‘TREAT WITH PATIENCE…’ – NURSE SHARKS IN THE BAHAMAS


Nurse Shark ©Melinda Riger @ GB Scuba

‘TREAT WITH PATIENCE…’ – NURSE SHARKS IN THE BAHAMAS

The scientific name for the nurse shark sounds like something Bilbo Baggins might have said to summon elves to his rescue: Ginglymostoma cirratum. Actually the name is a mix of Greek and Latin and means “curled, hinged mouth” to describe this shark’s somewhat puckered appearance. The origin of the name “nurse shark” is unclear. It may come from the sucking sound they make when hunting for prey in the sand, which vaguely resembles that of a nursing baby. Or it may derive from an archaic word, nusse, meaning cat shark. The most likely theory though is that the name comes from the Old English word for sea-floor shark: hurse.

Shark ©Melinda Riger @ GB Scuba

Nurse sharks are slow-moving bottom-dwellers and are, for the most part, harmless to humans. However, they can be huge—up to 14 feet (4.3 meters)—and have very strong jaws filled with thousands of tiny, serrated teeth, and will bite defensively if stepped on or bothered by divers who assume they’re docile. [There are recorded instances of injuries caused to divers who have tried to pull nurse sharks by the tail. And serve them right, I say. Treat them with patience - and respect!] 

Nurse_shark_with_remoras Duncan Wright (Sabine's Sunbird)

Notice that the nurse shark in the above photo, and in the header image, is being attended by REMORAS. Click the link to find out more about the strange relationship these ‘weird suckers’ have with larger marine creatures.

Nurse Shark ©Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba

They use their strong jaws to crush and eat shellfish and even coral, but prefer to dine on fish, shrimp, and squid. [And also stingrays, apparently. They have been observed resting on the bottom with their bodies supported on their fins, possibly providing a false shelter for crustaceans which they then ambush and eat.] They are gray-brown and have distinctive tail fins that can be up to one-fourth their total length. Unlike most other sharks, nurses are smooth to the touch. 

Nurse Shark ©Melinda Riger @ Grand Bahama Scuba

Nurse sharks are found in the warm, shallow waters of the western Atlantic and eastern Pacific oceans. They are abundant throughout their range and have no special conservation status, although the closeness of their habit to human activities is putting pressure on the species.

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Nurse sharks are nocturnal and will often rest on the sea floor during the day in groups of up to 40 sharks, sometimes piled on top of each other.

Shark, Nurse (young) ©Melinda Riger @ GB Scuba

FAST FACTS

  • Type: Fish 
  • Diet:  Carnivore
  • Size: 7.5 to 9.75 ft (2.2 to 3 m)
  • Weight: 200 to 330 lbs (90 to 150 kg)
  • Size relative to a 6-ft (2-m) man:
Illustration: Shark compared with adult manNurse Shark ©Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba copy

Credits: All photos Melinda Riger, Grand Bahama Scuba; range map and text mostly  NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC  filled out with other pickings

RED REEF RESIDENTS: A RUFOUS ROUND-UP IN THE BAHAMAS


Squirrelfish (Elvis) ©Melinda Riger @ Grand Bahama Scuba copy

Elvis the Squirrelfish

RED REEF RESIDENTS: A RUFOUS ROUND-UP IN THE BAHAMAS

It’s sunny and very hot. Time to take another dive with Melinda to see what is going on under water around the reefs. Here are some residents, a somewhat loose description since some of the denizens featured are not especially active. But they are alive, so they qualify by my wide rules. And please may we not get into a discussion about where precisely red and orange overlap. It’s a grey area. And it’s too hot to argue about it… Let’s start with three types of GROUPER that may be spotted in the northern Bahamas. In fact, they are always spotted. One of my favourite pictures is the Graysby – it’s such a great expression, and he really rocks the spots!

GRAYSBY
Graysby © Melinda Riger @ Grand Bahama Scuba copy

TIGER GROUPER AT A CLEANING STATION with Peterson Cleaning Shrimps & a GobyGrouper, Tiger with cleaning shrimps and goby ©Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba copyRED HINDRed Hind Grouper Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba copy

BLACKBAR SOLDIERFISHBlackbar Soldierfish ©Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba copy

HOGFISHHogfish ©Melinda Riger @ GB Scuba copy 2

SQUIRRELFISHSquirrelfish 2 copy

But red fish are not the only red reef residents. Here are some  that won’t swim away from you as you swim towards them to admire them…

A FEATHER DUSTER ON A SPONGEFeather Duster in a Sponge ©Melinda Riger @ Grand Bahama Scuba copy

RED SPONGERed Sponge ©Melinda Riger @ GB Scuba copyUNDERWATER GARDEN GROWING IN A RED CONTAINERCoral ©Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba 2 copy

ANOTHER VARIED REEF GARDENReef Garden ©Melinda Riger@ G B Scuba copy

CORALS WITH (I have just noticed) A LURKING LIONFISH Coral ©Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba 1 copy

CHRISTMAS TREE WORMS (see more of these amazing creatures HERE)Christmas Tree Worms ©Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba copy

All photos: Melinda Riger @ Grand Bahama Scuba

QUEEN ANGELFISH: COLOURFUL CORAL ROYALTY: BAHAMAS REEF FISH (13)


Holacanthus ciliaris (Wiki)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…Queen Angelfish © Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba

Angelfish are quite happy  to swim round either way upQueen Angelfish (Juv) ©Melinda Riger @ GB ScubaQueen Angelfish (juv) ©Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba

The juvenile of the species, nosing around the coral for tasty morsels,  is equally colourfulQueen Angelfish (juv) Melinda Riger @ G B ScubaQueen Angelfish Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba

UNDERWATER BAHAMAS: REEF GARDENS (3)


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UNDERWATER BAHAMAS: REEF GARDENS (3)

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 

Not in fact pretty frilly-fringed plants, but worms among the coral. The tiny electric blue fish are Blue Chromis, ubiquitous around the reefs.Feather Duster © Melinda Riger @ Grand Bahama Scuba

Here the feather dusters have attached themselves to a sea fan, a ‘gorgonian’ coralFeather Dusters & Sea Fan © Melinda Riger @ Grand Bahama Scuba

Moored on part of an old wreckFeatherdusters ©Melida Riger @ G B  Scub

A different form of duster with remarkable feathered tentaclesFeather Duster ©Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba

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’.

Basket Star (day) ©Melinda Riger @ GB Scuba Basket Star (night) ©Melinda Riger @ GB Scuba

3. CORKY SEA FINGER Another form of gorgonian coral, sometimes known as dead man’s fingers… **

Corky Sea Finger (Polyps extended) ©Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba

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).

Golden Zoanthids on green rope sponge ©Melinda Riger @ G B ScubaI realise that calling this occasional series ‘Reef Gardens’ is a bit of a misnomer. They are in fact Reef Zoos. The previous posts are as follows:

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

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JUST WHEN YOU THOUGHT IT WAS SAFE… DER DE DER DE…


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…TO GO BACK IN THE WATER… DER DE DER DE…

Shark! ©Melinda Riger @ GB Scuba

…along came some friendly sharks to swim with… and to photographShark May 2 ©Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba538989_462771037077624_1266061052_n

There’s no escaping… the fact that there are sharks in the BahamasShark Swirl ©Melinda Riger @ GB ScubaShark ©Melinda Riger @ GB Scuba

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.562948_451267911561270_623113740_n555792_536784029676324_391849202_n

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…427529_456773757677352_433374920_n

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.392552_465306553490739_673110738_n

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.

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LEAVE SHARKS ALONE AND THEY’LL LEAVE YOU ALONE306092_500604003294327_1470960886_n

All fantastic images by Melinda Riger of Grand Bahama Scuba who swims with sharks all the time!

UNDERWATER BAHAMAS: REEF GARDENS (2) – CORALS


Purple Seafan Coral ©Melinda Riger @GBS

UNDERWATER REEF GARDENS IN THE BAHAMAS (2): CORALS

This is part 2 of a series that started out HERE with a selection of anemones, basket stars and Christmas tree worms. The images below show a wide variety of corals. In among them are also sponges and anemones. These photos are evidence of a healthy reef environment in the waters of the northern Bahamas. Abaco’s coral reef is the third largest barrier reef in the world (yes, I hear you – the Great Barrier… And the second is???), providing wonderful and accessible diving / snorkelling opportunities. However, monitoring shows that the incidence of coral bleaching and disease is increasing in the Bahamas, as elsewhere in the world.  It’s a sobering thought that your grandchildren may never swim in an environment with any of the living corals shown below…

Corals ©Melinda Riger @ G B ScubaCoral ©Melida Riger @ G B  ScubaCoral ©Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba 1Coral ©Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba 2Coral ©Melinda Riger @GBSImage Credits: ©Melinda Riger @ Grand Bahama Scuba

SOUTHERN STINGRAYS: KEEPING AN EYE ON YOU


Stingray Eye ©Melinda Riger @GBS

SOUTHERN STINGRAYS: KEEPING AN EYE ON YOU

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

Southern Stingray ©Melinda Riger @ GB Scuba

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. Southern Stingray

Luckily they are likely to see you long before you notice them, and to swim away from your approachSouthern Stingray ©Melinda Riga @ GB Scuba

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. 

A diver admiring a ray while keeping a respectful distanceSouthern Stingray 2

If you watch out for them… they’ll keep an eye out for youSouthern Stingray copy

Credits: Melinda Riger of Grand Bahama Scuba; Wiki for thumbs /  material; selected online trawlings

My incompetent first ever underwater video at Fowl Cay Marine Preserve, Abaco. I hadn’t snorkelled for X decades, and frankly had some breathing-and-swimming-simultaneously issues, let alone trying to hold a tiny camera steady. Still, here it is (with a proper diver’s video below)
                                            Dasyatis americana .jpg

Music credit on my vid to the fairly litigious Joe Satriani – see JS v Coldplay ‘If I could Fly’ / ‘Viva La Vida’ plagiarism case (settled, to no one’s great advantage). Hey, Joe, what you doin’ with that writ in your hand? For anyone the slightest bit interested in the alleged similarities, here is a mash-up reward for reading about stingrays. Or penalty.