MLML: A Career (and life) Stepping Stone

By Anonymous MLML graduate ( 25 February 2016)

This is a bit of a wandering and circuitous story, but it illustrates the role MLML can play in one’s professional and personal development and life.

I grew up in Philadelphia - I was an east coast city boy.


In 1983, I was a 4.5 yr senior geology major at University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. Two factors during my undergraduate degree are worth mentioning (ignoring the partying!). First, although a huge amount of sediments and rocks are deposited underwater and in the oceans, I don’t think I ever really heard about oceanography or marine geology at Penn (sad, but I did eventually learn better!). Second, I had to take introductory biology as one of my last two classes so that I could get a BS instead of a BA. This doesn’t sound very significant, but ……

University of Pennsylvania.

A couple things about this biology course.... The class was very large and consisted of mostly very stressed freshmen – so I actually appeared somewhat more mature than some. The lab portion was TA’ed by a biology PhD student whose name I can’t remember. During the first lab, he had to console at least one student who broke down in tears (happened a few more times throughout the semester). Afterwards, I commiserated with the TA – who turns out was a gymnastics judge in his off time. One of my roommates was on the Penn gymnastics team. As the semester wore on I became friends with my TA and toward the end of the semester my roommates, TA, and I went on a road trip to see the NCAA gymnastic championships at Penn State (saw a number of athletes that went onto the Olympics a year later).

As I finished up my BS, I decided I wanted to continue onto grad school. I applied to a number of programs, but did not get accepted to any of them. Although I had done very well in my last few years, I was still quite immature. I wasn’t really sure what I would do next.

About a month before graduation, my biology TA and I were talking about my failed plans to get into grad school and that I was trying to figure out what to do. He mentioned that one of his biology PhD student friends was doing bird research on Midway Island and was looking for a field assistant for the summer. The TA mentioned me to his friend - turns out - this University of Pennsylvania grad student in bird physiology was Russ Shea (at the time I didn’t know he did his MS at MLML in Physical Oceanography with Broenkow; he did research on the role of internal tides in nutrient enrichment in Monterey Bay). Luckily, one of his field assistants backed out and the day before graduation I was on a plane to Hawaii (starting a long history of missing graduations - and some other significant life events - to do something amazing).

Midway Islands

I met his wife, Beverly (also a MLML grad, I believe) at Hickam Air Force Base, and boarded a Military Airlift Command C130 for a summer working on Midway Island. As a city boy, my bird experience was limited to surprising the ring-necked pheasants while waling though the forest behind our house (or more depressingly, watching the pigeons among the dirt and grime at the train station). More than a couple million breeding seabirds on that very small island in the Pacific was an incredible experience – more birds in the first hour than most people will see in a lifetime. This was Russ’ third field season doing physiology, growth, and mortality studies on sooty terns, red-tailed tropic birds, and fairy terns. I got to work with one of his other field assistants – outside, every day, commuting by whaler to the smaller of the two islands – the one with the old airbase that is now a bird sanctuary. We also did some work with Laysan Albatross and frigate birds. What an amazing experience.


Sooty Tern and chick

Over the course of the summer, I learned to become completely comfortable walking amongst the dense bird colonies with all stages of bird life around me, on me, as well as stepping in dead bird carcasses with only flip flops on – which no longer bothers me (this later part seems similar to some of the other stories on the MLML Anniv. blog! – also interesting as I did geology because I didn’t like digging through smelly animals!). I also became a bit more cautious about swimming when the sharks that prey on the fledging albatross’ chased me out of the water during one lunch time swim. Did a bunch of snorkeling, but unfortunately, didn’t get SCUBA certified until later during my MLML time. As the summer wore on, I had lots of time to talk with Russ during the fieldwork. When I told Russ about my interest in continuing to study geology in grad school, he said “You should check out Moss Landing, it’s a great place as a stepping stone”. He went on to relay a bit about his time there in Broenkow’s lab doing physical oceanography, and how his MLML experience allowed him to move onto his very cool PhD at Penn that we were doing fieldwork for!!!

Midway and albatrosses.

So, after the summer with Russ, Beverly, and the birds in Midway, and then a month backpacking in Hawaii (climbed Mauna Loa, hiked Kauai’s Na Pali coast), I returned to Philadelphia. I started to check out what MLML might have to offer. Not sure how I found out very much about it in the dark ages of pre-internet days…..but I applied and then arranged a meeting with MLMLs geology professor at that time - Mike Ledbetter. After getting in a car in Philadelphia with three of my friends who were in similar situations, we drove across the USA, dropped my engineering friend off in LA (got a job at Boeing or Hughes, I think), and drove up the coast to Monterey Bay. After the long drive up with my other friend, we camped out at Sunset Beach state park. I crawled out of the tent on a very cold morning, washed off with some water, put my suit, dress shirt, tie and shiny black shoes on (was still an east coast boy…..), and went to my meeting with Mike. I arrived at MLML - the “on the beach” version of MLML - which had just been finished the previous year. I’m sure I stood out (understatement). I think Mike might have said something about my clothes, but I don’t really remember. All I do remember is Mike saying – these are the several projects you could work on and I have money to pay you to do your MS research. I also remember how absolutely beautiful coastal California, Monterey Bay, and Moss Landing was. I started geology because I liked the field trips to the Appalachians, being outdoors, and not able to really believe that jobs existed that allow you to have such fun working outdoors and imagining what the earth was like in the past. Also, it was great to get out of west Philadelphia where there was lots of concrete and people who had to eat out of my trash to survive. Now Mike and MLML were offering me a great intellectual experience as well as an astounding place for me to have fun outdoors.

Dedication of the new wing of the "on the beach" version of MLML.

I moved to a house on Pinto Lake in Watsonville, did my MS in 2 years (on sedimentation and currents in the southwest south Atlantic; including a couple cruises down there – one out of Tierra del Fuego where Carolyn G and I almost didn’t make it back – a whole other story), learned how to scuba dive (including getting paid to scrub the algae off the bottom of the Pebble Beach Country Club pool with Don C; we got a very nice lunch in return), ate my first oysters (BBQ’d by Jim B), learned how to boogie board, started learning how to surf (getting pounded because I never asked anyone how to learn! Along with Dave A), learned to play underwater hockey (anaerobic exercise), got introduced to the Sierra Nevada (winter and summer), learned a bit about graphics, art, and donuts from Lynn M., and had many of the standard (but great) experiences that have been related on the MLML anniversary blogs (Halloween, Open House, helping to process foul-smelling, but interesting things from the slough and ocean, research cruises on Monterey Bay, etc), learn how to play beach volleyball as a short person with Jim O and others, and made lots of friends (including my wife). OK, I also learned a lot about marine geology and more specifically – paleoceanography from Mike and the other geology lab students.

For a year after my MS, I helped “run” the lab when Mike was on rotation at NSF (I did sediment grain size analyses and continued to learn how to get pounded while trying to surf). Near the end of my time at MLML, when I was deciding to go on to my PhD, Gary Greene had started spending more time at MLML. Once again, MLML people helped advise and guide me - and with both Mike and Gary support – I moved onto a PhD program at the University of Hawaii in Geophysics (where I overlapped a little with Kevin H). The preparation that MLML gave me allowed me to do quite well and I finished in 3.5 years (I also learned how to surf a bit better - although still got pounded). After a 1.5 year postdoc at the University of Tokyo, I have spent the last 23 years working for the Ocean Drilling Program at Texas A&M University. During this time, I’ve been fortunate to have participated in 18 expeditions (over 3 years at sea), did deep-sea coring, logging, and observatory installation in most major seas (except the Arctic), worked with lots (hundreds) of nice, diverse people, learned a lot about our planets history and changing climates, as well as seen lots of cool wildlife and places. In my most current role, it’s been my great pleasure to invite many hundreds of scientists to participate in our drilling expeditions – among which recently I’ve been able to invite the current MLML geologist Ivano Aiello to participate on his second drilling expedition.

So, MLML has served as a stepping stone for me. Not just a small step and not just the only one. However a very important one for me to grow, grow up, learn, and enjoy life.

I grew to appreciate very much the wide range of labs at MLML, and the people in them. I found nature and structure of MLML to be highly stimulating – having friends and colleagues in fields outside my own was wonderful – and much different than in a “normal” geology department (where my friends would all talk about the same geology things). At MLML, when I got tired of hearing about geology – I had people telling me about ichthyology, phys/chem oceanography, marine mammals, phycology, benthic fauna, eating some of the above, intertidal zones, asking for a hand in some of their fieldwork, or going down to Big Sur to see a beached blue whale. MLML turned me into a bit of an arm chair science junkie – that suits me well.

MLML students and volunteers working up a recently stranded blue whale.

I am no longer an east coast boy, MLML facilitated my love of the outdoors, I continue to love bird watching immensely, I continue to do fieldwork outside - on the open ocean, and I’ve continually returned to Monterey Bay for vacations, surfing, hanging out with friends, and a few meetings.

MLML is a great place for many reasons. I’d encourage everyone to convey what Russ said to me in 1983: “You should check out MLML, it can be a great stepping stone”.  I’ve seen this affect on many of the others who passed through MLML when I was there.

One sad note, I never stayed in touch with Russ following my Midway Island experience. Just recently, I thought I’d track him down and say thanks. Perhaps Bev and/or their kids will see this blog and know that I appreciated the life-changing opportunity Russ provided me and especially his life-changing words. My attending MLML brought me many joys and pleasures - and has had a tremendous impact on my life.

Lloyd Kitazono, Russ Shea (in middle), and unidentified student

Beach Volleyball at MLML

by Greg Cailliet

With help from (in alphabetical order) Rich Ajeska, Dave Ambrose, Mark Carr, Mike Foster, John Heine, Roger Helm, Jerry Kashiwada, Stacy Kim, Lloyd Kitazono, Bud Laurent, Dave Lewis, Gary MacDonald, Mike Moser, Dan Reed, and Mary Yoklavich

The Early Years (late 1960s)

The old court with caretaker trailer in distance, and office trailer next to the sand court.

We understand from Jim Nybakken’s early history of MLML (“The Early Years”, that the first beach volleyball court at MLML was built in 1969. He stated that “the student body reported that the student council was developing by-laws and committees, was putting out a newsletter and had set up a volleyball court.”  So, in addition to other MLML blogs, here’s one on the history of MLML volleyball.

Dave Lewis recalls: “The Sand Court was already installed when I arrived in ’69 (a good year indeed!)… John Hansen apparently helped spearhead the effort to clear/level the court space and install the poles and net a year or so prior.  No ropes, just vague foot-furrows for boundaries, with constant disputes about In or Out.  Lots of Jungle Ball until Hal Salwasser showed up (6’6” UCSB player), with plenty of patience to get us at least semi-disciplined. Hal went on for a Ph.D. and became Dean of the Oregon State University Forestry Department (unfortunately, he passed away in October of 2014).

Dave continues “the precursor to the annual Marine Lab Tournament was an annual match with Hopkins, always hotly-contested, rotating venues each year (they had an asphalt court).  Early participants included Rich Ajeska, Bud Laurent, Hal Salwasser, Eric Dittmer, Dave Lindquist (the first MLML student e with this name), and Bill Davis. Rich says he was fortunate enough to be there (’69-70’) when Hal arrived and quickly began his task of explaining that volleyball actually had rules!”

“That group also played one year in the annual (4th of July?) tournament in Boulder Creek (on asphalt).  We barely lost to the Locals in the final; Salwasser was spectacular.  We also had a team in the Salinas Recreation League (indoors) for several years, where we were perennial runners-up to the local powerhouse team comprised of Hawaiian and Filipino guys [I can still remember Sammy Taporco a 5’7” Filipino hitter who hit straight down, either hand, with a spectacular windmill windup motion- You couldn’t figure out which hand he would hit with each time- Unbelievable!],”

“Hal got that early MLML volleyball team into quite good shape over the next few months and we played in the first Hopkins vs MLML match which, not surprisingly, we won - we had Hal on our team, of course we won.  It was fun.  We did tie-die our team t-shirts, and brought food and copious amounts of beer and our girlfriends/wives came along to cheer us on.” Rich Ajeska provided a black and white photo, taken by his wife, of the starters.

From left to right are Bud Laurent, Eric Dither, Dave Lewis, Bill Davis (atop the car), Hal Salwasser, and Rich Ajeska.

Bud Laurent then says: ““I can only add a few details about the nature of jungle ball and Hal’s redemption of the sport in our hands, if that’s of interest. ...I do recall that the net was more or less an informality, acting more like a gill net on players than something that was to be avoided at all costs.  I also remember the sometime-heated nature of our contests, particularly the time when Bill Davis and I had to be pulled apart by the other players from the sweat-drenched, sand-encrusted wrestling match we decided was necessary to resolve some dispute or another.“


The Early Years Continued (1970s-1980s)

Having a beach volleyball court (or two) has pretty much been a pre-requisite for having a marine laboratory, or an institution located on the shore, especially on the west coast and in California. When Mike Foster and I were graduate students at U.C.S.B., we worked hard to build (and used daily) two courts down on the beach below the Biological Sciences building and toward Goleta from the original Campus Point marine laboratory. It was quite a popular place and a good, midday activity for exercise and sunshine.

Volleyball at the old lab. Although a bit fuzzy, this picture shows the hill in the background where the new main lab now sits.

When I (Greg Cailliet) joined the MLML faculty in 1972, one of my first objectives (besides teaching classes, accepting graduate students, obtaining research funding, attending faculty meetings, keeping my job, and working toward achieving tenure) was to construct a proper beach volleyball court, similar to those at U.C.S.B. with the correct characteristics. I did this with the help of many, eager graduate students at the time, including Dave Lewis, Gary McDonald, and others. Dave Lewis added “Your arrival improved the court, really upped our skill-set and emboldened our attitude with tacit faculty approval.” I clearly remember Drs. Broenkow, Nybakken and Morejohn’s irritation….” (See a little more on this a bit later in this blog) This beach volleyball court was on sand to the south of a trailer located next to the large, outdoor seawater holding facility in the yard of the original building, once the rectangular Beaudette Foundation building. Care was taken to use enough sand so that it had sufficient depth, and appropriate dimensions, posts, supports, net size and height, and rope boundary, within reason for the space available. Jerry Kashiwada adds: “One drawback was that the court was built over a seawater-system leach field and occasionally a spring of seawater would bubble up to cause a brief delay in play. Another irritant that drew occasional curses was beach burrs, which which either found their way onto the court or covered errant balls landing in the surrounding dunes.” Dave Ambrose also mentioned the beach burrs, saying “the penalty for retrieving a ball hit out of bounds was feet full of sand burrs.”

Greg Cailliet plays the ball on the old court. Is he passing or is it a scuzz dink? Only he knows at this point.

This court hosted many hours of beach volleyball, involving lots of students and some faculty, especially when Mike Foster came to MLML in 1976 from CSU Hayward (now East Bay) and later, when Hank Mullins joined the faculty. Jerry Kashiwada adds “the players were a true cross-section of the lab and also included office staff and technicians. This was the main form of exercise for most of the lab. There were a few runners and surfers but far more volleyball players than anything else.” It was such a popular activity that sometimes people had to either rotate in or wait in line to play. Often, some would start playing early in the day, say 10:00 or 11:00 am so they could get a good game or two of doubles before everyone broke from classes for their noon lunch break.

The proper standards of play were imposed, including serving, hand-setting, bumping, and spiking. Jerry adds: “The early days featured some unique styles including a two-handed pelecypod shot used by Gary McDonald.” Some would say that scuzz dinking was also allowed, but sometimes damaging. However, there were often complaints by some faculty (the names Morejohn, Broenkow, and Nybakken come to mind again) that their students were late returning to class because the lure of the sand, sun, volleyball, and physical activity was too much. As a new faculty member, I had to be very careful about overly promoting this sport during the class day. Remember, I did not yet have tenure.

John Heine adds that “Dr. John Martin, the lab director, was not a fan of the beach volleyball court, but generally left us to it and did not make a fuss over it.” He also pointed out that “The outdoor showers and drains were always full of sand from the volleyball players, and had the well-remembered wooden pallets to keep users’ feet out of the slimy water.” John Heine also wrote a novel called “Marine Dreams,” about the fictitious “Elkhorn Marine Laboratory,” and the novel parallels some of the stories in this blog (and others) about Moss Landing. The pages relating to beach volleyball are 54-56. In it, there are characters that loosely parallel figures at MLML. Remember, “it’s all fiction (except for the Scuzz Dink)!!”

The Middle Years (Sanddab Volleyball)

Sanddab volleyball symbol.

Sometime in the late 1970s, a group of us formed a indoor volleyball group, with the team made up of combinations of six people, and it was named named Sanddab Volleyball. I used to have one of the original t-shirts, but cannot find it. I did find the diagram of the logo and have a scan of it (see photo). We had both men’s and co-ed teams, and played in Watsonville in the evenings.


The Sanddab men’s team won the 1978 Watsonville City Volleyball Championship. Jerry Kashiwada has the trophy that was given to him as an MVP award and is at his home. Jerry recalls: “Greg Cailliet was so amped at the end of the game, I felt like we had won an Olympic gold metal.  My main thought at the time was: ‘It was a great way to give a little something back to the professors (Mike Foster was also on the team) who gave so much to their students including the gift of beach volleyball.’” Lloyd Kitazono recalls “playing in a playoff game against a team from Watsonville that was composed almost entirely of Japanese-Americans and they were not tall but they were fundamentally sound. They were not as talented at Jerry K but close. It was a hard fought match that went to 3 games, which we won. I don't have a photo of that team, but I remember that you, Mike F., Jim Oakden, Bob Cowen, Jerry K. and I were on it for sure. Jim Harvey and Bruce Stewart may have been on the team too. I remember you had the "best hands" at the lab and had a killer 2-handed dink.”

Lloyd Kitazono also recalls the co-ed Sanddab volleyball team from 1977 that won the B or C division of the Santa Cruz indoor league. Included are Lloyd Kitazono, Russ Shea (now deceased), Greg Cailliet, Bob Cowen, Roger Helm, Mary Yoklavich and two additional ladies whose names I have forgotten, but the one next to Mary was named Stephanie. [This could also be part of the legend for the photo.]I have a team trophy in my office at MLML (see photo), and think it was from that tournament.


Sanddab volleyball team in 1977. Back row: Lloyd Kitazono, Russ Shea, Greg Cailliet, Bob Cowen, Roger Helm. Front row: unknown, Stephanie, and Mary Yoklavich.


Lots of former students felt that playing volleyball was a good source of exercise, and a de-stressor. At the website, I found this group photo from 1981 in front of the trailer on the volleyball court. Jerry Kashiwada also wrote: “As I look back on my years at MLML, the volleyball games seem more like an addiction than exercise. It’s mostly a huge blur but one game that stands out and proves the point was during finals week one rainy winter day - a few of us decided to play anyway and found out why beach volleyball in the rain was not a popular activity, but there are times when none of those inconveniences matter.”

Group photo.


Lloyd, and many others had very fond memories of playing beach volleyball at the lab, but he also remembered that Dr. Broenkow was not very happy when his students returned to class late after lunch because they had been playing volleyball (and that one of these students was his T.A. Lloyd Kitazono)! Lloyd also remembers “playing volleyball in the afternoon after classes were over and we would play until it was too dark to see the ball. My wife was not too happy about that! FYI.” When Lloyd left MLML and started teaching at the California Maritime Academy in 1978, he continued playing volleyball with some students and also formed a men’s club team that he coached for a few years. He later coached three of his daughters in high school for 11 years. After retiring from teaching at the Academy in 2013 after 35 years, he still enjoys watching volleyball, as most of us do – both beach and indoor.


Lab Addition Years (Relocation of the Court to the Sand Dunes)

When the new lab building was added in 1983 to the south, it occupied that space, so we had to build a new volleyball court in the dunes even further to the south. Mike Foster was instrumental in obtaining sufficient field equipment and labor to produce that court, nicely shielded from the north-westerly winds by the remaining sand dunes to the west.

Mike Foster adds “that the main complaint about the court to the south of the pre-earthquake new lab was from George Knauer, who objected to the noise, in his office. ..he brought this up at a faculty meeting and wanted to stop the play or find a new location.” Mike continues to say that he thought this “was the only vote ever taken at a John Martin faculty meeting, and George lost.”

Also, to build the pre-earthquake new lab court, we had to do something with a large mallow bush that was encroaching on the volley ball court area.  Mike and John Heine wanted to “trim” it (i.e. cut it back or remove it), but Sheila Baldridge would not hear of it:  “It’s a native plant.”  She was correct there, and and none of us wanted to upset Sheila. That site also became heavily used, both during the class week, after classes, in the summer when the sun was out sufficiently long, and even on weekends, when we would have all-day volleyball “tournaments.” Many of us recall that a the old sand court, it was fun to get a set next to the sand dune because you could use the dune to jump higher for a spike. It was used during the 25th MLML anniversary in summer of 1991, when visiting MLML graduates came for the celebration.

When MBARI was built next to the MLML Shore Lab, they built a nice sand v-ball court just to the south of our property, and many MLMLers played games there with George Matsumoto, Mark Chaffey, Mike Kelly, and Steve Haddock.

The Monterey Bay Marine Laboratory Tournament

During the middle of the history of beach volleyball at MLML (around 1981), there was a revival of the multi-marine laboratory tournament, including the Monterey Bay institutions MLML, UCSC, Hopkins Marine Station, Granite Canyon Mariculture Lab, the Monterey Bay Aquarium, and sometimes other groups like the California Department of Fish and Game.

From what I can glean from others, the Monterey Bay multi-marine laboratory volley ball tournament was started again by Mike Moser. Mike was at MLML in in the late 1970s and went to LML in about 1979. Soon after he arrived at UCSC, he wanted to start an inter-marine lab beach volleyball tournament for the institutions listed above. Dave Lewis told Mike about the old late-1960s MLML/HMS tournament (already mentioned), but that it had not been held for a while. So, Mike (and others) started the tournament in the early 1980s. It continued until he left LML in 1990 to go to Berkeley. And, of course, the tournament continued after that, but sputtered in frequency.

According to Dave Lewis, “The Ball & Baculum trophy was also created by Mike Moser” (It has also been more politely call the “Ball & Bone trophy”).  I have since confirmed with Mike that this was true, but also from Gary McDonald (MLML alumnus; who then also worked at LML and UCSC) that he and Mike “took a funky v-ball, put a crown on it, and put it on a plaque [with sand grains embedded on it].” He continues that they “then got a cast of a walrus baculum [called an oosik by native Alaskans] and mounted it across the ball (Why the baculum? It just seemed like a good idea at the time).

Ball & Baculum Trophy

Each year the winner's name and date were written on the baculum of the trophy. The winning institution got to keep the trophy until the next tournament. No one has recorded the years and winners, but MLML volleyball players were early winners, with victories changing hands often after that. There is no official recorded list of years and winners, but that might be a nice project (perhaps for a senior thesis but not for an M.S.. degree). Currently, the trophy is at LML (see photo from Mark Carr, a former MLML graduate student now on the faculty at UCSC).

Mike Foster hopes for another tournament coming soon so we can snatch the trophy back. What do you think new MLMLers?” (, under 1981). Major forces switched from tournament to tournament. The MBA team was often lead by one of their tall players, Gilbert VanDykhuizen, who learned much of his skills while a graduate student at MLML. Another major force was UCSC’s LML player Baldo Marinovic, who still goes by the trophy on the way to and from his office. John Heine described one of MLML’s tactics as “scuzz dinking.” He went on to say “while it was customary to set the ball up on the second hit for the spiker, some players would keep the opposition “honest” by sneaking a short set (or dink) over the net, either forward or back,that somehow just barely went over the net, and very difficult to dig. This would would drive Baldo at UCSC crazy!!

And, Mike Foster’s history of MLML (“The Middle Years” provides some additional details of some tournaments in the 1980s and described the trophy as well. There, he goes on to say “This is a tradition that really must be restored. So, get out and fix up the MLML beach volleyball court and start playing. Otherwise, when the “Bone & Ball” tournament happens again, MLML will not have much of a chance against marine labs that play regularly.”


The Post-Earthquake Years – Volleyball on the Hill?

Volleyball court immediately after the 1989 earthquake, showing the hole and mud that was brought up to the surface because of liquefaction.

After the earthquake, when forced to move the labs to the trailers in Salinas, beach volleyball virtually ceased, except when some would revisit the court south of the old site. But that too met a different fate when it was restored by the benthic bubs to a natural sand dune with dredge spoils from the harbor and using only native vegetation. The MBARI sand court was used occasionally when MLML folks were at the shore.

Upon the move up to the present MLML site on the hill in 2000, it was determined, and once again lead by Mike Foster, that a court could be dug out, filled, and built to the south west of the present upper parking lots. It is there to this day, but has not attracted much use, especially since both Foster and Cailliet got older and retired, and others (John Heine, Jim Oakden, Jim Harvey, Mary Yoklavich, Stacy Kim, Jim Barry, Jerry Kashiwada, Eric Nigg, Dave Shonman, Chuck Versaggi, Sara Tanner, Dave Ambrose, Kon Karpov, Bruce Stewart, Russ Shea, Bruce Ross, Roger Helm, Lloyd Kitazono, Bob Cowen, Allan Fukushima, Todd Anderson, Gilbert Van Dykhuizen, Guy Hoeltzer, Don Croll, Steve Reshkin, Doug Vaughan, and many others have moved on, lost interest, or gotten older like we have. This, of course is not a complete list. Therefore, please feel free to add or subtract names in response to this blog.

New volleyball court on the hill, shortly after it was constructed.

Indeed, in true California State University fashion, all of this construction activity conformed with the MLML Program Plan 2000-2010, in which it was stated that one of the “Goals of the MLML Student Body,” in addition to: 1) returning fees from home campus coming to MLML; 2) continuing the MLML Seminar Series; 3) continuing the Open House; and 4) collaborating with the Friends of MLML for sales of retail products; were to include 5) “Development of extramural facilities including the volleyball court, the student body lounge and programs in support of recreation: (kayaking, diving, photography).”

Unfortunately, there has been little beach volleyball played on the court that Foster built in the early 2000s . Some beach volleyball has continued to occur at the MBARI sand court , where there are several excellent players. Some MLMLers still go down and play with them occasionally. And, we understand that interest in reviving beach volleyball at MLML on the hill is increasing.

There is still a need for physical activities at MLML. One graduate student said that “It's a funny thing but prior to coming to MLML I was a shy, introverted, completely non-athletic person.  The people at MLML gave me confidence to grow not just in science and socially, but also athletically.  It did a lot for me…”

I agree with that statement and sentiment, and, will end this blog with a quote from Mike Foster – “V-ball at MLML - a fine tradition and good times that, as you say, should be revived. Maybe something will get going at the 50th? No doubt we could still stumble on the court for at least a few serves and perhaps a scuzz dink.”

Jim Harvey addition: Current students, lead by Alex Olson, have just recently started clearing and using the volleyball court on the hill. So Foster's  wish is coming true.

G. Victor Morejohn and the Great White Shark Hunt on The Rolling O: Part II

By Roger Helm (11 February 2016)

Graduate students Jon and Craig in Dr. Morejohn’s Marine Birds and Mammals Class sorting through specimens caught in a late night deep water trawl. Photo by R. Helm.

“What the heck is that?” “Way cool, look at those teeth?” “Eewh, everything is covered in slime?” “They’re all so tiny… oh, except for that shark, what kind is it?” “Wow, this is really amazing!” “There must be a mile of salps here?” “Are those myctophids?” “That is so weird looking, what is it?” “Who wants to help me figure out what these species are?” “Did anyone bring a copy of Fitch and Lavenberg’s Deep Sea Fishes or Miller and Lee’s California Fishes?” “Hey, pass me that Light’s Manual, I’ll try to figure out what some of these inverts are?” I think this is perhaps why Dr. G. Victor Morejohn got into teaching; it’s really fun and invigorating to be surrounded by a bunch of students delighting in new discoveries.

It was around midnight and we had just brought the cod end of a trawl net into the make shift fish lab we set-up on “The Rolling O” and spilled the haul onto a big waterproof table. The students in Dr. Morejohn’s Marine Birds and Mammals class, at least those that were still awake or not too seasick, were swarming around the table excitedly touching, warily poking, uncertainly watching, and generally being amazed by what was sloshing around in front of them.   As the graduate student assistant for the class, I was grinning from ear to ear watching the students applying what we had been teaching them for the past several months as they sorted through the mess of flopping and oozing flesh. We hadn’t caught a Great White Shark, but the students seem no less thrilled by all the bizarre, colorful, and otherworldly creatures they were now cataloging.

Male elephant seal on shoreline of Año Nuevo Island with its hind quarters showing the aftermath of a failed Great White Shark attack. Photo by R. Helm.

It was April 1978, and we had taken the class on a three day cruise on “The Rolling O” to the waters off Año Nuevo Point just north of Monterey Bay in the hopes of hooking a Great White Shark. Each year these fearsome predators come to Año Nuevo to sink their massive jaws into an unsuspecting Northern Elephant Seal. The seals, which can weigh several tons, frequent Año Nuevo in winter to breed and return in spring through summer to molt.

Much to the delight of his students, and me, Dr. Morejohn had somehow convinced then MLML Director Dr. John Martin that a three day cruise on “The O” was a necessary field component to the Marine Birds and Mammals class he was teaching that spring. While the cruise did provided Dr. Morejohn and I ample opportunity to find, identify, and share with the students a great variety of the abundant marine birds and mammals of the bay it also allowed Vic the chance to try and land a real prize, Carcharodon carcharias. Ever since the 1975 premier of Jaws that brilliant but very unsettling movie (I still hear that music every time I go swimming at night),   marine biologist at institutions all along the coast had intensified their interest in the Great Whites off California.

Actor Roy Scheider battling “Bruce” the mechanical shark from the horror movie Jaws

Prior to the cruise, Dr. Morejohn had gotten Ted Brieling, the Lab’s maintenance guru at that time, to mold several pieces of 3/4” rebar into a large single hook and a 3-barbed treble hook.   After steaming up to Año Nuevo in “The Rolling O” we started chumming and trawling a chunk of meat back and forth off the coast near the island. There was this constant tension on the boat between Dr. Morejohn and the skipper of “The Rolling O”, John Snodgrass, over how close to the shore we should be. Dr. Morejohn wanted to be as close to the shore as possible believing that increased our probability of attracting and hooking a Great White, while Capt. Snodgrass wanted to be well offshore so he wouldn’t snag our trawling hooks or worse, his keel.   In the end, Vic won out, but John was probably right as eventually we ‘caught’ something that straightened our single hook and later snatched our treble hook.

Albatross observed about 80 km WNW of Monterey Bay and subsequently identified as a Short-tailed Albatross by ornithologists at the Smithsonian National Museum. This identification was later disputed by a west coast albatross expert. Photo by L. Belluomini.

In the late afternoon of Day 2 a particularly unusual albatross started flying up our chum line. None of us could identify the bird so I hurriedly, and somewhat apprehensively given that I suspected he had brought his shotgun along, searched the boat to find Dr. Morejohn. After about 10 minutes of searching I gave up and returned to the fan tail with my camera to at least get a photo or two of the bird. Unfortunately, the unidentified albatross had skipped town. A bit later Dr. Morejohn surfaced, he had been napping in the captain’s quarters, and we all puzzled over what species he had missed. In my absence, one of the students had snapped a few photos of the bird and a few weeks later, after Kodak had done their thing, she handed me a few slightly blurry slides of our elusive albatross. After examining several sources we tentatively identified the bird as a Short-tailed Albatross and I sent off the slides and our observations to Dr. George Watson, an avian expert at the Smithsonian in DC. He confirmed our tentative ID which was quite significant since only a few hundred Short-tailed Albatrosses were known in the world at that time. This species, like all albatrosses, are very philopatric and after wandering far and wide for many years always return to breed at the colony where they hatched. Unfortunately for this species, their natal colonies were on Torishima, a small volcanically active island off Japan in which turn of the century eruptions had nearly extirpated these birds. This confirmation was very exciting and I wrote up a note on the sighting and submitted it to Western Birds with a copy of the photo. I was so proud of this note, my first ‘scientific publication’. Alas, the Short-tailed Albatross, like the Great White Shark trawling turned out to be a bust, as later another bird expert disputed the identification.

“The Rolling O” was not my favorite vessel.   At 100’, the Navy owned harbor tug Oconostota was the largest vessel in the MLML fleet back in the late-70s. Acquired on loan from Scripps Institution of Oceanography in San Diego, this round keeled vessel was not at risk of flipping in heavy seas, but it constantly rolled in any seas.   For about ½ the students in our class, and their graduate student instructor, the constant movement of “The Rolling O” was not appreciated by our inner ears and it resulted in many a distressed stomach. Nevertheless, despite all the logistical challenges, disappointments, and gastrointestinal upsets, this cruise was one of my highlights at MLML and based on class evaluations it also was a huge hit for the students fortunate enough to be enrolled that semester. Dr. Morejohn was a constant fountain of information and entertainment at the bow, the fan tail, and in the mess.   The students saw over 70 species of birds, thousands of brown jellyfish, hundreds of deepwater fishes and inverts, a few secretive Harbor Porpoises, and large numbers of Blue Sharks, California Sea Lions, Harbor Seals. Elephants Seals, and bow riding Dall’s Porpoises.   While we never hooked, much less landed, a Great White I have often wondered whether that may have actually been a good thing. Imagine if you will “The Rolling O” doing its crazy topsy-turvy thing in 5’ seas as the crew drags a thrashing, teeth gnashing two ton Great White Shark onto the slippery fantail while a gaggle of slightly to very ill landlubber students mosh in for a closer look….. hmmm.

Post-Script: Six months after our cruise a 3m Great White was caught by fisherman and brought to the lab. Its stomach contained an intact adult harbor seal and Dr. Morejohn finally obtained the prized formidable jaws from a Great White.

G. Victor Morejohn and the Great White Shark Hunt on the Rolling O

By Roger Helm (4 February 2016)

Five-meter long Great White Shark washed up on the beach off Año Nuevo Point State Park. Roger Helm is ‘dissecting’ the shark with an axe to obtain vertebrae for aging.

“These suckers are HUGE” I remember my brother saying as he took pictures of me dissecting a female Great White Shark that had washed ashore opposite Año Nuevo Island in 1978. And boy was he right. While this shark was a bit over 5m long from the tip of her nose to the end of her upswept tail, she was 4m in girth at her pectoral (shoulder) fins. It’s a bit misleading to say I was ‘dissecting’ this behemoth. Each time I tried to penetrate the prehistoric placoid scale hide of her back and flanks with the sharp tip of my flensing knife the stiff blade bent like a bow. Lacking a chainsaw, I conducted much of my ‘dissection’ with a razor sharp axe.

Moss Landing Marine Laboratories’, through Scripps Institution of Oceanography and the Navy, acquired the 100’ long research vessel the M/V Oconostota. This converted harbor tug was not so affectionately known among scientists and students working on abroad as the Rolly or Rolling O

After finally gaining access to her abdomen I sorted through the endless gobs of a shark’s liver to reach her stomach. As the contents of her stomach quickly revealed there is good reason that Great Whites make Año Nuevo and its large Northern Elephant Seal colony a favored stop on their great annual migrations. This gal had recently been feasting as her stomach contained several fresh massive pieces of a four- to five-year-old male elephant seal. Individual bites included: four 15+ pound pot roast-sized chunks of blubber and muscle; the left fore flipper, including scapula; the entire hindquarters including both hind flippers; and the head back to the 3rd cervical vertebra.   Together these pieces weighed well in excess of a hundred pounds and after digesting these huge meatballs she probably would have relished an industrial-sized bottle of Tums. While that ‘dissection’ was quite amazing to me, it really just serves as the preamble to my main subject, the story of Dr. G. Victor Morejohn and the Great White Shark Hunt on the Rolling O.

Between 1977 and 1978 I served as Dr. Morejohn’s Graduate Teaching Assistant for his Marine Vertebrates and Marine Birds and Mammals classes and as the marine vertebrate technician in the Moss Landing Marine Laboratories museum. In the latter position I traveled all over Monterey Bay to slice and dice stranded animals to obtain teaching and exhibit specimens for Dr. Morejohn’s classes. It was in early spring 1978 that I responded to a call to ‘dissect’ the Great White Shark. I still remember feeling the charge of Dr. Morejohn’s building excited energy when I shared my adventure and specimens with him a few days later. As a man deeply consumed by the natural history of vertebrates, Vic Morejohn always wanted to know, at a visceral level, as much as he possibly could about animals that fascinated him.

Great White Shark off Guadalupe Island, Mexico: Photo by Amos Nachoum and Jeb Corliss.

Even today whenever I think about him, the first word that comes into my mind is grok. Coined by Robert A. Heinlein in his 1961 sci-fi novel, Stranger in a Strange Land, grok means to understand so thoroughly that the observer becomes a part of the observed and to fully grok something you had to consume at least part of it. Dr. Morejohn loved to deeply investigate, skillfully draw, and share his knowledge of the natural history of the animals he saw and captured. Also, like many classic biologists of bygone eras, he regularly savored the specimens he captured.

Similar to many in his fluid stream of Master’s students, I found Dr. Morejohn’s intensity, intellect, drawing skills, and consuming passion for understanding and teaching about the natural world a bit intimidating. However, when he got excited about something it was thrilling to be in his sphere of energy. Long before I finished relating my shark ‘dissection’ story, he had started formulating a plan to get the lab a real set of specimens. In his mind, MLML deserved far more than just the stomach contents and a few vertebra of a beach cast Great White Shark. Already his rivals at UC Santa Cruz had snared the jaws from the shark before they alerted their kid brother down the coast that a dead shark had washed ashore. What MLML really needed was to capture our own Great White Shark… and so began the G. Victor Morejohn Great White Shark hunt on the rolling O.


The follow up to this story will appear next week.

[For more stories about G. Victor Morejohn, please see the past blog posted at this site]: