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Nanaimo News: Of Whelks, Whales and the Little-known Nanaimo Sea Slug
Until now Nanaimo was famous for bathtubs and Nanaimo Bars, but that's not all.

The city's other claim to fame is a sea slug called the Nanaimo.

"It's a colourful, wonderful animal," says Rick Harbo, a local senior marine biologist with Fisheries and Oceans Canada.

The Nanaimo sea slug was first collected and described in the local area. And while a sea slug as the city's namesake might seem bad, consider Vancouver, which has a worm named after it, Harbo points out.

The Nanaimo sea slug is one of 420 species of marine animals and plants described in Harbo's new book, Whelks to Whales, which just made the B.C. bestseller's list.

Harbo, one the area's leading marine writers and photographers, says the book was a "labour of love" for more than two years. He spent vacations, weekends and many evenings writing or diving to take photographs of various species in their natural habitat.

"We live in one of the richest areas in terms of marine life," says Harbo. "The shorelines of B.C., Alaska, Washington, Oregon and northern California are so generously populated with marine animals and plants that divers, beachcombers, whale watchers, naturalists and biologists from all over the world come here to enjoy the natural wonders of the coastline."

The field guide includes the most common species found in Pacific Northwest waters and seashores from sponges, to jellyfish, crabs, shrimp, barnacles, clams, snails, seals, fish, whales, sea algae and hundreds of other living things that can be observed and identified.

The book includes more than 500 full-colour photographs showing marine life as it looks in the wild. It includes comprehensive but concise information on size, range, habitat and facts of interest about each species. Harbo, an avid diver for more than 30 years, took most of the photographs himself using a macro lens for underwater photography and a flash to bring out the colours of the marine life.

During production of the book, Harbo spent hours on the Internet corresponding with marine experts across Canada and in the U.S.

"Putting together a book today is very different with the Internet," he says. "I was able to email photographs to experts for identification, and send text to various reviewers to check for accuracy. It speeded up the process considerably."

A publisher approached Harbo to write the field guide after seeing some of his other published work - mostly magazine articles and smaller field guides.

"The publisher wanted a complete book about marine life," says Harbo. "I just laughed because there are over 8,000 species in the Pacific Northwest. I selected the 420 most common species to include in this book."

Over his many years of diving, Harbo has noticed slight changes in local marine life especially in rockfish, ling cod and a variety of fish. The effects of foreshore development is the most noticeable change, however. "One of my favourite dive sites on the Sunshine Coast has been filled in for a new development," says Harbo.

One of biggest changes this century in local marine life is the disappearance of humpback whales in the Strait of Georgia.

"Back in 1906 there was a whaling station in Nanaimo and stations elsewhere on Vancouver Island. Locally, they harvested almost 100 whales in a year," says Harbo. "People had no idea what they were doing. Now very rarely do you see humpback whales in local waters."

In addition to working as a senior biologist, Harbo teaches marine environment courses for divers, and periodically does community education courses at Malaspina University-College.

Harbo's other books are Tidepool and Reef The Edible Seashore, Guide to the Western Seashore and Shells and Shellfish of the Pacific Northwest.
-Marilyn Assaf, Nanaimo News

Halifax Daily News: Marine Life
We learn that the shorelines of Alaska, British Columbia, Washington, Oregon and northern California are so generously populated with marine animals and plants that divers, beachcombers, whale watchers, naturalists and biologists from all over the globe seek out the natural wonders of that coastline.

The gentle climate and warm ocean current of this region support thousands of plants and animals, from the microscopic planktonic algae that bloom and colour the water, to the smallest snails on the seashore, to the blue whale the largest mammal on Earth.

The book is aimed at everyone from the expert biologist to the weekend naturalist and is a ready reference work on the 420 most common species; among them the fascinating local sponges, jelly fish, whales, sea algae an dhundreds of other living things that can be observed and identified without being disturbed.

Described as a "field guide", the book is a color-coded for quick identification and includes 500 colour photos.
-The Halifax Daily News