LAURA JESSON “Do you know, I believe we should all behave quite differently if we lived in a warm, sunny climate all the time. We shouldn’t be so withdrawn and shy and difficult…” (Brief Encounter 1945)
The quote is there both because it is particularly apposite for any withdrawn etc Brit with a toehold in Abaco, and because it explains or excuses the somewhat clumsy title pun… March has been dominated by (a) a trip to Abaco and (b) publication of “The Birds of Abaco”. Time for some cheerful finny fotos to end the month with, courtesy of diving belle Melinda Riger of Grand Bahama Scuba and her top-class camera work.
SPOTTED & SMOOTH TRUNKFISH: BAHAMAS REEF FISH (16)
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…
“Coming at you…” Here is the extraordinary pouting triangular creature you will seePhoto Credits: Melinda Riger @ Grand Bahama Scuba; additional props to Wiki
JUVENILE FRENCH ANGELFISH – BLACK WITH YELLOW BANDS
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.
ADULT FRENCH ANGELFISH
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.
Angelfish are monogamous, and defend their territory robustly. They swim around the reef during the day but at night they shelter in so-called ‘hiding spots’, which they return to each evening.
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.
Surprisingly, as juveniles, Blue Tang are bright yellow.
As they grow, they become blue, with the tail being the last part to lose the yellow.
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.
BLUE TANG: THE MOVIE [RE-RELEASE]
“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
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…
A COWFISH** PERFECTS THE POUT
A GREEN MORAY EEL SMILES STRAIGHT TO CAMERA
THE QUEEN ANGELFISH ‘LOVES’ THE LENS
A GROUPER DOES THE ‘OPEN-MOUTH’ GAPE
THIS SCHOOLMASTER SNAPPER MAY NOT HAVE GOT QUITE WHAT IT TAKES
NICE EYES, BUT THE PETITE SAND-DIVER NEEDS TO BE A LITTLE MORE OUTGOING
AS DOES THE SOUTHERN STINGRAY
HOWEVER THE PEACOCK FLOUNDER IS ROCKING THE MAKE-UP BOX
THE OCTOPUS IS MOODY & WON’T GET OUT OF BED FOR LESS THAN 20 MOLLUSCS
AND REGRETTABLY THE POOR CONCH HAS A BAD STAGE FRIGHT
For more octopus information and a discussion of the correct plural (choice of 3)CLICKHERE
For a post about underwater species camouflageCLICKHERE
**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
BAHAMAS REEF FISH (14): HAMLETS (NOT GLOOMY DANES)
“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.
SHY (OR GOLDEN) HAMLET
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.
This first image is remarkable for its clarity and composition. What, I wonder, is the fish saying to Melinda as she presses the camera button? All caption suggestions welcome…
Angelfish are quite happy to swim round either way up
The juvenile of the species, nosing around the coral for tasty morsels, is equally colourful
TIGER GROUPER Mycteroperca tigris – BAHAMAS REEF FISH (12)
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)
All photos: Melinda Riger @ Grand Bahama Scuba
UPDATE I’ve found a video of a tiger grouper off Nassau sizing up the photographer, before swimming away
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.
The moray eel has strong clamping jaws, and its sharp teeth point backwards
This has two effects. A finger will be held as if by a fish-hook barb; and the eel will not release the grip of its powerful jaws without them being prised apart.
Moray eels have a strong sense of smell, and curious nostrils
Finally, here are two images of a fine spotted moray eel known as ‘Earl’, and a video of a different one
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.
BLUE PARROTFISH Scarus coeruleus
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).
CREOLE WRASSE Clepticus parrae
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.
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…
GRAY ANGELFISH (Pomacanthus arcuatus) BAHAMAS REEF FISH (3)
I recently posted about the highly colouredQUEEN ANGELFISH, a striking coral reef resident glowing with fluorescent blues and yellows. It’s the Angelfish that went into showbiz and succeeded. Its close cousin the Gray Angelfish is a more sedate creature, with the appearance of a professional – law, possibly, or medicine. That thin blue fin-edging suggests a flamboyant streak. Slightly mean mouth? Lawyer.**
This species is found in the warm waters of Florida, and south through the Bahamas and Caribbean as far as Brazil. They are found at depths from 2 m. down to 30 m. You are most likely to encounter one on a coral reef feeding on sponges, its main diet. The fish below with the bluer face is a teenager, in transition between juvenile and adult.
QUEEN ANGELFISH (Holacanthus ciliaris) - BAHAMAS REEF FISH (2)
The Queen Angel is one of several reef fish species where the difference in colouring between juveniles and adults is marked. They are commonly found in the waters of Florida and the Bahamas, with a range extending to the Gulf of Mexico. Adults can grow to 3.5 lbs (to mix metric with avoirdupois) and they can live up to 15 years. Like all Angelfish, they rely on their pectoral fins for propulsion as they forage on the reefs for their mixed diet of sponges, coral, plankton, algae, and even jellyfish. As the photo below shows, they have no problem swimming upside down…
QUEEN ANGELFISH (JUVENILE)
Evidence suggests that adult Queen Angels may form ‘monogamous’ pairings. Brief research in the factosphere suggests that the proposition is somewhat tenuous. Maybe pairs just like hanging out - possibly to gain some territorial advantage – and anthropomorphising that into lifelong partnership terms may be overstating the relationship… Whether wed for life or not, the actual mating process is remarkably efficient. The pair snuggle up close, simultaneously releasing large quantities of sperm and tens of thousands of eggs. The fertilised eggs hatch within a day. Respect!