“I MUST FLY”: GONE TO ABACO. BACK SOMETIME.
UPDATES AS & WHEN
Photos: Tom Sheley, RH, Charlie Skinner, Melinda, Kaitlyn Blair on FB, RH
BMMRO COLLABORATES WITH NEW PARTNER, ATLANTIS BLUE PROJECT
The ATLANTIS BLUE PROJECT is managed by the Atlantis Blue Project Foundation, a private non-profit organization dedicated to the preservation and enhancement of global marine ecosystems through scientific research, education, and community outreach. BMMRO is excited to now be a part of this project and in turn has received two grants from the Atlantis Blue Project for 2014
Stranding Response to Support Conservation of Marine Mammals in the Bahamas
Increasing capacity and available funds to respond rapidly to strandings in The Bahamas will increase our ability to determine cause of death and/or successful rehabilitation of marine mammals. At the first stranding workshop held in the Bahamas in 2008, the Honourable Lawrence Cartwright, Minister of Agriculture and Marine Resources officially opened the workshop stating “I believe the establishment of a Marine Mammal Stranding Network in The Bahamas will serve to promote the conservation of marine mammal species and their habitat by improving the rescue and humane care of stranded marine mammals, advancing stranding science, and increasing public awareness through education.” This funding will provide the resources to train veterinarians on how to work with stranded marine mammals as well as provide the resources to respond to strandings.
Field Research & Outreach to Support Conservation of Bahamas Marine Mammals
Cetaceans are long-lived, highly specialised animals with delayed reproduction and low fecundity, which makes them incapable of rapid adaptation and thus particularly vulnerable to anthropogenic impacts. BMMRO has compiled an unprecedented long-term dataset for the region, which has become increasingly valuable to inform about the baseline ecology of some odontocete species. This research will ensure that this important work continues to fill key gaps in our knowledge about the ecology of marine mammals. Additionally, we will increase awareness and build capacity amongst Bahamians, both of which will contribute to local conservation needs.
For Abaco, the excitement is the sperm whale seen just off the Rocky Point area. More generally for the northern Bahamas, in addition to the manatee Georgie (former temporary resident of Abaco) and others, there was a manatee reported on Eleuthera. It looks as though these gently creatures continue to find the area to their liking.
(Thanks as ever to Charlotte & co at BMMRO for permission to use and adapt their material!)
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
While a lot of debris sinks, much also floats. Once this marine debris enters the ocean, it moves via oceanic currents and atmospheric winds. Factors that affect currents and winds (for example, El Niño and seasonal changes) also affect the movement of marine debris in the ocean. Debris is often carried far from its origin, which makes it difficult to determine exactly where an item came from.
Marine debris comes in many forms, ranging from small plastic cigarette butts to 4,000-pound derelict fishing nets. Plastic bags, glass, metal, Styrofoam, tires, derelict fishing gear, and abandoned vessels are all examples of debris that often ends up in our waterways.
Marine debris is a problem for all of us. It affects everything from the environment to the economy; from fishing and navigation to human health and safety; from the tiniest coral polyps to giant blue whales.
The NOAA Marine Debris Program works in the U.S. and around the world to research, reduce, and prevent debris in our oceans and coastal waterways. Much of this work is done in partnership with other agencies, non-governmental organizations, academia, industry, and private businesses.The Marine Debris Research, Prevention, and Reduction Act, signed into law in 2006, formally created the Marine Debris Program. The Act directs NOAA to map, identify, measure impacts of, remove, and prevent marine debris.
Abandoned and lost fishing gear is a big problem. It entangles and kills marine life and is a hazard to navigation. Based on a model program in Hawaii, the Fishing for Energy program was formed in 2008 to tackle this problem with creative new ideas. The program is a partnership between NOAA, Covanta Energy Corporation, National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, and Schnitzer Steel.This program offers the fishing community a no-cost way to dispose of old or derelict fishing gear. Once removed from the environment, the gear is transported to the nearest Covanta Energy-from-Waste facility. About one ton of derelict nets creates enough electricity to power one home for 25 days!
Marine debris may be mistaken by some animals for food or eaten accidently. Often, larger items like nets, fishing line, and abandoned crab pots snare or trap animals. Entanglement can lead to injury, illness, suffocation, starvation, and even death. NOAA is working with many partners to tackle this problem by reducing and preventing marine debris in our oceans and waterways.
We know that marine debris is a big problem, but there’s much we need to learn. NOAA funds projects across the country and works with scientists and experts around the globe to better understand how marine debris moves, where it comes from, and how it affects the environment. This knowledge will help us find better ways to tackle the problem.
The NOAA Marine Debris Program offers a heap of creative products to get the word out about marine debris. Looking for brochures, posters, fact sheets, or guidebooks? We’ve got those. Like videos? We’ve got those, too. We even have a blog! You’ll find it all online.
Marine debris is a global problem that requires global solutions. NOAA experts work with scientists and organizations around the world to share lessons learned, discover what programs work best, and map out future strategies to fight this problem.
Fighting the marine debris problem begins at home.
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
It was a very beautiful beach indeed. Lucky Crabby!
See ‘Crab Run: The Movie’, starring Crabby the Crab
CREDITS: header & beach, RH; last image, Tom Sheley; the rest, Charlie Skinner. DEBITS: pre-Christmas nauseatingly anthropomorphic tomfoolery and video – blame me. No crabs were harmed or even mildly embarrassed during this photoshoot.
THE IDENTIFICATION, BEHAVIOUR & NATURAL HISTORY OF THE SHARKS OF FLORIDA, THE BAHAMAS, THE CARIBBEAN & GULF OF MEXICO
Jeremy Stafford-Deitsch, Trident Press 2000 (95 pp)
Occasionally I review books, apps, ‘meeja’ and so on, of general relevance to Abaco wildlife and ecology. You can find all this under the heading BOOKS ETC and its drop-down sub-menus. You’ll see comparative recommendations, mostly positive, with some frankly snidey comments on a few things not to waste your ‘hard-earned’ on.
Here’s a book I bought on @m@z@n for a few coins + p&p (less than $5 total) just to see what it might have to offer. The answer is, a great deal. It’s not the book for those who want a detailed exploration the intricate mesopathy of selachimorphic exo-cartilege, if such a thing exists. But it has a mass of useful information, brief but helpful identification pages for many different shark species, and good illustrations, all compressed into a slim tome.
Although this book was published in 2000, sharks haven’t changed noticeably since then, so the contents still hold good. Here are a few pages to give an idea of how simple yet informative this book is.
The entries for the Blacktip Shark and the Lemon Shark. Each entry features a useful range map, and an even more useful ‘potential danger rating’ for each species. It’s worth remembering, however, that there are sharks worldwide, and they all have teeth. Thousands of people dive and swim with many of the species every day in complete safety. There are simply some does and don’ts, mostly completely obvious, that will make the difference between enjoying their company (and they, yours); and pushing your luck with a wild creature when you have intruded into its habitat…
THE SHARK TRUST FEEDING CODE
More shark information and some amazing images can be found HERE .
As I wrote elsewhere: “Take comfort from the fact that no fatalities and fewer than 10 injuries from shark attacks have been recorded in Abaco waters for over 250 years (since 1749)… By way of comparison, in the last 150 years there have been 36 recorded shark attacks in the Mediterranean, of which 18 have been fatal… Since 1845 there have been a number of shark attacks in British waters, with one fatality. There were two more fatalities in an incident in 1956 , but this was an ‘own-goal’ arising from an attempt to blow up a shark with dynamite. It can hardly be blamed on the shark.
WEIRD NON-SHARK RELATED STATISTIC: Amazingly, in the 3 years 2007 – 09 in England and Wales, 42 people died from being bitten by animals, only a few of which were dogs.
CONCLUSION You are statistically far safer to spend 250 years swimming off Abaco than spending 3 years stroking a cat in Manchester. Or Swansea.”
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…
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
My name is Jack Lucas and I am Marine Biology Student at Plymouth University in the UK. I came to the Bahamas Marine Mammal Research Organisation on Abaco in July 2013 for a 3 month internship, which has been an amazing experience from start to finish. Heres a summary of my summer spent at BMMRO.
Sperm Whale Fluking
I arrived at the start of July and was fortunate enough with my timing to be part of an assembled crew of scientists from all over the world coming together to start work on what was to be this summers main project; collecting faecal samples from Blainville’s beaked whales to assess stress hormones produced. This team included Dr Roz Rolland and Dr Scott Kraus from New England Aquarium, who are collaborating with BMMRO for the work, and the samples will be analysed back at their lab in the US. Also along for the ride was Roxy Corbett; a whale observer and field researcher from the US, and Dr Stephanie King; a acoustician from the Sea Mammal Research Unit in Scotland. The first day after arriving it was straight out on the boat to search for these elusive creatures and the beginning of a crash course in how to collect and store the faecal samples when we found them. For the first week the work was a mix of boat work when the weather permitted and practicing poop collection using custom-made fine-mesh nets and coffee grounds (as close to the real thing as we were willing to try!), as well as clearing out BMMRO’s garage and, under the direction of foreman Scott, the construction from scratch of a lab to prepare samples for storage.
Unfortunately, despite days of poop collection practice and endless hours searching for the whales at sea, the original poop team never got a chance to employ these by now highly developed skills or to see the lab being used, as the weather was so windy we barely encountered the animals let alone spent long enough with them to collect any samples.
Despite the lack of beaked whales, we did encounter loads of marine mammals in the first few weeks, from sperm whales to three different species of dolphin; including the little-seen and even less-studied rough-toothed dolphin.
After discussion with Charlotte and Di about a possible project for me to complete during my stay, it was to be this species that I would focus on and in between the usual office jobs it was my task to sort through the photos from 20 rough toothed encounters in the Bahamas since 1995 and create a catalogue of individuals. This initial task consisted of careful inspection, comparison and sorting of what turned out to be over 5000 photos, into an organised catalogue of 167 separate and distinctive individuals. Despite the hours of endless staring at fins, it was very rewarding as there were 13 resighted individuals found (we were not necessarily expecting any!) which suggests long-term site fidelity and association of these animals, in addition to year round use of the Grand Bahama Canyon. Even more rewarding; the results of this work have recently been submitted for a poster display at an Odontocete workshop in New Zealand this December and I am also writing up the results in a formal scientific paper, with the hopeful goal of publishing a note in a peer-review journal.
Scott, Jack, Stephanie and Di in the new lab at Sandy Point
Around a month in I was lucky enough to be sent by Di and Charlotte to Great Harbour Cay on the nearby Berry Islands to work with the manatees there, in particular Georgie; a recently released juvenile whose status is being carefully monitored after her rehabilitation at Atlantis’ Dolphin Cay following health problems. The work here for a week under the guidance of Kendria; a Bahamian contracted by BMMRO to monitor the manatees on the Berry Islands, consisted of tracking Georgie using a satellite tag attached to a belt around her tail. Once located, we logged her position and made any notes on her health and behaviour aswell as the other manatees that were often found with her (there are currently 6 located on Great Harbour Cay). Two days in her tag was found unattached at a locals dock (it has a weak-link incase of entanglement) and we had to locate her using underwater hydrophones to detect her belt. Once found, I had the rare opportunity of entering the water with her in order to re-attach a new tag to her belt; it was amazing and one of the best encounters I have had with any animal! It is impossible not to love these amiable and gentle creatures, especially when you observe their infamous ‘hugs’ in person!
Georgie the Manatee
For more about Georgie’s re-release in the Berry Is. after her earlier shenanigans on Abaco, see HERE
After returning from the Berry Islands (and incidentally missing the first two poop collections of the season made by Charlotte!) it was back to hunting for the elusive beaked whales around South Abaco. During my time I had the chance to work with several interns coming to BMMRO including local marine-enthusiasts Tristan and AJ, and Courtney Cox from Florida. Oscar Ward from the UK also joined the team as Charlotte left for Scotland to complete her PhD, and was on hand during the poop-collection and other little excursions. In wasn’t until the last month of my time here that we managed to get close enough to the whales for me to get in the water and be towed alongside in the hope of seeing one defecate. One amazing morning two whales surfaced right off the bow of the boat and what resulted was again, one of the most amazing moments; swimming just a couple of feet away from an animal only a handful of people in the world have seen underwater. After nearly two months with no samples, the two weeks that followed were a flurry of boat days, poop-collection and whale watching; with a total of 7 samples collecting from beaked whales (5 in one day!!) and another 3 from sperm whales. This was the best possible end to my time here and I finally got a chance to use the much-practiced poop collection techniques. The samples included a number of squid beaks, and in one very deep dive collection a mass of parasitic worms and a weird cephalopod-type animal! We also got a chance in the last few weeks to test-run a new addition to the fleet, that included a dive compressor.
Ready to collect some poop…
Finally my time in the Bahamas had to come to an end, and I had to return home. The last 3 months has flown by and has been one of the most enjoyable and most importantly educational periods of my life and I cannot thank Di and Charlotte enough for making it all possible. The day-to-day boat runs, office work, equipment maintenance and station chores has given me a good insight into all aspects of field research. It was my first taste of life as a marine mammal scientist, and it has made me even more determined to pursue a career in this field; a perfect stepping stone from which to move forward. In addition my work with BMMRO (and what must of been a brilliant reference from the girls!) made it possible to secure a highly competitive internship in the Farallon Islands this winter tagging elephant seals amongst other work! I cannot wait to continue working in this field and finish writing up the results of my project here, and hope I have the chance to come to Abaco again to work with these amazing people and animals!
BMMRO would like to thank Jack for all his help during the summer, and all our interns for their assistance! To our sponsors, Friends of the Environment, Disney Animal Programs and Environmental Initiatives and Rotary of Abaco, we thank you for your continued support.
To read more about the work of Interns on Abaco with the BMMRO at Sandy Point and Friends of the Environment in Marsh Harbour, check out Oscar Ward’s excellent blog SEVENTYPERCENTBLUE. There are articles on Life in the Mangroves, the Bahamas Climate, Whale Poop Collection, and most intriguing how he and co-intern Jack both came very close to being Black Tip Fodder… real live Chums!
The Author researching underwater creatures
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
Take comfort from the fact that no fatalities and only half a dozen injuries from shark attacks have been recorded in Abaco waters for over 250 years (since 1749). Risk assessors and the nervous, take note.
Since 1845 there have been a number of shark attacks in British waters, with one fatality. There were two more fatalities in an incident in 1956 , but this was an ‘own-goal’ arising from an attempt to blow up a shark with dynamite. It can hardly be blamed on the shark.
WEIRD NON-SHARK RELATED STATISTIC: Amazingly, in the 3 years 2007 – 09 in England and Wales, 42 people died from being bitten by animals, only a few of which were dogs.
CONCLUSION You are statistically far safer to spend 250 years swimming off Abaco than spending 3 years stroking a cat in Manchester. Or Swansea.
All fantastic images by Melinda Riger of Grand Bahama Scuba who swims with sharks all the time!
Here’s a promising-looking rocky outcrop a short distance south of Crossing Rocks. The action of the sea over centuries has eroded and pitted it – ideal for the formation of pools in which marine life can thrive.
At the bottom of these photos, you can see that a zebra-marked nerite is quite happy to share a hole with an urchin. There are two brownish accretions on or in the rock. My tentative suggestion is that these are the shells of some sort of worm, perhaps petaloconchus.
UPDATE Rick Guest helpfully comments “Yes, it’s quite the invertebrate hotel mostly due to the urchin’s talent for scouring out protective “rooms”. Of interest is the Magpie shell (Livona pica) in frames 4 and 5. The rather ubiquitous Livona’s very thick shell, (Up to 5″ diameter) and ability to withstand most attempts at removal by predators, including Homo sapiens, assures their continued presence on littoral shore lines. They are edible, but not particular tasty to my palet. All these “Condo” residents “party” at night and will even leave the rock in search of food and perhaps romance, so a flash pic of the condo at night would be an interesting contrast to a daylight shot”.
In a snug little cave (top right) just above the water-level of the pool is a primitive-looking chiton, a species that has been around for millions of years. Below, there’s a clearer image of one from a different pool. These creatures always remind me of school projects on prehistoric trilobites.
The rough rocky surfaces close to the pool are covered in shells. The stripey nerites are small, the grey shells really are miniature. They are mostly littorines/ periwinkles and perhaps ceriths, I think.
Close-up views of nerites showing their distinctive markings and spirals
Contrary to appearances from the header image and the one below, Reddish Egrets (Egretta rufescens) do not yet use cellphones to communicate. Nevertheless, the trick of having a good ear-scratch while standing in water on one leg is a good posey accomplishment.
All these photos were taken while we were bonefishing from a skiff far out on the Marls in the mangroves. Ishi poled us closer so that boat-partner Tom – a real photographer – could get some shots. Meanwhile, I did my best with my little camera that I take out on the boat – the one that won’t matter too much when it slips from my hand or pocket into the drink. These things happen: I lost a good pair of Costas that a gust of wind unkindly whisked away when I took them off to change a fly.
This egret comes in two very different ‘colourways’. The classic version has a slatey-blue body and a reddish head and plumes. The white morph is pure white. The only similarities between the two are the two-tone bills with the black tip; and the blue-grey legs and feet.
I’m not certain of the proportions of each type on Abaco, but I have certainly seen twice as many white ones as true reddish ones. There seem to be quite a few around – there are plenty of fish for them and dozens of square miles of human-free space in which to stalk them. However as with many (most?) of the bird species, there is a declining population for all the usual man-related reasons, and these fine birds have now had to be put on the IUCN ‘near-threatened’ list.
We watched the bird for about 10 minutes. Then we returned to what we were really there for – Tom to catch bones with practised skill, and me to wave the rod incompetently around until some passing fish took pity on me and grabbed my fly, knowing it would soon be released once all the fuss was over…
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 shell species below (also in the header picture) is an olive. It turns out to have potential to star in a small maritime horror movie. Capt Rick Guest, who kindly keeps an eye on my shell and other sea-related posts, writes “Interestingly, the previous occupant of the first and last shell pictured here is a major predator of the other Bivalve shells shown. The Olive shell hides under the sand by day, then emerges at night to feast upon small Bivalves, and any other available prey. One can often trace the nocturnal trails of this Olive shell in sand on calm mornings with mask and snorkel, and thrust a hand under a trails end for this fellow. When kept in an aquarium, they will consume any meat offered.” “Olive and Let Die”, maybe?