harvest per effort, they promise to be energy-intensive. Sea cucumbers and hagfish require serious processing, not good to go like wild oysters, which you can eat on the beach.

While top-end foods that we eat today such as lobster eat other tasty living organisms that are mainly fresh protein, the Hagfish burrows into dead carcasses and absorbs dead flesh through its skin.  The Pacific Hagfish, called the slime eel, is known to product an unimaginably huge quantity of brown slime in the shortest possible time.  As a summary conclusion, food will not be easier or tastier in 2050.

The species most likely to colonize every ecosystem, smother and out-compete most natives, seriously reducing biodiversity, is the colonial tunicate, which is kind of  a blob-like gelatinous construction. During last month's Marine Biology class's (Dr. Paddack, SBCC) tide pool field trip to Leadbetter Beach, the most common marine animal I found was the tunicate Didemnum vexillum, which figures in the top 10 or 100 worst  invasive species in lists worldwide. Last semester our class lowered glass settlement plates to various bottom areas in the Santa Barbara harbor and in a couple of months most of them were colonized by tunicates, who seem to adapt to almost any marine environment.

If anyone would like a post dedicated to any one of the above just email me and I'll post something after Valentine's Day. 

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