“ALIEN FROM THE DEEP”: ABACO’S SCALELESS BLACK DRAGONFISH


Scaleless Black Dragonfish - Header - BMMRO Abaco

“ALIEN FROM THE DEEP”: ABACO’S SCALELESS BLACK DRAGONFISH

Prepared to be terrified. Beneath the placid turquoise waters of Abaco lurks a ruthless and implacable killer of hideous mien, armed with vicious teeth  … Yes, as the music from Jaws begins to throb round your temples I bring you… THE SCALELESS BLACK DRAGONFISH, aka the Deep Sea Dragonfish or Viperfish (of which it is one type). Oh, and it’s about 8 inches/ 20 cms long.

The specimen shown here was found off Rocky Point, Abaco during a whale and dolphin research trip by the BMMRO. This is an area where typical low waters give way to the far deeper waters of an arm of the Great Bahama Canyon. It is an excellent place for whale watching, since one effect of the canyon is to provide plentiful food of the sort that cetaceans thrive on. The chances of you ever meeting a dragonfish are very slim indeed, since they live at depths up to 1500 metres. 

MAP to be added after posting, to avoid FB’s deranged random ‘feature photo’ selection The black star at the south end of Abaco  (in the yellowish box) is where Rocky Point and Sandy Point are to be found.

BAHAMAS SEA DEPTH MAP (NEAQ)

Here is an account by BMMRO intern Luanettee Colebrooke who was lucky enough to be on the research vessel when this strange, vicious-looking creature was found. I have edited the material for present purposes, but I recommend reading the whole article which can be found on the BMMRO website HERE. You will get an excellent overview of a day’s research under the hot sun, and plenty about the collection of whale poop (a topic I have previously dwelt on HERE (“Familiar Feces“).

Scaleless Black Dragonfish - BMMRO Abaco
CREATURE by Luanettee’ Colebrooke, BMMRO intern, summer 2014
The crossing of this organism was by complete accident. It was something that none of us would have imagined finding floating along the surface of the water. For Dr Claridge, Jurique (another BMMRO summer intern from Cat Island) and I as Bahamians, who knew this creature even existed in our majestic waters? Who knew our waters were even that deep to hide this specimen? (I think Dr Claridge knew)
Our morning began as per the usual routine for a boat day. There are several research sites that we venture to regularly: Rocky Point for the coastal Bottlenose Dolphins, and an area about 2 miles south of Rocky Point for our very elusive and wary Blainville’s beaked whales, and the deep blue (a massive drop into waters that are 1500 metres deep) to listen for Sperm Whales.It is not that I do not believe that we have deep waters. The Tongue of the Ocean runs through the northern part of our country. My thought comes more from, ‘our waters are that deep’? To a point where light does not hit the bottom and organisms have to rely mainly on bioluminescence? It is a similar thought process I had when I saw a sperm whale for the first time. They are not small creatures of the sea. It is both an awe and scary thought that there are creatures out there we, as Bahamians, do not know exist in our waters.
Scaleless Black Dragonfish - BMMRO AbacoScaleless Black Dragonfish - BMMRO Abaco
“Our final activity of the day was tracking a sperm whale acoustically using a hydrophone…” There follows a graphic account of the technicalities of sperm whale poop collection and co-intern Jack’s “Faecal Dispersion Technique”. Then this: Jack stood up, Pringle in mouth and pointed to a black leather looking strap off of the port bow. “What is it?” Moving closer to the port, Jurique and I had our own thoughts. “It looks like a boxing glove strap,” he suggested. “More like an expensive underwater watch,” I mentioned. Dr. Claridge said, “It looks like a squid tentacle.” Jack added in, “More like the strap from a fin to me.” Our heads were turning with no closer answer. Taking it upon himself as the official sample collector, Jack popped back into the water to collect it. There were no sample pots large enough for it, so he had to use a large Ziplock bag to pick it up.
Scaleless Black Dragonfish - BMMRO AbacoLetting out a surprised chorus when he got back on the boat, we wondered what the heck it was. It had a mouth and a weird white patch that at first, I thought was its eye. The ventral abdominal section seemed swollen as if it had expanded from the decreasing pressure rising from the sea. As we looked at it and took photos, we determined several characteristics of the deceased specimen without having to autopsy it. The first was that it had three rows of needle like teeth that turned inward. There was what we assumed to be an angler under its ‘chin’ that had a murky transparent color. Another deduction we came to was the white dots that ran along the body all the way to its tail could be bioluminescent in nature like an angler. The pectoral fins were small and thin like a tooth pick. The final detail we took note of was the silver patch underneath its eyes.It was a type of angler fish we hypothesized. And it somehow ended up on the surface. There were several questions we voiced to each other: if it is a deep angler fish, how did it end up here? Where did it come from? Was it stunned by the sperm whale’s echolocation and pulled upwards as it surfaced? Later that night as we went through our faecal samples, photo IDs and data entry, the search began for what exactly this organism was. Jack did some image trickery and overlapped the photos with an alien from Alien. Scaleless Black Dragonfish c/w Alien - BMMRO AbacoI personally thought it looked more like Venom from Spiderman. As he did that, I took it upon myself to begin the search by looking up the most prominent feature: the angler on the anterior ventral side of the fish. By using this characteristic, I was able to narrow the organism down to a Scaleless Black Dragonfish by using several online scientific key identification guides and forums. The species we are still unsure about. The mystery continues…Scaleless Black Dragonfish - BMMRO Abaco
This creature is one of a number of dragonfish species found worldwide. This one might to be one of the genus Melanostomias (says he, hesitantly…). Like many deep sea creatures, its customary depths are pitch black, or nearly so; and so it is equipped with its own light source (bioluminescence), including the item dangling down from its lower jaw, called a barbel. The fish’s glow and no doubt the gleam of the barbel swaying around in the water act as a lure to attract prey that swim up to investigate and then.. snap! Those teeth start to do their work.
Scaleless black dragonfish (Melanostomias biseriatus) (imagesource.com)
I’ll end with an amazing short (2:28) video posted in early 2014 by ‘Indoona’. The accompanying description is the most authoritative account of the species and its little ways that I have  come across, complete with useful links. I include it before the video, noting only that the creature featured is a Pacific one from off the coast of California, and therefore not identical to the Abaco one.
                                                                       scaleless-black-dragonfish-mini-jpg          scaleless-black-dragonfish-mini-jpg          scaleless-black-dragonfish-mini-jpg

THE DEEP SEA DRAGONFISH OR VIPER FISH is an awesome looking creature from the middle depths of the ocean (this one comes from 600 metres or about 1000 feet deep). Also called the scaleless dragonfish, they are ferocious predators, with extremely large teeth compared to their body size. And they have one of nature’s most amazing tricks to give them the edge over their prey (more below).

There are several different species of dragonfish (one estimate is 67 species – all from the fish family known as Family Stomidae) and they are quite difficult to tell apart but this one is from the pacific depths of California and is likely Tactostoma macropus, the longfin dragonfish. Idiacanthus antrostomus is an Atlantic species that looks very similar – at least I think that’s the case correct me if I’m wrong.

They hunt with a bioluminescent barbel or lure. It is not glowing here but under the different lighting regimes I used – some of the darker images – you can see how much the lure stands out.

Sadly fish like this do not survive long on the surface, mainly because of temperature differences and mechanical damage in the net rather than pressure problems I think. It was caught in a cod-end trawl and filmed in a special tank (a kreisal aquarium). But is great to be able to share another wonder of the oceans on YouTube.

And their amazing trick? Unlike most other deep sea creatures which are sensitive to blue light – the dragonfish also produces a red light beam (see the organ to the rear of the eye) – it is also very sensitive to red light. Although red light does not travel very far underwater it allows them to see when other animals cannot and to sneak up on their prey – especially shrimps that glow in the red light. For more detail see: http://www.science-frontiers.com/sf10… and the work of Ron Douglas and Julian Partridge,http://blog.wellcomecollection.org/ta… (these images were filmed with the help of Julian and Ron). Oh and this dragon is not big – about 20 cm or just under a foot!

Credits: Luanettee Colebrooke, ‘Jack’ & BMMRO (to whom thanks as ever), imagesource.com, Indoona , and 2 sites I came across during my investigations – seasky.org & strangesounds.org

If you can’t get enough of dragonfish, check out this Tumblr site for dozens of images including photos, drawings, cartoons, and enough strange dragonfish-based characters to weird you out utterly… HERE

SHELL HOMES: HERMIT CRABS IN THE BAHAMAS


Hermit Crab ©Melinda Riger @ Grand Bahama Scuba

SHELL HOMES: HERMIT CRABS IN THE BAHAMAS

I’m feeling distinctly crabby right now. In a skilled move that would impress the Bahamas utility providers, the UK’s very own much-vaunted BT selected us for the privilege of being unplugged from the grid last week. From the time of reporting the problem, it has taken them 6 days to plug us back in. It’s a little reminder of the far more persistent Abaco experience! No landline, no wifi, no email for almost a week. To begin with, it was a light relief. After nearly a week, not funny anymore. Here are some nice crabs in conchs to celebrate getting back online while reflecting my crabby mood.Hermit Crab ©Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba Hermit Crab ©Melinda Riger @ GB Scuba copy Hermit Crab ©Melinda Riger @ GB ScubaFind out more about Hermit Crabs – in particular crab racing at Delphi and the intricate rules – here: WACKY RACES AT DELPHIHemit Crab, Delphi (Clare Latimer)

Hermit Crab in a conch ©Melinda Riger @ GB Scuba

Photo credits: all undersea shots – Melinda; potential crab race contestant – Clare

RANDY: LOOKING FOR MANATEE LOVE IN ABACO?


Randy the Manatee, Abaco (BMMRO)

RANDY: LOOKING FOR MANATEE LOVE IN ABACO?

Strangely, the opportunistic title of this post may not be as contrived or daft as it looks. The facts are these.

THE FEMALE In 2012 GEORGIE, a young female manatee, left her mum in the Berry Islands and braved the crossing to Abaco. She reached the Marls; went right round top and down the east side; and eventually settled in the Cherokee / Casuarina area. She managed to hole up there safely during hurricane Sandy but became sick and was removed to Atlantis for medical treatment and rehab, before being released back to the Berry Is. This spring she set of again for Abaco and seems to have made straight for Cherokee, where she has now been resident for several months. 

Georgie the Manatee as a calf in 2012, checking out the BMMRO boatGeorgie the Manatee Calf checks out the BMMRO Boat

THE MALE Randy also originates from the Berry Is, where he was born. He too set off on an expedition to Abaco in the spring, presumably following Georgie. He was seen at Gorda Cay in mid-August and then fetched up at Sandy Point. After spending the summer there, he too took a trip right round the top of Abaco and down the east side. By early September he had got as far as Little Harbour. However, the big question is whether he can, in some way, tell that a lady manatee is a shortish swim away. And if so, will he make the short trip down the coast? And might that lead to baby manatees on Abaco…? Here are some of the photos of Randy’s sightings along the way

RANDY AT SANDY POINT 

Sirenians and cetaceans are generally recognised from particular patterns to flukes or fins. The second image shows the notch in Randy’s tail that confirms IDRandy the West Indian Manatee, Sandy Point, Abaco, BahamasRandy the West Indian Manatee (tail), Sandy Point, Abaco, Bahamas

RANDY IN THE LITTLE HARBOUR AREA

Randy’s notched tail is clearly visible in the first pictureRandy the Manatee, Little Harbour, Abaco (BMMRO)Randy the Manatee, Little Harbour, Abaco (BMMRO)

This could be everyone’s favourite picture – almost like a ‘Randy Selfie’ with a GoPro…Randy the Manatee, Little Harbour, Abaco (BMMRO)

RANDY’S JOURNEY & THE DISTANCE BETWEEN HIM AND LOVE…

Excuse me while I anthropomorphise excessively here. Randy may only be appearing to follow Georgie; the route and the area may happen to suit manatees who may be a short distance apart yet completely ignorant of the presence of the other. Or else… Anyway, more news as (if) it breaks. Here are a couple of maps, of the sort that the red-top press might put together to go with the headline “Lovelorn Randy – A Man Manatee Seeks His Sirenian Siren”. Pictures, page 8, 9, 10 and in sports section.

Randy's the Manatee's trip Berry Is. to Abaco copy Page_1 copy 3

STOP PRESS SEPT 21

Oh dear. The course of love is rarely straightforward. Randy has retraced his route and returned to Castaway Cay. Meanwhile Georgie remains happily at Cherokee.

RELATED POSTS

GEORGIE at Cherokee, 2012

GEORGIE” the manatee movie (on location, Cherokee)

GEORGIE taken to Atlantis for medical treatment

GEORGIE Is she related to an elephant?

Credits: BMMRO + Heather Albury, Andrew Lowe & Richard Appaldo for pictures & reports, Loggerhead Productions, Abaco Scientist 

mantsw~1

‘SPOTTED IN ABACO WATERS': PANTROPICAL SPOTTED DOLPHINS


 Spotted Dolphins Abaco Bahamas (BMMRO)

‘SPOTTED IN ABACO WATERS': PANTROPICAL SPOTTED DOLPHINS

The BMMRO has posted several reports of dolphin and whale activity around the coast of Abaco during August, with some outstanding photos to accompany them. I had been going to post rather generally about this until a couple of days ago, when an unusual dolphin species for the region was… er… spotted and some memorable images taken.

Spotted Dolphins Abaco Bahamas (BMMRO)

These are PANTROPICAL SPOTTED DOLPHINS Stenella attenuata, whose range encircles the globe but at a lower latitude than the far more frequently encountered resident  ATLANTIC SPOTTED DOLPHINS Stenella frontalis. Here are comparative range maps. The rarity of the Pantropical species in the Bahamas is indicated in the BMMRO report of a stranding in 2011 – see below.

ATLANTIC SPOTTED DOLPHIN                                                                    PANTROPICAL SPOTTED DOLPHIN

Verbreitungsgebiet des Zügeldelfins Stenella frontalis.PNG                                                Cetacea range map Pantropical Spotted Dolphin.PNG

Spotted Dolphin Abaco, Bahamas (BMMRO) copy 2

Spotted Dolphins Abaco  Bahamas (BMMRO)Spotted Dolphins  Abaco Bahamas (BMMRO) copy

The pantropical image below is from the BBC archive and not taken in the Bahamas. I’ve included it for illustrative purposes due to the close-up underwater view of the dolphin.Pantropical spotted dolphin (BBC)

This wonderful underwater video of pantropicals is by Jake Levenson, shot from a polecam. Although it is 6 minutes long, I highly recommend it for (a) the stunning views of these creatures at very close quarters (b) the excellent audio quality – you can clearly hear the dolphins communicating with ‘sonar’ clicks and squeaks, and (c) the strange sense of peace you may feel when you have watched it. 

PANTROPICAL SPOTTED DOLPHIN STRANDING 2011

In May 2011 a dead dolphin was found on the sandbank at Casaurina Point, Abaco. BMMRO’s scientists established that it was a sub-adult male pantropical spotted dolphin with a stomach full of squid beaks, a known prey for the species. A full necropsy was conducted on the animal and samples were taken for scientific testing to determine the cause of death. At the time the BMMRO reported the find in their quarterly Newsletter:

Pantropical spotted dolphins are commonly found in off-shore waters, although they can be found close to Abaco’s coastline due to the close proximity of deep waters. They can occur in large group sizes of up to 100 animals. Adult males and females reach up to 2.6 m (8.5 ft) and 2.4m (7.9 ft) in length, respectively. Since our efforts began in 1991, BMMRO has records of only 28 sightings of pantropical spotted dolphins in The Bahamas (my rubric), although their cousin species, Atlantic spotted dolphin, is a common resident. This is the first recorded stranding of this species in The Bahamas.”

Credits: BMMRO / Diane Claridge; BBC; Jake Leveneson (video); Wiki (range maps)

‘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.

map-nurse-shark-160-20135-cb1321035858

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

‘ELEGANTLY WEIRD’ – SPOTTED DRUMFISH JUVENILES: BAHAMAS REEF FISH 20


‘ELEGANTLY WEIRD’ – SPOTTED DRUMFISH JUVENILES: BAHAMAS REEF FISH 20

I’ve posted before about the rather extraordinary SPOTTED DRUMFISH, one of those reef fish which in juvenile form is very different from the adult. This species was first up in the Bahamas Reef Fish series – click above link. Here are a few recent images, courtesy of Melinda Riger. The first three show the juvenile form (note the piscine photobomb in the first one). The last shows a group of adults hanging out on the reef with (I think) some soldierfish. You can see how the juvenile drumfish becomes the adult, but those little stripy bullet-heads with their two long elegantly trailing appendages differ considerably from the rather solid-looking spotty / stripy adults with their dramatic punko-rockabilly quiffs.

Drumfish (juv) 3 ©Melinda Riger @ Grand Bahama Scuba Drumfish (juv) 4 ©Melinda Riger @ Grand Bahama ScubaDrumfish (juv) 2 ©Melinda Riger @ Grand Bahama Scuba Drumfish ©Melinda Riger @ Grand Bahama Scuba

CETACEAN SENSATION: SPERM WHALES & DOLPHINS ON ABACO


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CETACEAN SENSATION: SPERM WHALES & DOLPHINS ON ABACO

July has been ‘Whale Camp’ month for the BMMRO, when a small group of lucky youngsters get to spend time out at sea searching for whales and dolphins, and learning the intricacies of data recording and research. One target was the sperm whale, a species that may be found off the coasts of South Abaco. This is a favoured place because the deep trench of the Great Bahama Canyon throws up the food these whales need (see map below).

After some time spent searching, the BMMRO reported  “the sperm whales are back! We found a single animal yesterday, and finally in the evening found the rest of the group, 10+ animals including 3 mother-calf pairs, and dolphins at Rocky Point!” Here are some of the photos from the trip.

Sperm Whale Tailing, Abaco, Bahamas (BMMRO) Sperm Whale, Abaco, Bahamas (BMMRO) Sperm Whale, Abaco, Bahamas (BMMRO)

This map of the northern Bahamas shows the V-shaped tails of the Great Bahama Canyon, and explains why the east coast and (in particular) the shallower south-west coast between Hole-in-the-Wall and Rocky Point is so attractive to feeding whale species.

Great Bahama Canyon

The dolphins were quite prolific in July, in particular bottlenose and spotted dolphins. These photos were mostly taken while the search for sperm whales was going on: the BMMRO posted “lots of dolphins up at Gorda Cay yesterday… still not hearing any sperm whales in the area, has been a couple of weeks without sign of them so they should be showing up again soon…” As they obligingly did!

Bottlenose Dolphin, Abaco, Bahamas (BMMRO)Bottlenose Dolphins, Abaco, Bahamas (BMMRO) Bottlenose Dolphin, Abaco, Bahamas (BMMRO)Spotted Dolphins, Abaco, Bahamas (BMMRO)

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Today is the first day of the crawfish season and Facebook Abaco has been crawling with crawfish for a couple of days in feverish anticipation. So I decided to stick with whales and dolphins instead because there are enough crawfish images out there to keep anyone happy. However I did particularly like this offering today from Albury’s Ferry Services, always a byword for tastefulness and decorum. I’ve borrowed their picture (they borrow mine sometimes) – I wondered if it need a little more exposure, then decided there was probably quite enough already….

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Photo credits: all cetaceans, BMMRO; Crawfish Ladies, Albury’s Ferries; ‘Keep Calm’, Mariah Sawyer

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