Archive | December, 2012

My Friend Chip Matheson

24 Dec

My Friend Chip Matheson

I can’t remember the exact moment when I met Allister “Chip” Matheson.  I know I was just a student in college though.  I had seen a lot of his photos at the Aquarium since I was interested in sharks so I knew who he was, but I’m sure he didn’t know who the heck I was!   Back then I was just a part timer working in the Programs division.  When I think back at all the years I’ve been working at the Aquarium, Chip is always in those pictures in my mind.  Even now I can see him driving his boat, pulling tons of underwater video gear out of his V10 Dodge Van, pulling on scuba gear, feeding his bearded dragon lizards, and operating one of his many cameras.

From “An Ocean of Inspiration” John Olguins book, Chip circa 1979 on a Orca photo shoot

Many years later and I’m sitting here with my head in my hands with tears welling up in my eyes and all of a sudden I’m flooded with memories.  I remember watching him jump into the deep blue water on a Catalina Above and Below work trip and expertly flip his fins and drop downwards, video camera in hand.  I remember seeing him in the bioluminescence room (which isn’t even at the Aquarium anymore) filming some shark eggs as they developed.  In fact pretty much anytime I saw Chip he had some sort of camera equipment with him.  I vividly remember one trip in particular when we had baited blue sharks for the public to see.  Chip, Mike Schaadt and Keith Amador were out in the water filming them and Jeff Landesman was on deck talking to the public about what was going on.  When I close my eyes I can still see them laughing as they had several big blues swirling around them, Chip had to put the camera between him and the sharks teeth sometimes.  Later we all sat watching the video and saw that shark run into the camera with it’s jaws open,  it wasn’t “Jaws” but it was pretty amazing.

The first time I actually got to know him was because he asked me to guard his camera equipment when he and then Chief Aquarist Lloyd Ellis were trying to collect some sandy beach fish for some video footage Chip was working on.  I remember sitting on some large heavy duty camera boxes at night and watching him and Lloyd dragging a large net through the surf and then returning.  They had only caught one fish and that brought a lot of laughing and jeering between him and Lloyd.  Those two were great drinking buddies and would spend a lot of time together swapping stories, it was so entertaining and animated that I could watch and listen for hours.  It was pretty much after that botched beach seine that I got to know him and he’d always come and talk to me to say hello.  He would see me from far away and yell “Oak!” with a big smile on his face.  I’d drop what I was doing to shake his hand and come and hear his latest adventure.

Chip had been working at the aquarium a long time, way before I had started.  John Olguin once told me that the way Chip started was he was just a student standing on the beach.  The way the story went was that a class had arrived late at the Aquarium and John was short handed, Chip was standing there watching and John grabbed him and had him teach a class on the spot.  Chip was so impressed with John’s friendliness that he ended up hanging around at the Aquarium.  Eventually he started working at the Aquarium, later becoming an Aquarist and then leaving to pursue his passion, underwater photography.  He put together a lot of media that we still use at the Aquarium.  “Shark, a new Look” was one of the slideshows he put together, it was probably the first time I ever saw a guy swimming under a great white shark out of a cage.  And if you walk around the Aquarium and see the “Morning in the mudflat” video running or if you take a trip to the Science Center and see the desert tortoise video you’ll recognize some of Chip’s work.

from Website pix of chip circa 1985

His film career took him all over the world.  Every time I’d run into him he’d tell me stories about his travels and we’d all sit spellbound as he spoke.  Swimming with tiger sharks and filming them eating baby birds in one part of the world, crashing at someone’s house he had never met while shooting orca video up north, or maybe it was a Baja trip filming whales on yet another.  If you pick up John Olguins book you’ll see lots of stories that include Chip, in fact I always told Chip he should write a book about his own adventures.  There are few people in this world who have experience or have had the animal adventures than Chip Matheson has had.

The stories are not just limited to marine biology though!  I remember Chip telling me a story about when he was young, he and his friends had found some plaster of paris in some field and they decided they’d make a cool mold of their faces.  One of his buddies put two straws in his nose to breathe and they dumped the plaster onto his face.  A few minutes later his friend asked, “hey is it getting hot out here?”.  They were unaware that plaster had lye in it, and it began to burn as it hardened.  And then ending up a few minutes later shouting “I’m burning up, get this crap off of me!!” as they hastily pulled the pieces off.  Chip would always end his stories with a booming laugh, and you could not stop laughing yourself if you were around him.  I can remember his big smile even now, it was a smile like a mischievous childhood grin with that twinkle in his eyes, I don’t think I ever saw Chip enter a room without smiling.  I still see him like it was yesterday, big smile, red jacket and a head full of uncombed shocking blonde hair sticking out.

I think every person that met Chip instantly liked him, he had such an easygoing magnetic personality.  When I was in college I had a huge collection of reptiles, chameleons, geckos, monitor lizards, snakes, you name it.  Chip somehow got into reptiles as well and we’d spend time going to reptile conventions together, buying equipment and animals.  We’d carpool down to San Diego and spend hours wandering around the booths, we’d always laugh because he would purposely call chameleons, CHA-meleons.  “Hey Oak, did you get any new CHA-meleons?” he’d ask me.  I still think about that every time I wander into a store that has reptiles.

As time went on, Chips career shifted from documentaries to main stream motion pictures.  He served as safety diver, underwater tech, and underwater camera operator on movies like Pearl Harbor, Men of Honor, Deep Blue Sea, Speed 2, Lethal Weapon 4, Titanic,  and The Rock among others.  As his career grew we saw less and less of him, although he’d always try to make time and come and visit us when we had birthday Busy Bee sandwiches at the Korean Bell.  Everytime he entered the room he’d have that big smile on his face and another great story to tell.  He was a natural entertainer and even now I sit back and think about that great laugh and his stories about seeing the world. 

I’ve worked at the Aquarium for more than half of my life, that is the absolute truth.  I’ve had the greatest time there, over the years I’ve worked in three different divisions and I pretty much grew up there.  Unfortunately since I started so young I’ve had to say goodbye to some amazing people who have had a lot of influence on the way the Aquarium is even today.  John Olguin with his welcoming personality, the guy who really started the whole Aquarium.  Lloyd Ellis, our former chief aquarist who in the old days had collected whales for Marineland and then moved to our facility where he innovated a lot of the materials we still use today.  Bill Samarus the whale expert/science teacher who could pick up a rock and give you the history of how it was formed.  And of course Chip Matheson, the underwater film expert.  It is no accident that all of these guys became very good friends, they are all very very talented in many ways and left their mark around the Aquarium. 

Today was a very hard day for me, it was the day I said goodbye to a friend who I’ve known for a long time.  I arrived at the hospital with John Olguin’s book in my hand ready to read Chip another few pages.  But I guess Chip had plans of his own, I barely had time to whisper goodbye.  I’m sure at this very instant he’s sitting on some boat somewhere with John O, Lloyd, and Bill and they are laughing up a storm while clinking bottles together.

You don’t meet many people like Chip in this world, and I feel very very fortunate to have met him and it is a huge privilege for me to call him my friend.

Allister “Chip” Matheson  January 10, 1960-December 23, 2012

David Trudnich was nice enough to post up many fantastic pictures of Chip.  Please visit them at:

Chips Memorial Service will be On Saturday, February 2, 2013 2pm-4pm at the Cabrillo Marine Aquarium, 3720 Stephen M. White Drive, San Pedro, CA 90731.  310-548-7562

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2 Photos from Cynthia Pusheck, private archive

chip002 Chip_0001

2 photos from David Trudnich, private archive.  I believe Chip is in the center of the photo of the group shot.

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3 Photos from Kelley Wright,  private archive


Chip Circa 1986 from Susan Ralston, private archive

If you have any pictures of Chip that you’d like to share please email them to me as a .jpg at and I’ll try to include them here.  Thanks!

If you would like to read more about Chip as told by the Cabrillo Marine Aquarium’s “Tidelines” articles, click Here


The Sea of Jellyfish

17 Dec

Sea of Jellyfish

An older blog from a long time ago.
When I first took a look I couldn’t believe it. Thousands of jellyfish pulsating thru crystal clear water. Wow, absolutely breathtaking. THOUSANDS. We stood there in disbelief watching them float around, layers and layers of jellyfish. Usually the water in this area is cloudy and green, today it was like a mountain spring. We quickly grabbed our gear and headed down to the waters edge.


A few mintues later I clipped on my weight belt and dropped in, the water was cold but not unbearable like last night when I froze my ass off looking for lobsters (yeah bitches, I got two and no, you ain’t getting any :). But I could feel the sting of the 57 degree water against my skin. That lasted for two seconds until I took a breath of air and then dove down. Then I was surrounded by them and couldn’t think of anything else except how fantastic the experience was. It’s shallow here, fifteen feet at most and the jellyfish are EVERYWHERE. On the surface, midwater and even on the bottom. But the bottom is where the biggest ones are and I like snorkeling there anyways so I quietly kick down there and begin scooping them up in a net. I sit there for a while and invert myself so I’m swimming upside down parallel to the surface and just watch them, pulsating in and out, you can even see the outline of their stomach! They float lazily around and around, I brush up against some of them and see them blow by me because of the current I’ve caused. I feel my lungs begin to burn and head upwards and quietly clear my snorkel and take another breath.

For the first time in my life I feel like sponge bob squarepants or patrick the seastar. You know how it looks like they are having fun? Well thats because IT’S FUN! Ever catch butterflies when you were a child?  That’s how I describe it to school kids.  It’s exactly like that.  Except you are underwater. I choose which ones I want and carefully scoop up two or three in a small handheld net and head to the surface where we placed them into a bucket full of water.  Jellyfish are so delicate that they tear easily so they have to be packed carefully. And these, in case you are wondering, are moon jellyfish, you can’t feel the sting because normally your skin is too thick for the stingers to penetrate.  Try touching a purple striped jellyfish or other species and you will experience extreme pain.

Again and again we head back and carefully scoop them back into the buckets. And in a matter of about five minutes I’ve got thirty in the bucket so I carefully pull myself over the side and start packing them. My partner has a big grin as she carefully dips her net into the bucket as well. I’m still packing and all too soon we figure we have enough. When all was said and done there were 58 moon jellyfish swirling around in carefully packed bags of seawater. One hour later and they are back at the aquarium and on display. I think about how much fun that was as I sit under the scalding spray of hot water in the shower at work. Someday you’ll have to come and visit me and see them so I can rub it in even more 😉


Every day isn’t as great as that day was.  On some days I’m stuck in awkward positions tearing apart pumps or trying to buff scratches out of display glass.  But on some very special days I’m out in the field collecting specimens.   It’s days like this that keep me going…


This picture isn’t mine but it’s probably of our display at the aquarium.  The other two pix are mine, that’s why they are blurry ;).

The Tail (or tale) of the 7 lobsters

7 Dec
Originally I had planned to make the run to catalina to once again see if there were any more yellowtail to be found or chase down some more daytime bugs but the chlorophyll charts had their own plan. By Thursday the charts showed green water around most of the island. With the lack of any swell and wind the water lay listless and the little algae delightfully bloomed green all around the island.  There goes my plans along with my patience.

Well sheeyett, dammit!!!! One of my pet peeves is to stay home and do nothing, while there is always a growing list of things to do I cannot stand to just sleep in and NOT do something fun.  It’s probably due to being a hyperactive child although now as an adult I find it more annoying as ever.  I checked and the wind/swell was supposed to be down and although the charts showed one of my local spots as green as well I figured I’d give it a shot. Even before my alarm went off I was awakened early by the pitter patter of splattering drops on my patio. For reals??? Today??? Sheeyett! I rolled around in bed for a bit and figured, I’d peek outside to take a look. It was raining hard in OC but it stopped fairly soon and I pulled up some more charts on storm cells while I debated to go or not and it showed the coast to be clear. The bed seemed mighty inviting but I hastily grabbed my gear together and threw it into my honda and took off before my wife put together a list of things for me to do Smile.

In about an hour I was scanned the water and noted how flat the ocean looked, only small waves lapped the shoreline and it was a decent incoming high tide. I could clearly see the rocks at three feet below the water line and figured that was good enough, in minutes I had slid into my wetsuit and grabbed my gear and light. During the night dives I usually use my princeton tec shockwave led but the last couple of dives I had forgotten it and was using that cheapass cree q5 from ebay. We flooded one at work but I had found out that if we cranked hard on the oring it would seal well enough and I’ve probably done 20 or so dives with no problems knock on wood. I hit the water and pulled my fins on and kicked outwards towards the kelp line.

It was COLD. My watch read 57 and this was a shock considering that we had been diving all summer in 69 degree water! I was still using my 5mm suit because I could get away with less weight and when I’m bug diving I’m moving around a lot and tend not to get cold as much. Still the frigid water made its way around my mask and my exposed parts of my face could feel the cold biting in. I saw some antennae moving around and made a drop, unfortunately it would be a short and the first half hour or so that’s all I saw. I started moving away and found some boulders and saw a fat bug waving his antennae at me. I perched on the rock and jammed my hand down to try to pin him and of course he moved back but if I lay on my side I could….just….barely…feel….him. I grabbed a knuckle and it quickly dropped it and I shook that bitch like a dog shaking a toy and it never budged. Dammit! Out of air I kicked back towards the surface and breathed up. This would occur several drops as I would pop off a leg or two but I could not budge him. I’ve noticed before if you disturb a bug and it’s where he might get snatched up if you wait a few minutes he’ll come out. It worked like a charm, two minutes later I saw him emerge and I kicked back down and pounced on him before he could sprint away. He was big enough I knew I wouldn’t have to even measure him but I did anyways and it came out about half an inch over. Success!!

I moved from reef to reef and was really enjoying my day, there were some decent sized sheephead around, I saw a few kelp crabs and opaleye and gopher rockfish but that was about it. I had three bugs in the bag and found a ledge that went way back, when I shined my light in there I saw a nice five pounder perched just out of reach. I stuck my head way into the hole and reached inside, if I could only get just past that big brown part of the rock…

All of a sudden that brown rock recoiled and I came face to face with a big ass moray, probably the biggest I’ve seen at this spot. I backed off and shot for the surface, breathed up and made another drop, that asshole was still there, teeth baring so I started trying to scare him away by tossing rocks underwater. It’s pretty comical, I’d throw as hard as possible and they would float through the water about six inches before fluttering to the ground. Everytime I reached in that moray would start towards me with its mouth open so I poked at him and noticed the bug was way too far inside anyways. Bastard!

There were other rocks to explore and soon enough I had 5 bugs. My buddy Dam and I had this discussion before, 3 bugs is good, 4 better, 5 really good, 6 is unacceptable because you feel like a loser for not getting that last bug as the limit is 7. I had 5 and was heading in but found a ledge that went way back and it was LOADED. I plucked one and it was legal. This ledge had an opening on one side that you could almost slide into, but the bag of bugs I had was preventing me from getting into it. I got the bright idea of taking the bag off and reaching in and as soon as I unclipped it I saw a legal bug flitter away into the reef…out of my bag. DAMMIT!!!! Feeling like the worlds biggest lame-o I put the bag back on my waist and dove down, I turned upside down and crawled in a bit until I was half way into the cave and grabbed another legal bug. SUCCESS! There were still a bunch of big bugs in that hole but I couldn’t get them so I left them for another day. I worked my way back to where I started and made drops in the deeper water, it was mainly shorts there but I finally managed to pin one on one side of a hole and when he went towards the other side about a foot away I had my left hand waiting and grabbed him. No bug grab felt sweeter than that and i stuffed him into the bulging bag and headed back to shore.

Once on the shoreline I remeasured all of them, interestingly enough most of them were way over legal. I didn’t measure many bugs earlier that were clickers either, it was like they were either big or way too small. I trudged back to my car and peeled off my gear, took a pix to send to my friends to annoy them since they were stuck at work and headed home. I probably burned less than 3 gallons of gas, swam around for a couple of hours and really enjoyed my day. I dropped of most of the bugs to my folks and family and kept one for myself. I’ve been making a lot of my favorite lobster stir fry and can’t wait to make some more along with some lobster bisque…

Although I noticed my hands are bruised and cut up a bit and I have a raw scraped forehead , it ended up being a really nice day Smile