The Faces of REEF: Herb Gruenhagen

REEF volunteer trainer, Herb Gruenhagen. Photo by Karen Morgan.
Herb with a jellyfish. Photo by Charles Tu.
Photo by Marc Pidcoe.
Sarcastic Fringehead. Photo courtesy New World Publications.
One of Herb's monthly ID classes, held at Ocean Enterprises in San Diego.
The rarely seen Specklefin Midshipman, found and photographed by Herb Gruenhagen.

REEF members are at the heart of our grassroots marine conservation programs. Over 50,000 divers, snorkelers, students, and armchair naturalists stand behind our mission.

This month we highlight Herb Gruenhagen. Herb has been a REEF member since 2001, and has conducted 208 surveys (all in his home state of California). He is a member of the Pacific Coast Advanced Assessment Team as an Expert Surveyor. Here's what Herb had to say about REEF:

When and how did you first volunteer with REEF or become a REEF member?

In July 2000, the San Diego Ocean Foundation sunk a Canadian Destroyer as an artificial reef. I was one of several divers who performed both fish and invertebrate surveys, using transects, quadrats, and REEF Roving Surveys. When the San Diego Oceans Foundation decided to become a REEF Field Station, I volunteered to become a volunteer REEF instructor. I have been teaching a REEF class each month in San Diego since that time.

What are some of the highlights of your local diving?

I dive the La Jolla Shores most of the time, and it is always changing. There are the resident species, the transients, and the seasonal ones. The resident species will always be there no matter what. The transients can be the many pelagic species that the currents bring in. For example, a while back, we are seeing several different species of jellyfish and the leopard sharks are returning to the warmer water shallows near the Marine Room. The seasonal species are really the special surprises. During the early spring the nudibranchs come out to start their mating, and in the winter, we have a ‘white’ Christmas with all the Market squid schooling, mating, and laying their white finger-like egg cases. Other special surprises can be molas, baby grey whales, midshipman, mantis shrimp, wolf-fishes, and even Finescale Triggerfishes.

What is the most interesting thing you’ve learned doing a REEF fish survey?

Doing REEF surveys really highlights the many different variations that a given species can take on. Being a REEF surveyor gives you the ability to recognize new species from common species, and all the many variations within the same species. Paying attention to all the details is really important to getting a good ID. I try to get a good image of the fish and ask for help when I’m not sure.

In your opinion, what is the most important aspect of REEF’s projects and programs?

After all the years of teaching the courses, I’m just really glad to see local divers coming to my class to expand their knowledge of the local marine life, whether they do one survey or many surveys. I love watching the learning process and expanding the students minds of the many wonderful forms of marine life we have here to enjoy and need to perserve for future generations.

Do you have a favorite local (or not) REEF field station or dive shop?

The REEF Field station is the San Diego Oceans Foundation, but the facilities that we use is Ocean Enterprises in San Diego. Ocean Enterprises has been very supportive over the years and everyone really appreciates the use of their classrooms, computer and projector and its central location in the city. Thank you Ocean Enterprises for your many years of support.

What is the most fascinating fish encounter you’ve experienced? What is your favorite?

Well, of course photographing species new to science or that is rare or very uncommon is a highlight. I have photographed several fishes and nudibranchs that fall into one of those categories. My most fascinating fish that I have seen is the Specklefin Midshipman, Porichthys myriaste. We see many juvenile Plainfin Midshipman in the winter, but the Specklefin were quite a find! One of my favorite fishes is the Sarcastic Fringehead. They are one of the few fishes that see you as a threat and will interact with divers and their photo gear. They will charge out of their breeding holes (ok, we are talking about a 6” fish) at the camera lens, thinking they are seeing ‘another’ fringehead in the lens. They will bite all your cables and your finger and charge back into their hole. They will also interact with each other and fearlessly defend their breeding holes by opening their mouths at each other beyond the stretching point.

Herb teaches free Southern California Marine Life ID classes the third Wednesday of each month. Join him!

Design by Joanne Kidd, development by Ben Weintraub