"It may sound basic, but how do you even get to sea in big surf? For a lot of our experiments we use small craft launched from the end of the pier, and even here there are days when we can't put the boat in the water."
William Evans, executive director of Hubbs, agreed. "Logistically, there are a lot of advantages to this area," he said, listing easy access to the ocean and the variety of "different environments within close range--offshore reefs, underwater canyons, islands and kelp beds" among them.
Housed in the north end of a Sea World storage building, Hubbs (named for scientist Carl Hubbs and his wife, Laura) is a poor cousin to Scripps. Formerly known as Hubbs-Sea World Research Institute, it has always had close ties to the aquatic theme park, and although it has been an independent, nonprofit foundation since it was founded in 1963, it relies on Sea World for its offices, water supply, energy and $125,000 a year in operating capital. Overall, it has 20 employees and a budget of about $1 million a year, most of it state and federal grants allocated for environmental studies.
The institute has an impact way out of proportion to its size, however, partly because its researchers tend to study animals of interest to the public--whales, seals, sport fish and others found along the coast. When a dead whale washes up on the beach, or sea lions steal fish from the lines of local fishermen, Hubbs experts are often contacted by TV and newspaper reporters for information. In addition, the institute solicits direct public involvement in some of its research projects.
For example, as part of a project to track gray whale migration through Southern California waters next January and February, Hubbs scientists plan to train volunteers in counting and observation techniques, then station them at various sites on the Channel Islands and along the coast.
"There are a lot of reasons for wanting to involve the public" in scientific work, said Steve Leatherwood, a senior research biologist at Hubbs. "But one of the big ones is that if you have public awareness and involvement . . . it's often easier to get support for a new conservation law or some other conservation move. All too often scientists are so far removed from the public that they're essentially dictating to the public."
By concentrating primarily on research related to environmental laws and conflicts, Hubbs has developed a narrower and very different focus from that at Scripps. Scripps's specialty is basic research--experiments that don't necessarily have practical applications but answer scientists' questions about the fundamental workings of nature. Its researchers travel the oceans of the world and are investigating a truly amazing variety of subjects, from how clams survive in sulphur-rich waters on the ocean floor to what role clouds might have in limiting the gradual heating of the earth's atmosphere.
Another oceanographic institution here--the Southwest Fisheries--conducts studies that often are similar to those at Hubbs. "We don't do oceanography for the sake of oceanography," explained Izadore Barrett, the center's director. "We do it to understand the biology and distribution of the fishes.
"We provide information on the condition of fish stocks . . . to our regional management offices and to fisheries management councils. But that needs to be backed up by studies on the biology and physiology of the animals, what the effects of predators and the environment are--a gamut of things that affect the fish available to sport and commercial fishermen."
A research station of the National Marine Fisheries Service--a branch of the federal National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration--the center is located in a large building just north of Scripps. It has 150 employees, its own oceangoing research ship and an annual budget of $11 million.
Scientists at the center are studying such things as the spawning rates of various fishes, new areas in the Pacific where tuna can be found, and the number of anchovies needed to sustain commercial quantities of popular sport fish such as albacore and sea bass. But although they are often involved in the same kinds of research that scientists at Hubbs are, there is little actual overlap and almost no competition for grants, according to Barrett.
"We have let contracts to Hubbs from this office and we're working closely with them right now, studying the numbers and behavior of elephant seals on the Channel Islands" which may compete with fishermen for some kinds of fish, Barrett said.
"Hubbs has experts in some areas we don't, and besides, some of our studies require short-term, fixed jobs. To tackle them ourselves, I'd have to hire people specially or divert people we already have from other projects."