Dive Report: Sat. 12/16/06 Port Hueneme & the House of Slime

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Posted by Patrick (HTML format by Elaine) on December 26, 2006 at 22:02:01:

Dive Report: Sat. 12/16/06 Port Hueneme & the House of Slime

Story and Photos © Patrick Smith, May not be reproduced in part or whole without advanced written permission.

The sky was gray and unfriendly as we departed LA for Port Hueneme.

Photo by Patrick Smith

The balmy, unseasonably warm weather with the clear, sunny blue-skied mornings of the previous week were gone – and missed. The weather forecast was calling for spotty rain early in the day with heavier rainfall after noon and into the evening. Our dive plan called for us to do one dive to monitor the intake pipes for a marine-bio lab at the Port Hueneme harbor mouth. Then, after a quick stop for salt & grease at the Hoagie Hut (Best Fries Ever!), make our way back to LA, hopefully before the forecasted deluge began.

The drive up was uneventful. Some light rain, but it passed quickly. The security check at the port was fast since our names were on the list and we had the proper ID.

The marine-bio facility which has been there for nearly two decades was originally known as the “Ab-Lab”.

Photo by Patrick Smith

With withering-foot disease and a worm infestation, abalone mariculture, at least in Southern California, pretty much disappeared. Currently the facility is working on products from various marine species that are being used in medical research. Since this takes considerably less space than was required for the commercial raising of abs, some of the facility is leased to other mariculture companies.

At the lab, we changed out and geared up.

Photo by Patrick Smith

The day was still overcast and gray with light wind, but great horizontal visibility; Anacapa Island was stark and distinct on the horizon. But black clouds to the north and west promised nastier conditions coming.

As we climbed down the rip-rap facing the channel at the back of the station, a 100-foor crew boat with the imaginative name of PATRICK was just coming in through the harbor mouth.

Photo by Patrick Smith

Though there was some surge making its way into the harbor the entrance was easy. Swimming clear of the rocks we dropped down in the 58 degree water with a spectacular 3-5 foot visibility. Sedimentation was noticeable beneath the intake pipes but still well clear of causing any obstruction. The intake survey was completed quickly and it was time to do an informal survey of the surrounding.

What is a pleasant surprise about Port Hueneme is the amount of life it supports. Everywhere are large schools of nearly every type of perch – rubberlip, barred, shiner, opaleye and others I couldn’t ID in the murk. Calico bass the size of my little finger up legal length dart in and out of the surprisingly thick kelp that grows on the rocks. On the sand apron at the base of the rocks, were sculpin and sand bass, a couple of substantial Cancer crabs and a very large Moon snail who was going nowhere in a hurry. Off the wharf adjacent to the intake the bottom was siltier with less life, but with ample evidence of the work that has gone on in the harbor since WWII. Pipes, hawsers, tires - presumably lost as bumpers, pallet jacks – all manner of tools and debris. On previous dives I’ve even seen military helmets protruding from the silt. Despite the interesting critters and stuff on the bottom, the cool water, limited viz and increasing surge encouraged calling the dive after burning only 1,400 psi.

A quick hot shower in the lab and dry clothes were just the ticket. As we were loading gear for the trip home John asked us if we would like to check out the new mariculture tenant using the facility. Cool! It’s always interesting to checkout any aspect of the sea – I thought. Little did I realize that John was about to reintroduce me to one of my life-long nightmares, the slime eel, or, more properly, the Pacific Hagfish. See:


Photo by Patrick Smith

I had run-ins with these delightful creatures when I was growing up working on commercial boats. You’d drop a good-sized red, cow cod or salmon-grouper on the deck thinking “nice fish” when it would suddenly begin to move. Not flop around like most of us are familiar with, but pulsate, sort of like the explode-out-of-the-body scene in Alien. Then one or two or more of these blind, whiskered things coated in a viscous, yellow-green mucus would slither out of a hole chewed in the side of the fish and wiggle across the deck leaving a trail of slime that was nearly impossible to wash off. Yuck! They still gag me out. One 16-inch hagfish in a 5-gallon bucket, could fill it with slime in just a few minutes. And it is almost impossible to wash off.

John walked us over to TANKS (approx. 6’ x 18’ x 5’) filled with slime eels.

Photo by Patrick SmithPhoto by Patrick Smith

Apparently hagfish are the newest bar snack in Korea. The critters are shipped live to the Korean equivalent of Cheers, and patrons, when feeling a bit peckish, choose a likely looking candidate, grab it with a pair of tongs (thoughtfully provided by the establishment) and plunge the writhing slime-slug into a vat of conveniently placed boiling water just long enough to blanch the bugger. Quickly removed, the “thing” is placed on a board, skinned, and diced into bite-sized, toothpick-able pieces. John is telling us this and all I can do is think about buckets of slime. I managed to get pictures and clear the area before totally embarrassing myself. YUCK! – but another step toward total enlightenment…

Fortunately a few minutes respite and a stop at the Hogie Hut (best fries ever! Grease and salt!!) got the (imagined) taste of slime out of my mouth.

Stay wet

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