“I MUST FLY”: GONE TO ABACO. BACK SOMETIME.
UPDATES AS & WHEN
Photos: Tom Sheley, RH, Charlie Skinner, Melinda, Kaitlyn Blair on FB, RH
THE SPOTTED TRUNKFISH is a reef fish distinctive for its dark spots on a silvery-white background. It’s very wrong of me to comment, I know, but arguably its appearance is amusing. It probably feels the same about divers with all their gear…
However the trunkfish deserves to be treated with due respect. When touched, they secrete a colourless toxin from glands on their skin. The toxin is only dangerous when ingested, so divers are unlikely to be harmed by the it. Predators however are at risk, and creatures as large as nurse sharks are known to have died as a result of eating a trunkfish.
THE SMOOTH TRUNKFISH is almost a negative of the spotted trunkfish, with white spots on a dark background rather than vice versa. Adults develop hexagonal patterning on their sides. They also secrete toxins and are best left untouched. Their ability to pucker up is impressive…
The French angelfish Pomacanthus paru is found in the western Atlantic and in parts of the eastern Atlantic. They are mainly seen around shallow reefs, often in pairs. They feed on sponges, algae, soft corals and small invertebrates.
Juveniles are extremely useful members of the reef fish community, providing cleaning stations. They service many species including jacks, snappers, morays, grunts, surgeonfishes, and wrasses, removing parasites.
Credits: Melinda Riger (Grand Bahama Scuba); Wiki
The Blue Tang Acanthurus coeruleus is a species of Atlantic surgeonfish mostly found on coral reefs. They are known as surgeonfish because they can slice you with their sharp, spiny caudal fins. Adults are blue, ranging from a deep blue or even purplish to much paler blue.
Blue Tang are herbivores, cruising constantly round reefs feeding on algae. They also act as cleaners of other fish species, removing parasites. They themselves may be cleaned by gobies by visiting so-called ‘cleaning stations’. These piscine beauty parlours have a medicinal purpose as well, since cleaning helps to cure minor wounds.
These fish often move around reefs in large schools, as shown in the header image. Apart from having some value as an aquarium fish, they are not generally of use to humans. Their spiny caudal fins can cause a nasty wound. They have an unpleasant smell. Their flesh supposedly contains toxins, and they carrying a risk of the disease CIGUATERA. I can’t even find a recipe for them online – now, that is a bad sign, there are some people who will try anything. I guess best to boil them for an hour or two, drain the water, allow to cool, and throw away the fish.
FUN FACT In the Disney/Pixar film Finding Nemo, the character Dory (voiced by Ellen DeGeneres) is a blue tang.
“RECIPE Take one incompetent swimmer who hasn’t snorkelled in, oh, nearly 40 years. Place him over a coral reef for his first time ever. Add a small underwater camera totally alien to him. Immerse for 30 minutes in warm briny water. Lessons have been learnt for next time. Mainly, don’t keep waving the camera about; let the fish move round you rather than vice versa; and most important of all, remember to keep breathing or else…
Here is BLUE TANG: THE MOVIE (music by Adrian Legg), 45 secs of advanced camera-shake with some beautiful fish more or less in shot for most of the time. If you are prone to sea-sickness, do not enlarge the video. If you are allergic to poor photography… well, thanks for visiting.”
Credits: Good pictures, Melinda; bad pictures and execrable movie, not Melinda
WHAT ON EARTH ARE REMORAS?
Remoras (Echeneidae), also known as Sharksuckers, Whalesuckers or Suckerfishes, are ray-finned fish that grow up to 3 feet long.
WHAT DO THEY DO?
Remoras have remarkable dorsal fins that form a sucker-like organ with a ribbed structure. It looks a bit like the sole of a trainer or beach shoe.This bizarre organ can open and close to create or release suction, enabling it can latch onto larger marine creatures. The remora can increase suction by sliding backward, or it can release itself by swimming forward – the ‘slats’ are smooth in one direction, and rough the other way. They have been known to attach themselves to boats. And scuba divers. Even with hairy legs…
WHAT KIND OF CREATURES DO THEY GET ATTACHED TO?
Remoras associate with specific host species. They commonly attach themselves to sharks, manta rays, whales, turtles, and manatees / dugongs. Smaller remoras may latch onto fish such as tuna and swordfish, and some travel in the mouths or gills of large manta rays, ocean sunfish, swordfish, and sailfish.
WHY WOULD THEY WANT TO DO THAT?
The relationship between a remora and its host is known as Commensalism, specifically ’Phoresy‘. The host to which it attaches for transport gains nothing from the relationship, but also loses little. The remora benefits by using the host as transport and protection, and also feeds on morsels dropped by the host. Controversy surrounds whether a remora’s diet is primarily leftover fragments, or the feces of the host. Maybe it’s a healthy mix of both.
WHERE CAN I FIND ONE?
Remoras are found in tropical, sub-tropical and temperate waters, including the mediterranean. You will definitely find them in the Bahamas. Melinda’s photos were all taken in the waters south of Grand Bahama.
ARE THEY USEFUL TO MANKIND IN ANY WAY?
Yes, but not in a good way, some may think. Some cultures use remoras to catch turtles. A cord or rope is fastened to the remora’s tail, and when a turtle is sighted, the fish is released from the boat; it usually heads directly for the turtle and fastens itself to the turtle’s shell, and then both remora and turtle are hauled in. Smaller turtles can be pulled completely into the boat by this method, while larger ones are hauled within harpooning range. This practice has been reported throughout the Indian Ocean, especially from eastern Africa near Zanzibar and Mozambique, from northern Australia, Japan and even the Americas.
Because of the shape of the jaws, appearance of the sucker, and coloration of the remora, it sometimes appears to be swimming upside down (see above). This probably led to an older name reversus, although this might also derive from the fact that the remora frequently attaches itself to the tops of manta rays or other fish, so that the remora is upside down while attached.
THANKS FOR THAT. BUT WHERE CAN I GET MORE INFO ON THESE SUCKERS?
RIGHT HERE – AN EXCELLENT VIDEO WITH PLENTY OF LIVE REMORA ACTION
OH! FINAL QUESTION. ARE REMORAS EDIBLE?
I though someone might ask that, so I’ve checked it out. Here is the best recipe I have found, expanded slightly from a blokey Australian chat thread:
Recipe for cooking Remora
Credits: Melinda Riger, Grand Bahama Scuba; Wikimedia; meaty Wiki chunks & assorted pickings
I have been idly filing away some stunning close-up reef denizen images by Melinda Riger. A Monday morning is the perfect time to showcase some pouts, poses and glad eyes from the ‘catfish walk’, starting with my absolute favourite…
For more octopus information and a discussion of the correct plural (choice of 3) CLICK HERE
For a post about underwater species camouflage CLICK HERE
**Since I posted this earlier today, I have been asked (re photo 1) what the… the… heck a Cowfish looks like, when it’s not puckering up while facing you. The answer is: stunningly glamorous…
Thanks as ever to Melinda Riger of Grand Bahama Scuba for use permission for her fab photos; tip of the dorsal fin to Wiki for the shark eye header pic
“Oh, that this too too solid flesh would melt, thaw and…” Ah! Sorry. I’m soliloquising again. Must be Thursday. And the merest mention of Hamlet is enough to set anyone off. But I speak not of noble yet gloomy Danes of Elsinore and of discernibly introspective aspect. These ones are pretty reef fish of the Caribbean seas, mainly in the Bahamas and along the Florida coast. There are a number of different types of hamlet, of which the 4 featured below in Melinda’s amazing underwater images were were encountered in one dive.
Hamlets have outstandingly interesting reproductive skills, being ‘synchronous hermaphrodites’. They have the unusual benefit of having both male and female sexual organs as adults, permitting imaginative combinations of pairings (though not including self-fertilization). When they find a mate, “the pair takes turns between which one acts as the male and which acts as the female through multiple matings, usually over the course of several nights”. I don’t dare check whether there are websites that cater for this sort of energetic coupling. The wonder is that Hamlets preferentially mate with individuals of their same colour pattern, and that they are not more wanton with their attentions and sexual flexibility.
OPTIONAL CULTURAL, HISTORICAL & MUSICAL DIVERSION INSPIRED BY HAMLET
The other notable Hamlet is, of course, the mild cigar equated in the famed commercials with happiness, accompanied by an excerpt from a jazzy version of Bach’s ‘Air on the G String’. Here is one of the best – and possibly the only advert to my knowledge to feature not one, but two excellent Sir Walter Raleigh jokes.
Bach’s well-known descending chord sequence of was of course
shamelessly ripped off by ingeniously adapted by Procol Harum for ‘A Whiter Shade of Pale’, their first single in 1967. Relive the Summer of Love right here and now. Is this the music that might even put those versatile hamlets in the mood…
Any fret-tweakers might like to see the sheet music of the Air for guitar – you could even play it on air guitar – which is relatively easy, being in C major.Credits: All fish pics Melinda Riger of Grand Bahama Scuba, except wiki-header; open-source online material; my mp3, dammit – I can’t get the wretched tune out of my mind…
with guest expert PHIL LATTERLY
The Bahamas ‘does’ extremely nice stamps, in particular ones featuring the rich and varied wildlife of the islands. The islands spread from the subtropical climates of the north, on a level with Florida, to the near-tropical islands of the south. This ensures plenty of scope for designing pretty sticky bits of paper to stick onto other bits of paper. One of the small pleasures in life, near-lost to the tyranny of the email…
The sets of wildlife stamps are issued by the Bahamas Post Office. I’ll add to this collection piecemeal (including some from my own modest collection). The very latest commemorative issue heads the display.
1. SEA CREATURES
BREEF 20th Anniversary Issue – November 2013
February 2012: WWF Flamingo Issue
Best seen on Inagua, the island where they breed. Less often found elsewhere, and sadly now only as occasional ‘vagrants’ on Abaco. Flamingo post with wonderful pictures of adults, babies and nests HERE
Found mainly on Abaco (the resident underground nesting variety) and Inagua (conventional nesters), where they breed. Small groups are now found elsewhere, e.g. Nassau, where there is a local monitoring programme, but I’m not sure that there is evidence of breeding there. Any info welcome… One (of several) lavishly illustrated parrot posts HERE
Impressive commemorative issues for the BAHAMAS NATIONAL TRUST
OTHER BIRD SPECIES
The KIRTLAND’S WARBLER is one of the rarest birds of the Bahamas, a winter resident that breeds only in a small area of Michigan. The entire population is numbers only a few thousand birds. The number of sightings annually on Abaco is very small – fewer than a dozen, and in some years none at all. Increasing knowledge about their favourite haunts is now improving the recording rate. I know of two seen this year, on the same day… a birder’s lifetime achievement.
This swallow is endemic to the Bahamas
Credits: A compendious credit to sundry online sources including Bahamas PO, Bahamas Weekly, eBay and other sales / promotional sources, ads and the like, and unknown sources. I rarely find myself having to use this broad sweep approach: if your pic is here and you are upset, apologies, contact me to express your displeasure &co and I’ll take it down of course. But these are only non-rare small bits of paper; and this is a humble non-profit making info site of limited appeal in a Big Wide World. OK with that?
QUEEN ANGELFISH: COLOURFUL CORAL ROYALTY – BAHAMAS REEF FISH (13)
One of the earliest posts in the Bahamas Reef Fish series was about Queen Angelfish Holacanthus ciliaris, and you can see it HERE. I make no apology for returning with some more recent photos from Melinda Riger – these fish deserve plenty of attention for their wonderful bright presence that stands out even amongst the colourful corals of the reef.
We are back in the realm of ‘animal, vegetable or mineral?’. Dive down a few feet – inches, even – to the reef, and… is this thing waving about here a plant or a creature? And is that colourful lump over there a bit of inanimate rock or a living thing?
1. FEATHER DUSTERS
2. BASKET STARS Creatures in the same family group as brittle stars. Take a close look at the remarkable transformation in the two photographs. The top image is taken in daylight. The star is off duty and enjoying some downtime. However the second image is the same view at night, with the star fully open and waiting to harvest whatever micro-morsels come its way. The star has truly ‘come out at night’.
3. CORKY SEA FINGER Another form of gorgonian coral, sometimes known as dead man’s fingers… **
4. GOLDEN ZOANTHIDS Coral forms living on a Green Rope Sponge. Some zoanthids contain a deadly poisin called palytoxin, which may do unspeakable things to your heart. Like stop it. Luckily, none so unpleasant live in the Bahamas (or so the Bahamian Tourist Board would no doubt wish me to make clear).
REEF GARDENS 1 Anemones, Basket Stars & Christmas Trees
REEF GARDENS 2 (Corals)
Image credits, with thanks: Melinda Riger @ Grand Bahama Scuba
** I knew this image reminded me of something… or someone. And (superannuated British rockers out there), is it not exactly like the hairdo of one of the guys in Mott the Hoople, a band lifted from relative obscurity to fame by being gifted a song by David Bowie? Guitarist. Ian Hunter. Take a look at him now… and just imagine then
The grouper family is a large one, and a number of varieties of the species inhabit Bahamas waters. Like most groupers, these are denizens of coral reefs. An adult grouper may grow to 3 ft long and weigh in the region of 10 lbs.
Groupers are effective predators, with strong gills that enable them to suck their prey into their large mouths from a short distance away. They will eat smaller fish, crustaceans, and even OCTOPUSES (click to discover the correct plural form for this creature).
Many divers become familiar with the groupers of the reefs they explore, and some of the fish are given pet names. They are often distinguished from each other by distinctive markings or injury scars. More varieties of grouper will be on show soon; though it has to be said that this series will be no beauty parade… (see above and below for further details)
UPDATE I’ve found a video of a tiger grouper off Nassau sizing up the photographer, before swimming away
The coral reefs of the Bahamas provide a home for a myriad of subaquatic creatures and plants. Not necessarily a safe one, though. Some species prefer to remain largely hidden to reduce the chances of becoming part of the lengthy reef food chain. Rocks, of course, can offer some security, but also the sandy bottom. Even brain coral can provide some protection…
The SOUTHERN STINGRAY Dasyatis americana is a ‘whiptail stingray’ found in the Western Atlantic Ocean. Their habitat and personal habits – feeding and mating – are similar to those of the YELLOW STINGRAY. They live on the seabed, where they feed on small crustaceans, molluscs and fish. They expose their prey by flapping their ‘wings’ (= pectoral fins) to disturb the sand
You want to avoid treading on one of these if possible. Their tails have a serrated barb covered in venomous mucous, used for self-defence. These spines are not fatal to humans, but if you step on one it may be an experience in extreme pain to tell your grandchildren about.
IUCN LISTING: ‘DATA DEFICIENT’
Surprisingly, the ‘at risk’ status of the Southern Stingray is not known. However, as with other marine species that humans like to befriend in the wild for the perceived benefit of both parties, there are parts of the Caribbean where stingray swims involve rather more than merely swimming with and enjoying the rays in their own environment. There is organised hand-feeding with cut-up fish, even general fondling and cuddling, that can make these wild creatures seem ‘tame’. There is growing concern that such close dependent interactions with humans is not a good thing, at least for the stingrays.
Credits: Melinda Riger of Grand Bahama Scuba; Wiki for thumbs / material; selected online trawlings
MORAY EELS are found in most oceans, with around 200 species worldwide. In Bahamian waters, the 3 most common are the green, yellow and spotted morays, all featured below. These ones have been given affectionate names by the divers who encounter them regularly in their home surroundings – Rico, Judy, Wasabi and Earl.
Morays have something of a reputation for aggression, though (like many creatures with teeth) they much prefer to swim away or hide rather than attack. They will defend themselves resolutely, however, so it might be a mistake the get too close.
Hand-feeding morays has become a popular dive activity. However there can be drawbacks. They have poor vision, and may find it difficult to distinguish between food, finger-food and fingers. There are many cases of divers who have lost a finger while hand-feeding moray eels; in some places it has been banned.
Credits: All images ©Melinda Riger @ Grand Bahama Scuba
EXCELLENT ECO POSTERS FROM LRD: FOR WEBSITE CLICK HERE
CREDIT thanks to Loxahatchee River District for use permission for this website. Please note that these posters are ©Loxahatchee River District, and may not be used without permission. Especially not for commercial purposes. Please resist any temptation to drag them out and use them without contacting LRD first (website link at top of page). RH
Click me for Nature Conservancy, Bahamas
Albert King, Lead Belly and Mike Bloomfield are prime examples of foremost bluesmen guitar-slingers who, in their own distinctive styles, favoured the key of… I’m sorry, what did you say? Oh yes, quite right. My misunderstanding. Apologies, I’ll take it from the top…
Deep blue sea. Deep blue fish. *Deep breath*. All better now. The fish below may all readily be found nosing around the coral reefs of the Bahamas in a leisurely manner. Mostly, they are feeding. Fowl Cay Marine Preserve, Abaco, is a great place for watching them. No need to have all the gear – a simple snorkel, mask and flippers, and an ability to float a bit, would be sufficient.
BLUE CHROMIS Chromis cyanea
These dazzling little blue fish will be one of the first you’ll meet (along with the omnipresent yellow and black striped sergeant majors, so friendly they will come right up to your mask). You can’t miss them. Though very small, their electric blue colouring cuts through the water even on the dullest of days up-top. They can reach 5 inches in length, but most that you see will be tiddlers. They are frequently seen in the company of larger fish.
Parrotfish play a vital part in the ecology and health of the coral reef. They graze on algae, cleaning the coral and grinding the surface with their teeth. They take the nutrients and excrete the rest as… sand. This helps to form your beach! To find out more about their uses and habits, click PARROTFISH. You’ll find a great deal of interesting info about the species, conveniently compressed into factual bullet points.
BLUE TANG Acanthurus coeruleus
The blue tang is a type of surgeonfish, all-blue except for a yellow spot near the tail. The blueness can vary considerably, from very pale to dark. They tend to swim elegantly around in large groups.
Here are some images of schools of blue tang that I took with a cheapo underwater camera at Fowl Cay. They are a lovely sight as they drift slowly past alongside the reef. The top one also has a sergeant major (see above).
This wrasse can grow up to a foot long, and may be found at considerable depths on deep-water reefs – 300 feet or more. They are active by day, and hide in rock clefts at night. This species is sociable, moving around in shoals. They develop yellow markings with age.
QUEEN TRIGGERFISH Balistes vetula
There are several species of triggerfish. The queen is capable of changing colour to match its surroundings, or (it is said) if subjected to stress. I think we have all been there. It is an aggressive and territorial fish, and its favourite prey is the sea urchin, a testament to its courage…
QUEEN ANGELFISH (JUVENILE)
I have featured this species before HERE, and strictly it as much yellow as blue. But the blue earns double points, surely, for its startling vividness. Anyway, I like the way it hangs casually upside down, and the bubbles in this photo.
Credits: Good photos – Melinda Riger of Grand Bahama Scuba; Poor photos – RH
From time to time I end a post with something musical. Just for fun (toxic concept). So here is a real “Slow Blues in C” from the fantastic guitarist Stefan Grossman off his eclectic ‘Yazoo Basin Boogie’ album. 22 quality tracks. Buy from Am*z*n – much cheaper than iT*nes.
THREE-SPOT DAMSELFISHPhoto credits: Melinda Riger @ Grand Bahama Scuba (except header image – Wiki-cheers)
Butterflyfishes (Chaetodontidae) belong to a large worldwide family of small, colourful reef fishes. There are several sorts to be found in the Bahamas, of which 4 are shown below. These creatures resemble small angel fishes, and are invariably vividly coloured, strikingly patterned, or in many cases, both. Apart from that, the most interesting fact about them is that their species name Chaetodontidae derives from a Greek compound noun meaning ‘hair tooth’. This unsettling description relates to the rows of tiny, fine filament-like teeth inside their protuberant mouths. If I ever get a photo of a butterflyfish showing its teeth while feeding or yawning, I will add it here…