'Doc' Ed Ricketts on Marine Biology in the Sea of Cortez:
Pelagic Rock Lobster, Sea Turtles, Porpoises, Tuna Water to the High Sierra?

Ricketts' Notes from the
Sea of Cortez

Gulf of California Trip
March-April 1940
[From The Outer Shores, Edited by Joel Hedgpeth]

1940 Excerpt of Doc Ed Ricketts' Journal from the Expedition to the Sea of Cortez

"16 March Saturday: In oily quiet water, 2 PM, in slight fog, over 50 fm bank N of Magdalena Bay. Tiny speared a sea turtle about 2 1/2 feet long. Probably Eretmochelys imbricata, tortoise-shell turtle. There were a couple of barnacle bases on the shell, and many hydroids which were preserved in 2 vials. There were 2 Planes minutus, pelagic crabs related to the Pacific Grove Pachygrapsus, male and female, together back of the tail under the flipper. We examined the intestinal tract for tapeworms. None obvious. From gullet to anus, the digestive tract was filled with a small lobster-like shrimp almost identical to the Monterey Bay and Puget Sound Minida, rock lobster (Pleuroncodes planipes Stimp.), of which a few near the gullet were whole enough to preserve. The gullet was lined with hard and sharp pointed spikes which apparently ground the shells of the lobsters. Fine adaptation to food supply by structure, or vice versa. So, in a half hour, we got to know in reality more about sea turtles than the average person hears in a lifetime. John saved the shell to cure for a playroom trophy."

"Group of new kind of porpoises (we have seen none since leaving Central California), gray where the others were brownish, slimmer, and with paddle-shaped probosces. Very fast, in great group, jumping in and out of the water the way porpoises characteristically do. Look like Tuna. This discontinuous distribution is another indication of the possible correctness of Cabrera's law of ecological incompatibility." [Steinbeck did not pick this up. A pity. J.W.H.]

They swim entirely by vertical movement of the laterally compressed tail. Blowhole opening and closing. Actually small whales.'

"The abundance of life here gives me a sense of exuberance. I can't get a full sense of enjoyment from the high Sierra because they're so barren. But here the surface is teeming with life, sea turtles, flying fish, pelagic rock lobsters, bonita, now these porpoises. And the ocean bed underneath is likely equally rich. And microscopically the water itself will be teeming with plankton. Tuna water."

"The completeness of the turtle - Planes minutus - hydroid - barnacle - Pleuroncodes (which is what the pelagic "rock lobster" turned out to be; the Mexicans called them "langustina") association is very pleasing. There was the whole thing laid out before us. The tremendous hordes of very hard-shelled little lobsters. The turtles with their gullets ideally adapted to using that type of food; grinding the gullet starting a digestive tract filled clear to the anus; they must be storing food in the form of fat - excess energy - for a barren season. And the hydroids and barnacles perching on the nearest attachment site, which happened (at the time the floating larvae were being liberated) to be that turtle shell. "

"5 PM above: About 70 miles No of Pt. Lazaro, hosts of brilliantly red (shrimp pink) Pleuroncodes planipes Stimpson (p.163 Schmit 1921), looking very beautiful against the ultramarine of Tuna water. In March, 1859, it was thrown ashore in considerable numbers at Monterey, California (Stimpson). One of those queer years, probably, when ocean currents transported a lot of typically southern forms northward."* *Note by Hedgpeth: "It reappeared at Monterey in 1960, a hundred years later."

"17 March Sunday: 2 AM passed Pt. San Lazaro on the 1 to 4 shift which Tony and I had; 2nd lighthouse apparently never did show up. Another of the bad coastwise points where you change course. Like Cedros Island passage, where it's always bad, even in good weather (or like Cape Horn), and when it's bad it's horrid."

"5:30 AM awakened by motor idling; John was catching a great bunch of Pleuroncodes planipes again. Several female ovig. Said he started to see them as soon as it was light."

"2 small dolphins, Coryphaena equisetis Linn, of the most startling beautiful, and rapidly changing colors. Smaller was 3 1/4 hands long. This is another case of the everywhere-appearing forms described many years back in Sweden by Linnaeus, father of modern zoology, Darwin's godfather intellecutally.*

*Joel Hedgpeth note: "Linnaeus was not the father of modern zoology. As for Darwin, who needs a godfather with a real, albeit incredible grandfather like Erasmus?"

Reflections & Observations
Robert 'Roy' J. van de Hoek
Field Biologist & Geographer
Sierra Club
Wetlands Action Network
Director of Research and Restoration
25 May 2002

It's unbelievable to me that the field notes of Ed Ricketts from 62 years ago can be so vibrant and alive with meaning. It will be interesting to compare Ed Ricketts' journal with the passage that John Steinbeck wrote in the Sea of Cortez. It is a well known fact to some literary critics and some marine biologists that Ed Ricketts gave his field notes to John Steinbeck. It was these field notes that John Steinbeck relied upon to write the narrative of the Sea of Cortez.