“ONE IS CALLED LUCY…”: SWIMMING WITH BAHAMAS SHARKS


Shark, Blacktip ©Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba copy 2

“ONE IS CALLED LUCY…”: SWIMMING WITH SHARKS

From time to time I wonder about the naming of animals. I know about the problems that can arise when people name their chickens Henny, Penny, Denny & Lenny, and the time comes to (please look away now). And how a slavering dog coming towards you (not on a lead) that the owner calls ‘Tyson’ or ‘Killer’ is possibly one to cross the street for. And that the owner of a cat called ‘The Reverend Wenceslas Muff’ (Sir Roy Strong, in fact) may not take kindly to you referring to it facetiously as ‘Puddy-tat’. But does it make things any better to know that the shark that is eyeballing you is called Lucy? I don’t know the names of the others, but I am sure they would all like to be introduced… Shark close-up ©Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba copyShark with remora ©Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba copyShark © Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba copy 2Shark ©Melinda Riger @ GB Scuba copy 2Shark Head ©Melinda Riger @ GB Scuba copy 2Shark 2 ©Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba copy 2Shark 4 ©Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba copyShark (pregant female) ©Melinda Riger @G B Scuba copy

REMORAS Some of the photos show a strange creature attached to the underside of the shark. For more info about these weird shark passengers, and some great images, click HERE

All the fabulous photographs above were taken by Melinda Riger and Virginia Cooper of Grand Bahama Scuba, on whom I rely entirely for subaqueous material, being a pathetic swimmer, a gnarly ancient, and a certified scaredy-cat (‘highly commended’). My thanks as always to them for use permission

RED HIND GROUPER: BAHAMAS REEF FISH (25)


Red Hind Grouper Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba copy

RED HIND GROUPER: BAHAMAS REEF FISH (25)

The Red Hind is one of several grouper species commonly found in  Bahamas waters. Commonly for now, anyway. There is less information available about this species compared with other groupers, but sources seem agreed that it is (a) abundant and (b) IUCN listed ‘least concern’ but (c) heavily fished and (d) delicious.

Red Hind, attended by Cleaner FishRed Hind Grouper ©Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba copy 2

Red Hind Grouper ©Melinda Riger GB Scuba copy

One problem arises from the fact that Red Hinds form spawning aggregations in particular areas, making them vulnerable to fishing exploitation in those locations, and consequent population decline. Already, some of their spawning areas are protected.

Another threat comes from the degradation of coastal habitats coupled with increasing commercial and recreational fishing.  Red Hinds are targeted with speargun, hook and line, fish traps and nets. They may also be by-catch of other fishing operations. Fortunately Marine Protected Areas such as the ones in Abaco waters provide localised protection but these are not found throughout the Red Hind’s range. Closed seasons have been imposed in a few areas, another conservation method that has recently been introduced in the Bahamas for the Nassau grouper. 

Female spawning Red Hind Grouper (Univ of Puerto Rico:NOAA)

Getting the right balance between traditional fishing for food, and stock conservation is inevitably a tricky calculation. For the Red Hind, the factors that may result in the population decline of a plentiful species are in plain sight and will continue to be monitored by the various scientific research organisations involved…

OTHER GROUPERS YOU MAY ENJOY…

NASSAU GROUPER

TIGER GROUPER

BLACK GROUPER

Red Hind Grouper ©Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba copy 3

Credits: All images Melinda Riger at Grand Bahama Scuba except (4) NOAA / Puerto Rico Univ; research from several sources, tip of the hat to SCRFA

BOTTLENOSE DOLPHINS IN ABACO WATERS (2): MOTHER & CALF


Dolphin Mother & Calf, Sandy Point, Abaco, Bahamas 12

Sometimes things happen that completely take my breath away. Here is one of those moments, from our recent trip with Charlotte and Diane in the BMMRO research boat. As we returned from whale-watching to base in Sandy Point and moved from the deep dark ocean to the bright blue shallows, we encountered a group of bottlenose dolphins. You can see my recent post featuring some of the adults HERE. That was exciting enough, as they played around the boat. Then another participant appeared… 

 Notice the dark area behind the adult dolphin… Dolphin Mother & Calf, Sandy Point, Abaco, Bahamas

…which soon separated into a small dark splashing creature with its own fin cutting the waves…Dolphin Mother & Calf, Sandy Point, Abaco, Bahamas

…and next seen keeping pace with its parentDolphin Mother & Calf, Sandy Point, Abaco, Bahamas

The sharp line between the light and the dark sea is where the sandy shallows abruptly give way to the deep waters of the Grand Bahama Canyon, a massive trench up to 2.5 miles deep with almost vertical cliff walls to the depths in some places

Dolphin Mother & Calf, Sandy Point, Abaco, Bahamas

Dolphin Mother & Calf, Sandy Point, Abaco, Bahamas

There were less active and splashy moments as the pair swam around togetherDolphin Mother & Calf, Sandy Point, Abaco, BahamasDolphin Mother & Calf, Sandy Point, Abaco, Bahamas

Then it was back to doing what they like best…Dolphin Mother & Calf, Sandy Point, Abaco, BahamasDolphin Mother & Calf, Sandy Point, Abaco, Bahamas

Then some more restful moments…Dolphin Mother & Calf, Sandy Point, Abaco, Bahamas Dolphin Mother & Calf, Sandy Point, Abaco, Bahamas

And finally the pair moved away. On the far horizon, the Massive Mickey Mouse Cruise ship moored at ‘Disney’s Castaway Cay’ (formerly the sober-sounding Gorda Cay), where you can be a Pirate of the Caribbean. Or anyway a very happy Tourist. The choice is yours. Would you like fries with that?Dolphin Mother & Calf, Sandy Point, Abaco, Bahamas

And looking out to sea from the cheerful place that is Castaway Cay, I wonder if a small child was wondering “Ok, love Mickey and his Friends – but I’d also really love to see a wild dolphin swimming free… 

Disney Magic docked next to the Castaway Cay Family Beach copy

All photos RH (except Castaway, Wiki). Huge thanks to Charlotte, Diane and Bahamas Marine Mammal Research Organisation BMMRO for a truly wonderful day photo 2

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BOTTLENOSE DOLPHINS IN ABACO WATERS (PART 1)


Bottlenose Dolphins, Rocky Point, Abaco (Keith Salvesen : BMMRO) 7

BOTTLENOSE DOLPHINS IN ABACO WATERS (PART 1)

DCB GBG Cover Logo dolphin

This seems to be a excellent early Spring for dolphin and whale sightings in Abaco waters. I’ve noticed that people have been posting dolphin sightings on FB recently. In our brief window of opportunity each March, I usually reckon to see 2 or 3 dolphins at most – maybe crossing over to Hope Town on the ferry, or more probably on a fishing trip. This year we saw 2 groups of about 6 off Cherokee while fishing, including calves. On another day, 4 adults made a leisurely progress the whole length of Rolling Harbour while we watched from the balcony of the Delphi Club. I don’t think they have ever been so close to the shore there before. The best was to come.Bottlenose Dolphins, Rocky Point, Abaco (Keith Salvesen : BMMRO) 3

Near the end of our trip Charlotte Dunn and Diane Claridge invited us to go out with them on the BMMRO research boat. This is equipped with a hydrophonic system that can detect the bleeps, whistles and clicks of cetaceans, and record them for comparison with previous data. This enables particular animals to be identified from their vocalisations. The other method is to note particular features of an animal – damage to a fin, markings on the flank and so on. During the day C & D happily conversed in code: “Is that 132 over there?” “No, it’s got a nick in the fluke, it must be 127…”BMMRO Research Boat, Sandy Point, Abaco

As we returned in the RHIB from an amazing day spent at close quarters with beaked whales [more on these soon], we moved from deep dark blue ocean to sandy turquoise shallows. There, just off Rocky Point (near BMMRO HQ at Sandy Point) were half a dozen bottlenose dolphins, including a mother and calf. This post contains a small batch of photos of adults – there’ll be another post shortly featuring the calf… Bottlenose Dolphins, Rocky Point, Abaco (Keith Salvesen : BMMRO) 4Bottlenose Dolphins, Rocky Point, Abaco (Keith Salvesen : BMMRO) 1Bottlenose Dolphins, Rocky Point, Abaco (Keith Salvesen : BMMRO) 5

Here’s a taster for the next post – the calf, just visible close alongside its mother, was being given leaping practice. Watch this blog…

Bottlenose Dolphins, Rocky Point, Abaco (Keith Salvesen : BMMRO) 6

All photos RH. Huge thanks to Charlotte, Diane and Bahamas Marine Mammal Research Organisation BMMRO for a truly wonderful day (and for my cool sweatshirt!) photo 2

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SAW FISH IN THE ABACO MARLS? NO SURPRISE. SAW A SAWFISH? AWESOME!


Pristis_pectinata _Georgia_Aquarium_ Diliff Wiki

SAW FISH IN THE ABACO MARLS? NO SURPRISE. SAW A SAWFISH? AWESOME!

Exactly a year ago, an extraordinary find was made out on the Abaco Marls. Almost disguised against the pale mud under the low water was the first sawfish reported for the Marls. This fish is not merely a rarity in the Northern Bahamas: all species of sawfishes worldwide are IUCN listed as Endangered or Critically Endangered.

Sawfish, Abaco Marls Feb 2014 (Photo: Jacque Cannon)

Sawfish, Abaco Marls Feb 2014 (Photo: Jacque Cannon)

Here is an account of the discovery reported by FRIENDS OF THE ENVIRONMENT: “On a recent fishing trip in the Marls with local guide Justin Sands, Sam and Jacque Cannon had an exciting encounter. As Justin was poling the flats, with Sam on the bow searching for bonefish, Jacque spotted a Sawfish! Jacque and Justin quickly forgot about Sam and his efforts to catch a bonefish and turned their focus to the Sawfish. This is a very rare sighting and one we are happy there was a camera available to document it…” A couple of weeks later I was lucky enough to sit next to Jacque at dinner at the Delphi Club, so I was able to hear at first hand the story of this amazing find. It also turned out to be the perfect time to sign an early copy of “The Birds of Abaco” for Jacque and Sam… 1900063_10152069487394482_984358031_n

Sawfish Book Plate (1884)

Sawfish Book Plate (1884)

 10 ESSENTIAL SAWFISH FACTS

  • Sawfishes are also known as Carpenter Sharks; their ‘saw’ is called a ROSTRUM
  • There are 7 species in oceans and seas worldwide, including the Mediterranean
  • All populations have declined drastically due to habitat loss, overfishing & pollution
  • The rostrum is used to feel, to dig, to slash & impale or stun its prey, and for defence
  • Sawfishes are nocturnal creatures and spend a lot of time face down on the sea floor
  • Like sharks, their skeleton is made of cartilage and not bone.
  • Some species can grow up to 7m long
  • They are generally unaggressive unless provoked but fight strongly when caught
  • Sawfishes are slow breeders, making population recovery more difficult
  • Babies are called ‘pups’. Their rostrum is flexible and sheathed until after birth
Sawfish seen from Underwater Tunnel - Atlantis, Nassau Bahamas (Fred Hsu)

Sawfish seen from below – Atlantis, Nassau, Bahamas (Fred Hsu)

Other sawfish have been seen recently in the Northern Bahamas, though not in Abaco waters. Last summer the Bahamas National Trust posted 2 great images of a Smalltooth Sawfish, saying “BNT was excited to receive these photographs of a Smalltooth Sawfish photographed in the proposed East Grand Bahama National Park – Bersus Cay Area. The sawfish was 12 to 13 feet long and was seen in water that was 2 -3 feet deep. Thank you to Buzz Cox, Island Manager at Deep water Cay for sending us these photos”. Sawfish, Grand Bahama Sawfish, Grand Bahama

CONSERVATION ISSUES

POPULATION DECLINE As noted above, Sawfish populations have declined to less than 10% of historical levels. The Smalltooth Sawfish – seen above – was once prolific in the Atlantic, Gulf of Mexico, Mediterranean, Black Sea and Indo-Pacific. Population numbers of this species are now estimated at less than 5% to perhaps as low as 1% of their historic levels.

THREAT TO SURVIVAL The threats to their existence are many: habitat loss, overfishing, accidental bycatch, rostrum souvenir hunters (good prices can be obtained), taking them for fins (as a delicacy) or oil from their liver (medicinal).

LEGAL PROTECTION Capturing a sawfish is illegal in certain countries, including the United States. The sale of smalltooth sawfish rostra is prohibited in the United States under the Endangered Species Act.  The import for sale of that of any sawfish species is also prohibited. The international trade of sawfish was banned by the CITES convention in June 2007.
For those that want to find out  a bit more detail about these issues, there’s plenty on interesting information in a scientific (but readable) paper from NOAA – click the link below

A very recent Bahamas smalltooth sawfish sighting on Bimini – Jan 2015Pristis_pectinata_(smalltooth_sawfish)_(Bimini,_western_Bahamas) Lee & Mary Ellen St John Jan 2015 Wiki

Smalltooth Sawfish (Pristis pectinata) Bimini, Bahamas – Lee & Mary Ellen St John Jan 2015

Time for some footage of these rare and wonderful creatures in the Bahamas. The first is from John Flanagan and was taken during a dive off Bimini in early 2014. He was so surprised by the sight that he nearly forgot to turn on his camera to take a short video… The second is a longer 5 min video taken off Andros by Grant Johnson of “wild footage of the critically endangered Smalltooth Sawfish (Pristis pectinata). The west side of Andros, Bahamas is one of the last places on Earth that still provides vast refuge for this incredible animal”.

Finally, you may be wondering how exactly the sawfish uses its rostrum to stun fish, as mentioned earlier. Watch this short video – see how quickly it moves, for such an apparently cumbersome and dozy creature…
Credits as shown above, with particular mention of Jacque Cannon for probably the first known sighting and anyway photo of an Abaco sawfish…; header pic in aquarium Diliff (Wiki)

CHERUBFISH (PYGMY ANGELFISH): BAHAMAS REEF FISH (23)


Cherubfish (Pygmy Angelfish) © Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba

 CHERUBFISH (PYGMY ANGELFISH): BAHAMAS REEF FISH (23)

Time for a bright little denizen of the not-so-deep. The Cherubfish Centropyge argi or pygmy angelfish is a very small (8cm) and distinctively coloured angelfish species. These fish are native to the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico, and flicker round the coral reefs happily feeding as they go (see the video below to see how busily they forage). Or maybe they are just having a good time…

Cherubfish (rare) ©Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba

The Cherubfish is unsurprisingly a popular aquarium species. Don’t rush straight out and buy some though: a typical warning says “like other angel fish, they are not completely 100% reef-safe. Results vary among individual fish and tank qualities (size, feeding, tankmates, etc.), so caution is recommended when adding this fish to a coral tank“. You can read the whys and the wherefores HERE – sadly I lack the vibrant interest in aquaria to go into it myself…

Cherubfish Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba

Looking beyond Melinda’s lovely images of the species, I have found that these creatures will often show more yellow at the nose end. Here’s an example of a more two-tone Cherubfish in case you come across one. Cherubfish Centropyge argi  (Brian Gratwicke)

I mentioned that Cherubfish flicker around the reefs instead of proceeding serenely and in an orderly fashion.  Have a look at this short video to see what active little fish they are.

RELATED POSTS

GRAY ANGELFISH 1

GRAY ANGELFISH 2

QUEEN ANGELFISH 1

QUEEN ANGELFISH 2

DAMSELFISH

ROCK BEAUTY

Credits: all images Melinda Riger of Grand Bahama Scuba except the last, Brian Glanville

BAHAMAS REEF FISH (22): BLACK GROUPER


Black Grouper ed ©Virginia Cooper @ G B Scuba 2

BAHAMAS REEF FISH (22): BLACK GROUPER

The Black Grouper is a large fish of the reefs found in the western Atlantic, particularly in the waters of Florida, Bahamas, Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico. It is a solitary species that mostly prefers the shallow waters around coral reefs.

Black Grouper ©Virginia Cooper @ G B Scuba

Formerly plentiful, these groupers (like other grouper species) have moved from an IUCN listing of ‘Least Concern’ to ‘Near-Threatened’. They have the twin disadvantages of being fished for sport and fished for food. As demand for grouper on the menu rises, so does its vulnerability. The species is described as a ‘slow breeder’, so a depleting population has less chance of sustaining numbers. 

Black Grouper ©Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba copy

An adult black grouper’s diet consists of small fish and squid. Juveniles feed primarily on crustaceans. However, certain tiny reef fish are important to the species as ‘cleaners’. You can read about their significance by clicking CLEANING STATIONS Here are examples of two black groupers receiving attention at the same cleaning station. Both also seem to be giving a ride to REMORAS.

Grouper at cleaning station ©Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba copy

Note that this fish has an embedded hook and is trailing a line – one that ‘got away’Grouper, Black, at cleaning station (+ hook) ©Melinda Riger @ GB Scuba copy

Despite the name, black groupers are not all black. They have many shades from dark to olive-coloured to pale. I believe the two photos below are of a grouper known as Arthur, a favourite with divers and definitely off the menu… Black Grouper  ©Melinda Riger @ G B ScubaBlack Grouper 2 ©Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba

The tiny bright blue fish in the photo above are Blue Chromis, a regular accompaniment on any snorkel or dive on a reef. I like the colourful little Fairy Basslet in the next photoBlack Grouper © Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba copy

Now that the NASSAU GROUPER has been awarded a closed season to help maintain numbers, it will be interesting to see if the winter fishing ban is extended to the Black Grouper…

Black Grouper (Arthur) ©Virginia Cooper @ G B Scuba

RELATED POSTS

TIGER GROUPER

NASSAU GROUPER

Credits: all photos Virginia Cooper and Melinda Riger of Grand Bahama Scuba