Heal the Bay Blog

Juneteenth commemorates the promise of freedom and recognizes the achievements of African American and Black people, while truthfully acknowledging and reflecting on the time in American history when enslaved people were freed nationwide. Take part in a Juneteenth activity near you. Now, let’s learn more about this holiday and its connection to the coast.

The history of Juneteenth

The Emancipation Proclamation issued by President Lincoln went into effect in 1863, but did not instantly free all enslaved people in the United States. Many enslavers withheld information or migrated toward Texas in an effort to thwart the Union army’s enforcement of the Emancipation Proclamation.

On June 19, 1865—two and a half years after Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation—the Union army arrived in Galveston, Texas and issued an order proclaiming the emancipation of enslaved people there. This date reflects one of the final phases of official emancipation of enslaved people in the United States. The year after, Black people in Texas organized the first “Jubilee Day” aka “Emancipation Day” on June 19. The observance of June 19 as Juneteenth (a blending of “June” and “Nineteenth”) is now a tradition that has spread across the United States and world.

Historically, the Juneteenth holiday has been observed through community festivals, concerts, picnics, fishing, outdoor sports, prayer services, family gatherings, and more activities. Texas was the first state to officially observe the holiday in 1980. As of 2021, 47 states and the District of Columbia officially recognize Juneteenth as a state holiday or day of observance; and, there is a big push to make it a national holiday.1,2,3

The legacy of slavery on the coast

The legacy of slavery pervaded long after the 13th amendment was ratified in 1865. Locally, “in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, Black people were harassed and kicked off of beaches surrounding Santa Monica. Nationwide, practices like redlining – the division and ranking of neighborhoods based on race and socioeconomic status – prevented people in low-income communities and communities of color from buying homes, properties, or establishing businesses along the coast. On top of that, Black communities were subject to additional discriminatory and unjust rent practices. The impact of these racist and discriminatory policies is clear today, as the demographic of those who live on and near the coast is primarily wealthy and white. Now, gentrification continues to cause the displacement of low-income communities and communities of color that live near the coast, parks, greenspace, and the LA River – and Black people still face harassment while trying to enjoy nature.4

Honor Juneteenth

Here are events honoring Juneteenth on June 19, 2021 in Santa Monica, California.

Black Out at Bay Street with Black Surfers Collective

Saturday, June 19, 2021
Free & Outdoors at Bay Street beach
Santa Monica, California

Share some stoke. Share some love. Black Surfers Collective is hosting a Black Out at Bay Street on Juneteenth. Join the gathering to eat, laugh, tell stories, catch a few waves and celebrate fellowship. While our annual Nick Gabaldón Day celebration is postponed to October 9, 2021, we’ll be honoring Juneteenth with this informal, relaxing beach day at Nick Gabaldón’s home break in Santa Monica. Nick Gabaldón (1927-1951) was a pioneering surfer of African American and Mexican American descent. He was a Santa Monica local and the first documented surfer of color in the Santa Monica Bay.

Learn more

Wade in the Water: A Tiny Film Fest

Saturday, June 19, 2021
Free & Outdoors at Historic Belmar Park
Santa Monica, CA

Wade in the Water: A Tiny Film Fest on Juneteenth features the premiere of BELONGING, a Belmar History + Art site-specific film honoring early African Americans in Santa Monica. This in-person outdoor screening of short films celebrates Black culture and the water. From spiritual rituals to migration and sports, water is an integral part of how people rejuvenate and restore joy. Before the screening, enjoy food trucks, music by DJ Moni Vargas, and the history panels and sculpture that make up the Belmar History + Art exhibition. At the close of the event, free prizes will be raffled off! Bring your blankets or beach chairs for lounging on the field. Limited seating will be provided for accessibility. Please note: event organizers are following the COVID LA County Health public health and safety guidelines that are in place at the time of the event.

  • Field Entrance: On 4th Street between Olympic and Pico Blvds., at 1840 4th Street, Santa Monica CA 90401
  • $5 Parking: Civic Center Parking Structure, corner of 4th Street and Olympic Blvd. Santa Monica, CA 90401
  • Metro: 8 minute walk from the Downtown Santa Monica Station

The City of Santa Monica’s 29th Annual Juneteenth Event

Saturday, June 19, 2021
Free & Online at 10:30am-Noon

The theme for this year’s virtual 29th Annual Juneteenth event “The Change is Here” is inspired by the famous Sam Cook song that foretold A Change is Gonna Come. It was also developed as a response to the outpouring of calls for change locally and nationally toward a more equitable society. Similarly, Santa Monica’s Juneteenth event has been a voice of change within the community since 1992 thanks to the leadership of LaVerne Ross, whose family had been recognizing Juneteenth in Texas before she and her family relocated to Santa Monica in the 1950s.

The program’s Master of Ceremonies will be spoken word artist Sean Raymond Hill and the presentation will include:

  • Traditional opening drum call performed by Chazz Ross and dancer Teresa Smith
  • A selection of classic and original soul and blues pieces performed by Harold Wherry and the Blue Breeze Band
  • Gospel favorites performed by Kaleo & the Voice of One Singers featuring Dr. Henry Jackson
  • The annual presentation by Mayor Himmelrich of the Juneteenth Proclamation to LaVerne Ross founder and visionary of the Juneteenth event in Santa Monica

More information about this free community event online event at, Virginia Avenue Park’s Facebook page (vapark), by emailing or by calling 310-458-8688.

Learn more

Juneteenth Heritage Event

Saturday, June 19, 2021
Free & Outdoors at Calvary Baptist Church
1502 20th Street
Santa Monica, CA 90404

The grounds of the oldest African-American Baptist church in Santa Monica will be transformed into a place centered around African American heritage, achievement, equity, joy, and culture.

Learn more

Free Admission to Heal the Bay Aquarium in honor of Juneteenth

Saturday, June 19, 2021
Free & Indoors/Outdoors at Heal the Bay Aquarium
1600 Ocean Front Walk

Santa Monica, California

In collaboration with Black Surfers Collective and the City of Santa Monica, Heal the Bay is honoring Juneteenth by opening our doors to the inside of Heal the Bay Aquarium free of charge from Noon to 4:00pm on Saturday, June 19. We’re offering free admission to Heal the Bay Aquarium in honor of Juneteenth to provide space and opportunities for education and enjoyment at the Santa Monica Pier.

Learn more




We’re celebrating Pride Month with an aquatic-themed virtual drag show! Join us for the first-ever Queers on the Pier on Friday, June 25 at 7PM PT.

Buy My Ticket

Be prepared to have your wigs snatched by an amazing cast of performers and celebrate inclusivity in environmental spaces through representation and aquatic-themed drag art and dance. All folx are welcome in the outdoors no matter their sexual orientation or identity. Let’s celebrate the bridge between the Queer Community and Environmentalism.

In partnership with SaMo Pride—and just in time for Pride Month🏳️‍🌈🏳️‍⚧️—Heal the Bay is excited to present our first-ever Queers on the Pier virtual event! This is an adults only (18+) show streaming on June 25 from Heal the Bay Aquarium at the Santa Monica Pier.

A variety of marine-inspired drag acts will showcase environmental issues connected to the ocean. In between acts, there’ll be interviews with professionals within the Queer community, highlighting both their voices and their work. Additionally, we will feature informative segments discussing queerness in the natural world, specifically in the ocean.  The show will star burlesque company QWN, with performers Ricky ‘Merkin, Coochiano Pavornaughtti, Beyond Existence, Katinka, and Annie Malé. Please join us on June 25, 2021 at 7PM PT and let’s slay summer 2021 like the Queens we are!

The Meaning of Queerness:

Queerness: n. The state or condition of being strange. The term “queer” has a number of definitions, but historically the term “queer’ has been used in a derogatory way to dehumanize, harm, and humiliate members of the LGBTQIA+ community. In today’s society, any sexual orientation other than heterosexual is scrutinized, invalidated, and othered. Like most things in life however, sexual orientation exists on a spectrum and to have variations in sexual behavior is a naturally occurring phenomena. Many members of the LGBTQIA+ community have reclaimed the term “queer” as an all-encompassing expression to include all of the various members of the community, and that is how we at Heal the Bay are aiming to utilize this term as well.

Radical inclusion and increased queer representation are the essence of this show, and Queers on the Pier will deliver this through performance art, interviews with queer scientists, and with talks on queerness that exists in our ocean. Welcome to the Show!

Get Tickets

Plus, swing by in-person or on @HealtheBay’s Instagram Saturday 6/12 and 6/19 at 11AM for a Drag Queen Storytime for kids! We are stoked to have Facisha Farce reading at Heal the Bay Aquarium on 6/12 and Ruthless Envy on 6/19.

Thank you to ETC Hotels and Avocado Mattress for sponsoring this event.



Heal the Bay will release the 31st Annual Beach Report Card and the 3rd Annual River Report Card on June 29 at 10am Pacific Time.

This is the only comprehensive scientific study analyzing water quality and bacterial pollution in the ocean at 500 beaches in California, and in the river at 28 freshwater recreation sites in Los Angeles County. The study also includes a deep analysis of ocean water quality at popular beaches in Tijuana, Mexico.

Check back here on Tuesday, June 29 at 10am for the complete reports, the dreaded Top 10 Beach Bummers List of sites with the worst water quality, and the coveted Honor Roll List of beaches with perfect water quality scores in 2020 to 2021. And, our scientists will share the Top 10 freshwater recreation areas with the highest and lowest risks for public health. Curious about what else is included? View last year’s Beach Report Card and River Report Card annual studies.

Media inquiries only please: Contact us

There are new spots for fishing at Pier J in Long Beach. Here’s what anglers need to know about fishing in the red zone.

The pandemic has brought many changes to our lives, and Pier J is no exception. This beautiful spot has a spectacular view of the Long Beach marina, and now features new infrastructure from which to enjoy fishing. Historically, “Pier J” was not an actual pier, it was just a rocky area where anglers were required to have a license to fish. 

In a recent visit I made to this pier, I was surprised to see the changes that the Pier J area has undergone, making it even more inviting for people to visit, fish, or simply enjoy the scenery. Pier J now has two actual piers located along the rocky area. The first pier is just below the Cruise line Terminal and has benches, restrooms, parking, and a water fountain for people and pets. Moving a little further south, the second pier also has benches, bathrooms and parking, including amenities for people with disabilities.


Photos by Frankie Orrala. May 7, 2021

In addition, Pier J also has educational signs throughout the area about the complex interactions of marine animals and plants in Queensway Bay (home of the Queen Mary and the Aquarium of the Pacific), as well as the 5 fish that people should not eat. These 5 fish (white croaker, barred sand bass, black croaker, topsmelt, and barracuda) caught at Pier J are within the red zone and should not be consumed due to their high levels of toxic chemicals. 

These toxic chemicals are mostly found in the skin and fatty tissues of fish. To reduce exposure to these chemicals, it is recommended to only eat the fillet of “safe-to-eat” fish species that are not on the list of the most contaminated.

According to the anglers at this pier, Pier J reopened its fishing activities in February. Like Rainbow Harbor Pier described in my blog last month, Pier J is also very close to the mouth of the Los Angeles River, making it an area of ​​water quality concern for those who enjoy fishing on these piers. Heal the Bay’s Angler Outreach Program will resume activities in June, after a long hiatus due to COVID-19, and we are thrilled to be back educating Southern California pier anglers in-person about the potential effects of eating contaminated fish and how to stay healthy. 

Heal the Bay’s Angler Outreach Program (AOP) is part of the Fish Contamination Education Collaborative (FCEC), a public outreach and education component of the Palos Verdes Shelf Superfund program run by Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The FCEC and AOP provide information on which fish should be avoided and which are safe to eat. Over the last 18 years, our Angler Outreach team members have talked with thousands of anglers (often in multiple languages) about the risks of consuming contaminated fish, what fish are safe to eat, and what cooking methods are safest. We also share other relevant information including maps showing the red zone, an area where toxic waste like DDT and PCBs, chemicals historically found in pesticides, were discharged through the sewer system and remain in sediment. Although DDT and PCBs are no longer used, their impacts can still be felt today; consuming DDT or PCB-contaminated fish can result in chronic health problems and the consumption of white croaker, barred sand bass, black croaker, topsmelt, and barracuda should be avoided. 

To learn more, visit

Ver En Español

Nuevas oportunidades de pesca en Pier J de la ciudad Long Beach: lo que debes saber sobre la pesca en la zona roja.

La pandemia ha traído muchos cambios a nuestras vidas y Pier J no es una excepción. Este hermoso lugar que tiene una vista espectacular de la marina de Long Beach ahora cuenta con una nueva infraestructura para disfrutar la pesca. Históricamente, “Pier J” no era un verdadero muelle, era solo una zona rocosa donde los pescadores debían tener una licencia para poder pescar.

En una visita reciente que realicé a este muelle, me sorprendió de los cambios que se han realizado en pier J durante la pandemia, haciéndolo aún más atractivo como lugar para visitar, pescar o simplemente disfrutar de su paisaje. Pier J ahora tiene dos muelles pequeños ubicados a lo largo de la zona rocosa. El primer muelle está justo debajo de la Terminal de cruceros y cuenta con bancos, baños, estacionamiento y un bebedero de agua para personas y mascotas. Moviéndose un poco más al sur se encuentra el segundo muelle que también cuenta con bancos, baños y estacionamiento, y que incluye facilidades para personas discapacitadas.


Photos by Frankie Orrala. May 7, 2021

Además, Pier J también tiene avisos informativos en toda el área para aprender sobre las complejas interacciones de los animales y plantas marinas en Queensway Bay (hogar del Queen Mary y el Acuario del Pacífico) y tiene tambien los letreros de los 5 peces que la gente no debe consumer, debido a los altos niveles de contaminación. Estos 5 peces capturados en pier J (corvineta blanca, cabrilla, corvineta negra, pejerrey y barracuda) se encuentran dentro de la zona roja y no deben consumirse debido a sus altos niveles de químicos tóxicos.

Estos químicos tóxicos se encuentran principalmente en la piel y en los tejidos grasos de los peces. Para reducir la exposición a estos químicos, se recomienda comer solo el filete de las especies “seguras para comer” que no estén en la lista de las más contaminadas.

Según los pescadores de este muelle, Pier J reabrió sus actividades pesqueras en febrero de este año. Pier J se encuentra cerca de la desembocadura del río Los Ángeles, lo que lo convierte también en un área de preocupación por la calidad del agua para quienes disfrutan de la pesca en este muelle. El Programa Educacional Pesquero de Heal the Bay reanudará sus actividades en junio, después de una larga pausa debido al COVID-19, y estamos emocionados de volver a educar a los pescadores de los muelle del sur de California sobre los efectos potenciales de comer peces contaminados y cómo mantenerse saludables.

El Programa Educacional Pesquero de Heal the Bay (AOP) es parte del Grupo Educacional sobre la Contaminación de Peces (FCEC, por sus siglas en inglés), un componente de educación y divulgación de la Agencia de Protección Ambiental (EPA, por sus siglas en inglés). La FCEC y AOP proporcionan información sobre qué peces se deben evitar y cuáles son seguros para el consumo. Durante los últimos 18 años, los miembros de nuestro equipo de AOP han hablado con miles de pescadores (a menudo en varios idiomas) sobre los riesgos de consumir peces contaminados, qué peces son seguros para el consumo y qué métodos de cocción son los más apropiados. También compartimos otra información relevante, incluídos mapas que muestran la zona roja, un área donde los desechos tóxicos como el DDT y los PCB, productos químicos que históricamente se encuentran en los pesticidas, se descargaron a través del sistema de alcantarillado y permanecen en el sedimento. Aunque el DDT y los PCB ya no se utilizan, sus impactos todavía pueden ser sentidos. El consumo de peces contaminado con DDT o PCB pueden provocar problemas de salud crónicos y deben evitarse el consumo de corvineta blanca, cabrilla, corvineta negra, pejerrey y barracuda.

Si desea más información, visite 

View in English

For the seventh straight summer, Heal the Bay is posting daily water quality predictions for California Beaches at the Beach Report Card with NowCast. To make daily predictions, we use computer models to examine correlations between environmental conditions (such as temperature and tide) and historical bacteria concentrations. Our NowCast models then predict with a high accuracy how much bacteria could be present in the water given the current local conditions at the beach. 

A day at the beach should not make anyone sick. That is why health officials across the state monitor water quality at the beach every week during the summer. And when officials detect high levels of bacteria, they issue a public health advisory. By the time traditional water quality samples are processed, a minimum of 18-24 hours have passed and the information is already outdated – and with samples taken only every 7 days, a weekly water quality grade may not provide the most useful or updated information as water quality can fluctuate rapidly. Heal the Bay believes that we need daily water quality information in order to better protect public health – our NowCast program does exactly that, issuing daily water quality information for 25 beaches. 

NowCast predictions appear on the Beach Report Card website and app with the symbols seen below. A Blue “W+” symbol indicates that there is a low risk of illness by coming in contact with the water, and a Red “W-” symbol indicates that there is a high risk of illness by coming in contact with the water. 

Head to to find daily predictions for 25 beaches across California. Or download our free app on your iOS or Android device to get daily predictions on-the-go. 

Just in time for Memorial Day weekend, the unofficial start of summer 2021, we are excited to announce the 25 beaches in our NowCast program, with five new beaches added to the program in 2021:

  1. Trinidad State Beach, Humboldt County *NEW
  2. Luffenholtz State Beach, Humboldt County
  3. Bolinas Beach at Wharf Road, Marin County
  4. Aquatic Park, San Francisco
  5. Ocean Beach at Balboa Street, San Francisco
  6. Linda Mar Beach at San Pedro Creek, San Mateo County
  7. Half Moon Bay State Beach, San Mateo County *NEW
  8. Rio Del Mar, Santa Cruz County
  9. Lover’s Point, Monterey County *NEW
  10. Morro Bay at Atascadero Road, San Luis Obispo County
  11. Hammonds Beach, Santa Barbara County *NEW
  12. Promenade Park at C Street, Ventura County *NEW
  13. Leo Carrillo, Los Angeles County
  14. Venice Beach at Brooks Avenue, Los Angeles County
  15. Venice Breakwater, Los Angeles County
  16. Dockweiler/Toes Beach, Los Angeles County
  17. El Porto, Los Angeles County
  18. Manhattan Beach at 28th Street, Los Angeles County
  19. Redondo Breakwater, Los Angeles County
  20. Torrance Beach at Avenue I, Los Angeles County
  21. Long Beach at 5th Place, Los Angeles County
  22. Long Beach at 72nd Place, Los Angeles County
  23. Seal Beach Pier, Orange County
  24. Huntington Beach at Brookhurst Street, Orange County
  25. Newport Beach at 38th Street, Orange County

Don’t see your beach on the map? Let us know if you have a beach we should consider for NowCast. We are continually refining and expanding this program and hope to cover more beaches in the future. Predicting water quality is complex and we want to make sure we get it right. This means we need access to a myriad of data sources in order to make accurate predictions, and when data are not readily available, we can’t make the prediction. 

Communities looking to bring daily water quality predictions to their favorite beach spots can advocate for this cause in the following ways:

  • Advocate at town halls and city council meetings for increased funding toward ocean and environmental data observation, collection, standardization, and analysis programs.
  • Support Heal the Bay’s staff scientists efforts to expand monitoring programs and directly fund our work.
  • Stay informed about your local water quality and reach out to your representatives in California demanding improvements be made to protect public health and the environment.

If you can’t find NowCast predictions in your area, you can see the latest water quality grades issued to over 500 beaches on the Beach Report Card. In the meantime, we are working to expand NowCast, so check back soon to see if your favorite beach has water quality predictions.


Mike Couffer has been working alongside Heal the Bay Aquarium to research giant sea bass, the largest bony fish local to LA waters. In this blog, Mike recounts his research on these fish and their uniquely identifying spots, as well as our Aquarium’s journey raising and releasing a giant sea bass.

Early in the morning on May 21, 2021, aquarists from Heal the Bay Aquarium arrived in Redondo Beach with a truck and a seawater tank holding precious cargo: a 40-pound giant sea bass. This giant sea bass, which had been raised for research and education over the last 5 years, had outgrown its tank and was now ready to be released into the ocean. The fish was fitted with an acoustic transmitter that would send signals for about 10 years as it passed receivers scattered along the coast. It’s a straight shot to the open sea along the harbor’s jetty, and the fish could leave the harbor or stay awhile and feast on the lobsters near jetty rocks. Either way, the giant sea bass would be free and in another 5 years or so should be old enough to spawn and help boost California’s recovering population of this historically overfished species.

Giant sea bass are the largest bony fish inhabiting California and Mexico’s near-shore waters, reaching 9 feet long and over 800 pounds during at least a 76 year lifespan. They range from Northern California to Oaxaca, Mexico, including parts of the Gulf of California. After overfishing decimated their numbers during the early 1900s, they were listed as a critically-endangered species internationally and restricted from intentional catch in California.

But while protecting adult fish from fishing pressure is important, protecting their young is also needed. Until 2013, little was known about giant sea bass babies but masters degree candidate Stephanie Benseman found that in California, most of the babies grow up in soft bottomed nursery sites along beaches inshore from the few heads of submarine canyons that start close to shore. The best location known for baby giants are the shallows off Redondo Beach in Los Angeles from Redondo Pier outside of King Harbor to a jetty 800 yards down the coast.

During my first baby giant sea bass dives with Stephanie, I was hooked into studying them by an incongruity; how could we not know even the most basic information about the babies of our largest nearshore fish? I would spend the next seven (and counting) years studying them. As they age, the fish change color from jet black to brown, to orange, a mottled calico, and then a dark brown with black spots. But it’s the orange with black polka dots phase of the babies that draws your attention; this spot pattern develops in the early brown stage and becomes striking when their background color turns orange.

I noticed that each fish’s spot pattern was different from every other. Could we use underwater photos of their spot patterns like fingerprints to identify individual fish in the ocean? If so, maybe we could learn about the behavior and movements of individual fish in the ocean. I couldn’t answer this question in the ocean because if I photographed a fish one day and the fish’s spots changed slightly, I couldn’t be absolutely sure that the fish I photographed next time was the same fish or a different one.

That’s where teaming up with Heal the Bay Aquarium came in. I needed experienced aquarists to raise a baby sea bass while I photographed its spot patterns as it grew. I would use my collecting permit and expertise to catch a baby giant and bring it to them. They would care for and display the little bassling for visitors to enjoy and learn about. Once a month for a year, I’d visit and take photos of the spot patterns on both sides of the fish and they would weigh and measure it. If the spot patterns of baby giant stayed similar enough to be recognized in photos as the fish aged, photos of their sides could be used like fingerprints to identify individual giant sea bass, maybe for the rest of their lives. After a year, I would write my scientific paper on any changes in the spot patterns of the baby giant sea bass that I gave to Heal the Bay.

In November 2015, I dived the Newport Pier giant sea bass nursery site in Orange County with a little hand net and caught a 1 3/8 inch brown-phase baby giant with a special permit from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. I photographed the spot patterns of both sides in a tank and brought the baby giant to Heal the Bay Aquarium. No baby giant of this age had ever been successfully raised before, so there was little knowledge about how to care for them, but Aquarium staff were up for the challenge and succeeded!

At the end of each month, I photographed the baby bass in its tank and watched the Aquarium team measured and weighed the fish. A year passed and by November 2016 the baby bass had grown from 1 3/8 inches long and 5/10 tenths of an ounce to 7 inches long and five ounces. In my 2017 scientific paper, I showed that you could compare baby pictures of five baby giant sea bass by eye and recognize individuals for the first year. This meant that it was possible to study the babies in their shallow nursery sites using underwater photography and perhaps learn something about their behavior and movements.

By the end of 2016, the sea bass had become an important member of Heal the Bay Aquarium’s fish community where over 70,000 visitors a year learned about the fish or just enjoyed watching it. Managers and aquarists joined the aquarium, cared for the fish, and left to chart other courses in the world. The fish continued to educate and entertain and there was no motivation to release the fish yet; it’s believed that they don’t breed until they are at least 10 years old, so keeping a fish for five years and releasing it wouldn’t impact the population. I kept photographing the fish and aquarists weighed and measured it every six months. After the fish was transferred to the aquarium’s largest tank, I hoped that we could photograph and measure the fish until five years from its arrival date at the aquarium before it got too big for its tank.

November 2020 arrived and I photographed the fish one last time. Aquarists weighed and measured the fish five years after I had brought it to the aquarium. With these photos and measurements and the fish growing larger in the aquarium’s biggest tank, it was nearing time to release it into the sea. The Department of Fish and Wildlife gave permission for the release and I contacted Dr. Chris Lowe of the California State University at Long Beach who had years of experience tracking adult giant sea bass and white sharks with underwater transmitters. Dr. Lowe said that he could fit the now 40-pound fish with the same transmitter worn by white sharks that could “ping” for 10 years. So long as the underwater receivers are maintained, if the fish passes within a receiver’s range it should be recorded as it moves up and down the coast and perhaps to and from the Channel Islands.

On May 21, 2021 at the King Harbor Yacht Club, a small group of scientists and fish caretakers watched the giant sea bass release. Aquarists carefully lowered the fish into the water, while I photographed the occasion. It was a bittersweet moment as the fish swam out across the sandy bottom, but we were all excited by the successful release after five years of raising the baby giant sea bass. With the fish’s unique transmitter active and the underwater receivers ready and waiting, we hope to get occasional electronic travel updates as the giant sea bass swims up and down the coast.


 About the Author

Michael Couffer is sole proprietor of Grey Owl Biological Consulting. Mike contracts to conduct focused presence or absence surveys for rare, Threatened, or Endangered wildlife. For the past seven years, Mike has focused on surveys, research, and underwater photography of Giant Sea Bass out of pure fascination with the species and the hope that he can help this historically-overfished species to recover. His latest scientific journal paper was published in the 2020 Department of Fish and Wildlife’s journal California Fish and Wildlife. It focuses on Giant Sea Bass nursery sites and how cities with nursery sites along their shores can build and maintain shoreline infrastructure without impacting baby Giant Sea Bass.

Photo credit: Ashlee Malyar, Marine Mammal Volunteer

Heal the Bay MPA Watch intern, Alex Preso, saw a distressed seal pup while conducting beach surveys, and helped it get the care it needed by alerting the California Wildlife Center. Alex shares what happened, plus the “Do’s” and Don’t’s” of helping a marine mammal in distress.

At first I thought it was a piece of driftwood on the beach… it was actually a distressed seal pup.

On Wednesday, March 18, I was taking surveys for Heal the Bay’s MPA Watch Program on El Pescador Beach in Malibu. As I was making my way along the beach, I noticed what looked like a washed-up log in the distance. As I moved closer, I realized that it was actually a small seal. The seal was lying on its back, barely moving, and was thin with wrinkled skin. It looked noticeably uncomfortable and I immediately suspected that something was wrong.

Sometimes a seal pup like this one simply struggles to survive on its own after separating from its mother, but there are also a variety of human impacts that can cause a marine mammal to be in distress. 

1) First, plastic debris in the ocean or on beaches poses a significant threat to marine mammals. When ingested, these animals cannot digest the plastic, so it stays in their bodies. This plastic can leach harmful chemicals into their bodies or even block their digestive tract, leading to starvation and malnourishment. Heal the Bay is working to combat this through our plastic pollution and beach cleanup programs. These programs aim not only to help remove plastic from our oceans, but also to keep this harmful marine debris from entering our oceans in the first place.

2) Second, overfishing of important food sources for marine mammals limits available nourishment and puts these animals at risk. Heal the Bay’s sustainable fisheries work aims to maintain healthy fisheries so that these animals have abundant food sources.

3) Third, loss of habitat can endanger marine mammals. Heal the Bay’s MPA program helps to monitor protected areas that are critically important to protecting these habitats, so that these animals have safe places to live, reproduce, and find food.

4) Fourth and finally, poor water quality can cause marine mammals to become sick. Polluted water can cause a variety of health issues for marine mammals, including bacterial, viral, and parasitic infections. Heal the Bay’s water quality work aims to prevent harmful bacteria, toxins, and other pollutants from ending up in the ocean and endangering marine life.

Heal the Bay is doing what we can to prevent these threats to marine mammals, but while these issues persist, it is important that we all keep an eye out for stranded marine mammals on our local beaches.

But even if you see a seal on the beach, how can you tell if it is in danger or simply catching some rays?

Many people don’t know how to tell if an animal like this is actually in trouble, let alone what actions to take if it is distressed. When I encountered this young seal, I saw many other people walking along the beach, barely taking notice of the animal.

Here is are some clear signs that a marine mammal is in distress and in need of help:

  • visible entanglement in trash or fishing gear
  • visible malnourishment or open wounds
  • a young pup without an adult nearby
  • erratic behavior 

Fortunately, you don’t need to be an expert to help a seal in need. If you suspect that a marine mammal may be in distress, always call the appropriate rescue hotline. It is better to have the rescue crew come to the beach to find a healthy animal than to leave an animal in distress without help. The numbers to call vary by location and are listed below.

Here are a few things to avoid if you find a distressed marine mammal:

  • DO NOT touch or approach the animal
  • DO NOT attempt to return the animal to the water 
  • DO NOT pour water on the animal
  • DO NOT attempt to move the animal

If you wouldn’t want someone to do it to you while you’re sunbathing on the beach, chances are the animal wouldn’t like it either. Marine mammals intentionally seek out dry land when they are in distress so that they can rest and soak up the sun.

What you should do if you find a distressed marine mammal:

  • DO stay approximately 50 feet away
  • DO call the appropriate rescue hotline
  • DO take a picture of the animal
  • DO try to pinpoint the animal’s location
  • DO wait near the animal until the rescue crew arrives

The number for the rescue hotline varies by location, but any of them can connect you to the correct region if you do not have the right number. 

  • For animals found in San Pedro up to Pacific Palisades (including all beaches between them) – call Marine Animal Rescue # 1-800-399–4253 [WHALE]
  • For animals found in Malibu – call the California Wildlife Center # 310-458–9453 [WILD]
  • For animals found in Long Beach – call Long Beach Animal Control # 562-570–7387

When you call the hotline, they will ask you to send a photo of the animal as well as its location. Try to be as precise as possible so that they can save time and arrive at the animal directly.

In this instance, I called the Malibu number. Then I waited with the seal for about 30 minutes until the rescue crew arrived at the beach. While waiting, I was careful to keep my distance from the seal and ensured that other passersby did so as well. When the crew arrived, they expertly loaded the seal into a crate and took him back to their facility for rehabilitation.


Later, I learned that this animal was a 12 week old elephant seal pup that was badly malnourished. He had shrunk back down to his birth weight of about 75 pounds when he should have been closer to 300 pounds. They named him “Yellow” because they used a yellow marker to make an identifying mark on him while in their care.

The California Wildlife Center (CWC) is permitted by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to provide rehabilitative care to seals and sea lions. They will rehabilitate Yellow and help him gain the necessary body weight and skills to better fend for himself before returning him to the wild. All of the animals they rescue stay in their facility temporarily, as their mission is to rehabilitate and return marine mammals to the wild where they belong. 

For Yellow, the outlook is bright and he is expected to be released back into the wild in May. This instance just goes to show that a chance encounter on the beach can be the difference between life and death for a marine mammal. It was for Yellow.

Photo credit: Ashlee Malyar, Marine Mammal Volunteer

Support our work:



Photo by Frankie Orrala (April 16, 2021)

This month, through our Angler Outreach Program, we’re spotlighting Rainbow Harbor in Long Beach.

Rainbow Harbor is an area with three mini piers located south of downtown Long Beach, right at the mouth of the Los Angeles River. Like many other local piers, it is a beautiful place for walks, with nearby spots to eat and enjoy fishing. It has a spectacular view that can be enjoyed all day. Rainbow Harbor has benches, and a great view of the park and the historic RMS Queen Mary. Fishing is allowed here, and you don’t even need a fishing license. In Rainbow Harbor, some of the most common fish caught are surf perch, mackerels, halibut, and white croakers.

On a recent visit to Rainbow Harbor, I enjoyed the relaxing atmosphere of the harbor, and had the privilege to speak with a diverse group of anglers. I was relieved to learn that most of them set out to catch perch or mackerels, for reasons I will discuss below. However, I became concerned when I learned most of them were not aware that the heavily polluted Los Angeles River discharges near the fishing pier.

Unfortunately Rainbow Harbor is within the red zone for fish contamination, and the consumption of white croaker, barred sand bass, black croaker, topsmelt, and barracuda should be avoided due to high levels of contaminants like DDT, PCBS, and mercury in their body tissue. The majority of these contaminants originate from the Montrose Chemical Plant’s illegal dumping activities 30 plus years ago, which creates health concerns for all ocean anglers in LA County to this day. Rainbow Harbor’s close proximity to the mouth of the Los Angeles River means anglers have even more contamination to worry about. The Los Angeles River discharges pollutants such as metals, toxins, and sewage into the ocean, near where these anglers are catching fish to eat.

That pollution does not originate in the Los Angeles River; it comes from the streets, sidewalks, lawns, and parking lots throughout our communities in the entire watershed. If we are going to protect the health of the anglers who are catching fish and their families, we need to acknowledge and address pollution on our streets, in the Los Angeles River, and in the ocean.

Our Angler Outreach Program, an educational program for shore and pier anglers in Los Angeles and Orange Counties about the risks of consuming contaminated fish will soon continue educating anglers that are fishing in the red zone in-person. The in-person outreach program was paused due to COVID-19. We also continue to encourage all to learn about water quality and ask questions about the latest water quality results at:

Ver En Español

Photo by Frankie Orrala (April 16, 2021)

Rainbow Harbor es un área con tres mini muelles ubicados al sur del centro de Long Beach, justo en la desembocadura del río Los Ángeles. Como muchos otros muelles locales, es un hermoso lugar para pasear, con lugares cercanos para comer y disfrutar de la pesca. Tiene una vista espectacular que se puede disfrutar todo el día. Rainbow Harbor tiene bancas a sus alrededores, una gran vista del parque y del histórico RMS Queen Mary. La pesca está permitida y no se necesita una licencia de pesca. En Rainbow Harbor, algunos de los peces más comunes son la mojarra, la macarela, el lenguado y la corvineta o roncador blanco.

En una visita reciente a Rainbow Harbor, pude disfrutar de un ambiente relajante del puerto y tuve la oportunidad de conversar con un grupo diverso de pescadores. Me sentí aliviado al saber que la mayoría de ellos se disponian a capturar mojarras o macarelas, por razones que discutiré a continuación. Sin embargo, me preocupé cuando supe que la mayoría de ellos no sabían que el río Los Ángeles, está muy contaminado y que se descarga cerca del muelle de pesca.

Desafortunadamente, Rainbow Harbor se encuentra dentro de la zona roja de la contaminación de peces, y el consumo de la corvineta blanca, cabrilla, corvineta negra, pejerrey y barracuda deben evitarse debido a los altos niveles de contaminantes como DDT, PCBS y mercurio en sus tejidos. La mayoría de estos contaminantes se originaron de las actividades de vertido ilegal de la planta química Montrose hace más de 30 años, lo que ha creado preocupaciones de salud para todos los pescadores oceánicos en el condado de Los Ángeles hasta el día de hoy. La proximidad de Rainbow Harbor a la desembocadura del río Los Ángeles significa para los pescadores tener aún más contaminación de que preocuparse. El río Los Ángeles descarga en el océano contaminantes como metales, toxinas y aguas residuales, cerca de donde estos pescadores capturan sus peces para su alimntación.

Esa contaminación no se origina en el río Los Ángeles; se origina en las calles, aceras, jardines y estacionamientos de nuestras comunidades dentro de toda la cuenca hidrográfica. Si vamos a proteger la salud de los pescadores y sus familias, debemos reconocer y abordar la contaminación en nuestras calles, río de Los Ángeles y del océano.

Nuestro Programa Educacional Pesquero, continuará educando a los pescadores de costa y muelle en los condados de Los Ángeles y Orange sobre los riesgos de consumir peces contaminado. El programa de divulgación en persona ha estado paralizado por ahora debido al COVID-19. Continuaremos también alentando a todos para aprender sobre la calidad del agua y preguntarse sobre los últimos resultados de calidad del agua en:

Read in English