By Mabel Plaskett
“Roll on thou deep and dark blue ocean roll.”
The part Byron wrote of the sea as centuries before, others had written and as long as life exists tribute will be paid to this great “Mother of Life.”
As we know all life evolved from the warm saltiness of the primeval sca. The story of the long slow process has been unfolded in the study of fossil remains preserved in the rocks. This has taken millions of years and our relation to the sea is indicated in the fact that in the blood in our veins, the elements, sodium, potassium and calcium are combined in nearly the same proportions as in sea water.
From the earliest time man has tried to conquer the sea, but he cannot change nor control her as he has the continents. On an ocean voyage far out of sight of land one realizes the dominion of the sea. The sea shore offers food in many varieties to man.
Along the coast of Monterey County one may find lobsters, crabs, mussels, clams and that delectable “stead of the sea,” abalone. This great sea snail is called Haliotis and lives on kelp and sea lettuce. It is found in rocky ledges at low tide and when alarmed clings tenaciously to the rock and can be removed only with a bar of some kind.
The market for red abalone and for its beautiful mothers of pearl shell has grown steadily until few can be found along the rocks and even the divers find them growing scarcer.
MUSSELS SHOULD not be eaten during the summer as they feed on plankton, composed of living organisms and plants that continuously drift with the current, and sometimes off our coast the sea is filled with minute plans called Goonyella which contains a poison which reacts like strychnine n human nerves. These give the water a reddish glow. For generations before white man came the Indians knew this and as soon as the red streaks appeared in the sea forebad the eating of muscles until the danger was past.
In addition to the shell fish, sea trout and cabazone abound near the rocks close to shore and furnish delicious eating for the lucky fisherman. Both fish and abalone are found where the kelp beds are thick along the coast.
Among the interesting sea mammals are the sea lions and otters. Cypress Point is the dividing line of the North Pacific and this is the meeting place for the sea lions from the tropics and the other from the Arctic.
THE SEA LIONS are fun loving friendly sea mammals and this is the northern end of their range. They feed on squid not fish and can be seen lying on the sand in sheltered coves along the coast. I have often seen as many as 300 sunning themselves on the sand just south of Grimes Point.
The sea otters are coming back after 50 years of protection following a century of slaughter and may be seen floating on their backs with arms crossed on their chests cat napping in the water. They were close to extinction when in 1938 a herd of them were seen near Bixby Creek bridge.
The otters live on crabs, sea urchins, snails and clams and somehow manage to pry the abalone from the rock. They can be seen lying on their backs eating an abalone. They hold their young in their arms, playing with and cuddling them like a human mother. Their fur is the loveliest in the world and at one time a single otter skin sold for $1,700 so it is no wonder they were nearly exterminated.
AS WE KNOW the ocean floor abounds with plans and sea creatures. Pictures taken of these show beautiful marine gardens. Among the great mammals of the sea are the whale and the dreaded shark. Whales are seen from the shore as they migrate from their northern home in early winter to have their young in the warm water off Lower California. They take their calves back home in the spring.
The shark may be found at any time and seen to be more prevalent in our waters then formerly. According to N.J. Berrill in his book, “The Living Tide,” most sharks are scavengers, many are cowards and even the tiger shark has a mild disposition compared to a Barracuda. If an uninjured man falls over board any nearby shark departs in panic, but a Barracuda, large or small will attack with fury.
This is an interesting theory, but as barracudas as native to the West Indies and Florida waters, we must still on the lookout for killer sharks in our coastal waters. It is a hardy swimmer who ventures far out here as the water is always very cold.
THE OCEAN waters change constantly as the deep currents cause the waters to mingle so we may say that no water is wholly of the Pacific or the Atlantic or the Indian or the Antarctic. Therefore the very water you dip in your hands here at Jade Cove may have at some time lapped the feet of a tourist wading on the Mediterranean shore or have been part of an iceberg in the Antarctic.
On our beaches we may find little blue sail boats (Portuguese man of war) and sand dollars, a flat circular disk covered with closely packed spines and a five pointed design on the back. These are related to the sea urchin and live deep water near the shore. When exposed by low tide they die and are washed ashore. Among the rocks at low tide are star fish, sea anemones, jelly fish and the lively hermit crabs.
The Big Sur coast is the meeting place of migratory birds from north and south and a great variety of birds are found in this region. The graceful gulls we have always as well as cormorant and pelicans. Sand pipers can be seen on the beach with their young so tiny one wonders at their speed as they flit along the edge of the water. Quite often we find the eggs of the killdeer recklessly laid down among the rocks close to the bluff with a wisp of grass growing beside the nest.
ALL IN ALL there is magic in the sea, mystical beauty in the sunsets and the moon path later in the night, the glorious ever changing hues of the water according to its depth and the sea life beneath the waves. I quote from Rachel Carson’s “Sea Around Us”:
“The deep blue water of the open sea far from land is the color of emptiness and barrenness; the green water of the coastal ocean with all its varying hues is the color of life. The sea is blue because the sunlight is reflected back to our eyes from the water molecules or from very minute particles suspended in the sea. The yellow and brown and green hues of the coastal waters are derived from minute algae and other micro-organisms so abundant there.
The saltiest ocean water is that of the Red Sea. The Sargasso Sea is the saltiest art of the Atlantic. The Red Sea gets its name from the abundance of algae containing reddish pigment causing the “red water”. The deepest part of the ocean is east of the Philippines a pit six and a half miles deep.
MOUNTAINS, valleys and canyons occur on the ocean floor which once men thought was flat. Volumes could be written about the mysteries of the sea and almost everyone feels its fascination.
I think of John Masefield’s beautiful poem “Sea Fever”:
I must do gown to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky;
And all I ask is a tall ship,
And a star to steer her by,
And the Sheel’s kick and the wind’s song
And the white sails shaking,
And gray mist on the seas face
And a gray dawn breaking.
I must go down to the seas again for the call of the running tide
Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied;
And all I ask is a windy day with white clouds flying,
And the flung splay and the blown spume and the seagulls crying.
I must go down to the seas again to the vagrant gypsy life,
To the gull’s way and the shale’s way where the wind’s life a whetted knife;
And all I ask is a merry yard from a laughing fellow-rover,
And quiet sleep and a sweet dream when the long trick’s over.
Mabel Sans Plaskett was born in Coralitas near Ben Lomond in the Santa Cruz Mountain area of California. Her father Edward Robert Sans ran a saw mill near Pacific Valley, along the Nacimiento – Ferguson road to the coast at Highway One. It was there she met Edward Abbott Plaskett, her husband. Mabel wrote about the coast and the pioneers of the 19th and 20th Centuries.