ABACO’S RAREST VISITOR: MEET ALBERT ROSS… THE ALBATROSS


ABACO’S RAREST VISITOR: MEET ALBERT ROSS… THE ALBATROSS

I can find no record for the sighting of an albatross in the waters around Abaco. Nor for anywhere else in the Bahamas for that matter. It must have come as some surprise to the BMMRO team out at sea on their research vessel off Sandy Point to see a large and unusual seabird bobbing tranquilly on the water. A black-browed albatross Thalassarche melanophrys. Diane Claridge managed to get a great shot of it and I’m really pleased to be able to use it here.

Black-browed Albatross, Abaco © DC BMMROBlack-browed albatross off Sandy Point, Abaco, Bahamas. Photographed by Diane Claridge.

© Bahamas Marine Mammal Research Organisation 2013

This bird was way out of the normal range for the species. They are birds of the southern oceans, breeding in colonies on such islands as the Falklands, South Georgia and Macquarie Island. As far as I can make out, they have no business to be north of the equator at all.

Black-browed Albatross Range Map BirdLife Int

SIGHTING A BLACK-BROWED ALBATROSS: A REPORT

During a three-hour survey for whales off Sandy Point, Abaco on Sunday, July 21st scientists from the Bahamas Marine Mammal Research Organisation had an exceptional sighting. Dr Diane Claridge, the group’s Executive Director recalls details of the sighting:

“We were drifting waiting for a beaked whale to resurface when our intern Tristan Albury pointed towards a white object floating in the distance and asked what it was. We decided that it was a piece of trash, unfortunately a common sighting, and continued to focus our search for the whale. A half hour later, we still had not re-sighted the whale and believed that it may have gone down on one of its one-hour long feeding dives. So with time to kill and the “trash” still in sight, we had another look with binoculars. We realised immediately that it was a very large bird and slowly motored towards it for a closer look. I began taking photographs of it because we already knew it was unusual and we wanted to be sure to identify the species. As we got closer, Roxy Corbett, a visiting scientist and avid birder exclaimed that it was an albatross! I couldn’t believe it. We were able to approach within 100 feet at which point it swam towards us providing an opportunity for us to document its body condition; it appeared healthy with no obvious signs of distress.

Later when back ashore, we compared our photographs with those available online and learned that it was a juvenile Black-browed albatross, an endangered bird with a 7-foot wing span known from subtropical to polar regions of the southern hemisphere! As far as I know this species has never been recorded previously in the tropical North Atlantic. I have seen albatross during whale surveys in Alaska but never dreamed that I’d ever see one in The Bahamas. Although we are thrilled by the rarity of this sighting, the outcome for a bird so far out of its normal range is not usually good. However, there are two Black-browed albatross that strayed into the North Atlantic previously that have taken up long-term residence in Scotland and the Faroe Islands so who knows where this one may end up. Sunday afternoon was indeed exceptional: in addition to this remarkable sighting, we also saw 4 different species of whales and dolphins, all within 5 miles of Sandy Point.”

These are huge strong birds, with a massive wingspan. I wondered what they might sound like – it’s like this… (Credit: Xeno-Canto & recordist Sofia Wasylyk)


For more information on the normal range and status of the Black-browed albatross, the BMMRO recommended links are:

Link to Birdlife International’s site:
http://www.birdlife.org/datazone/speciesfactsheet.php?id=3959

Link to IUCN’s species red list:
http://www.iucnredlist.org/details/106003959/0

FORAYS WITH MORAYS: EEL APPEAL IN THE BAHAMAS


Wasabi the Eel 2

FORAYS WITH MORAYS: EEL APPEAL IN THE BAHAMAS

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. Moray Eel

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.Moray Eel ©Melinda Riger @GBS

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. Yellow Moray Eel©Melinda Riger @GBS copy

The moray eel has strong clamping jaws, and its sharp teeth point backwardsMoray Eel mouth (interior)Green Moray Eel ©Melinda Riger @GBS

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.Wasabi the Moray Eel

Moray eels have a strong sense of smell, and curious nostrilsMoray Eel (Rico) ©Melinda Riger @GBSMoray Eel copy

Finally, here are two images of a fine spotted moray eel known as ‘Earl’, and a video of a different one%22Earl the Eel%22Spotted Moray Eel ©Melinda Riger @ GBS

Credits: All images ©Melinda Riger @ Grand Bahama Scuba

 

A BAHAMAS CRAB FEAST ON ABACO & BEYOND


Land Crab 2

A BAHAMAS CRAB FEAST ON ABACO & BEYOND

The photos below show a sample of the types of crab that may be found in and around the island of Abaco, both in the sea and on land. The wonderful underwater images were taken in adjacent waters by Melina Riger of Grand Bahama Scuba. The rest were taken by landlubbers at Rolling Harbour on the Delphi beach and rather closer to the building than one might expect. The last crab (and the header image) was a crab hooshed out of the coppice by Ricky Johnson to demonstrate its fighting prowess. I have put links to 2 posts featuring this fine specimen (including a video) at the end.

ARROW CRABArrow Crab ©Melinda Riger @ GB Scuba copy

Arrow Crab ©Melinda Riger @ GB Scuba

HERMIT CRABHermit Crab ©Melinda Riger @ GB Scuba

Hermit Crab 2Hermit Crab 3Hermit Crab 1

HORSESHOE CRAB (LIMULUS)Horseshoe Crab (Limulus), Delphi Beach, Abaco Bahamas

COMMON GHOST CRAB (Ocypode quadrata), DELPHI BEACHBeach Crab 1

PET CRABS PROTECTING MY ROD OUTSIDE OUR ROOM (note second crab behind it) AND ADVERTISING HARDY PRODUCTS. Rick Guest has pointed out that the crab is not protecting my rod at all. As if! “The crab in the foreground is the male guarding “his” female, distinguished by the small, abdominal triangle. The wide margins of the female’s abdomen are evident.” So that’s how to tell the sex of a land crab. Crabs & rodCrab & rod

BLUE LAND CRAB (Cardisoma guanhumi) WITH ATTITUDELand Crab 1

LAND CRABS ON ABACO: HOW TO STALK & WRESTLE THEM

LAND CRAB vs RICKY JOHNSON: ROUND 2 (VIDEO)

PS thanks to Nick Kenworthy for species comments + knowing the Latin names; also Clare for the Limulus

‘SLOW BLUES IN SEA’: BAHAMAS REEF FISH (10)


BLUES IN C tab

‘SLOW BLUES IN SEA’: BAHAMAS REEF FISH (10)

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

Blue Chromis, Fowl Cay, Abaco fish12 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 Chromis ©Melinda Riger @ GB Scuba

Blue Chromis ©Melinda Riger @ GB Scuba

BLUE PARROTFISH Scarus coeruleusBlue Parrot Fish ©Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba

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 parrotfish 2Blue Parrotfish

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.Blue Tang ©Melinda Riga @ G B Scuba Blue Tang ©Melinda Riger @ GB Scuba

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).fishx fishu4 Blue Tang, Abaco fish28 fish20

CREOLE WRASSE Clepticus parraeCreole Wrasse ©Melinda Riger @GBS

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. Creole Wrasse School ©Melinda Riger @GBS

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 Triggerfish

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.

Juvenile Queen Angel ©Melinda Riger GB Scuba

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.    


                                                  

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MASTERS OF UNDERWATER CAMOUFLAGE: BAHAMAS REEF FISH (7)


BAHAMAS MASTERS OF UNDERWATER CAMOUFLAGE

SCORPIONFISHScorpionfish camouflaged against coral ©Melinda RigerScorpionfish Close-up ©Melinda Riger @GBS

PEACOCK FLOUNDER or PLATE FISH Bothus lunatusPeacock Flounder Peacock FlounderPeacock Flounder ©Melinda Riger @ GB ScubaPhotos: Melinda at Grand Bahama Scuba

This is my last post until next week, when apparently we can expect a snowy welcome. Hmmmm. Plenty of new material for kind followers – both of you..

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DELPHI DAWN

MANGROVE JELLYFISH: AN UPSIDE-DOWN UNDERWATER LIFE


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MANGROVE JELLYFISH: AN UPSIDE-DOWN UNDERWATER LIFE

220px-Status_iucn3.1_LC.svgThe Mangrove Jellyfish Cassiopea, also called the ‘upside-down jellyfish’ for reasons I needn’t dwell on, is the only member of its particular jellyfish family. These creatures prefer warm waters, and typically live upside-down on the sea-bottom, which no doubt makes catching prey very simple. They can be found individually, though more likely in large groups, with individuals displaying different shades and colours.

NEW An excellent video by Melinda Riger of Grand Bahama Scuba

The Mangrove Jellyfish has one of the milder stings of the numerous species, though human reactions to the sting will vary with the individual. A greater problem may come from swimming around or over a mass of these creatures. Their stinging cells are excreted in a transparent mucus which may invisibly cover the unwary swimmer. Apart from skin-irritation and a rash, the stings are apparently very itchy. My guess is that scratching can only make things worse (cf No-see-ums…). The first of the two videos below was taken recently by Sarah Bedard (to whom thanks) who “found a great tidal pool full of them at the end of Rock Point Road, Treasure Cay (Abaco)”. The second is short, but with some amazing footage of the Jellyfish in action.

PARROTFISH: COLOURFUL CORAL CHARACTERS BAHAMAS REEF FISH (6)


Stoplight Parrotfish ©RH

BAHAMAS REEF FISH (5) PARROTFISH: COLOURFUL CORAL CHARACTERS

The term ‘PARROTFISH’ comprises many related species (80) around the world  inhabiting shallow tropical and subtropical waters.  They are commonly found in coral reefs and seagrass beds, and along rocky coasts. They play a significant role in BIOEROSION. Here are some examples of 5 of this species that inhabit the waters of the Northern Bahamas

BLUE PARROTFISHBlue Parrotfish copy 2

PARROTFISH FACTS TO ASTOUND AND IMPRESS YOUR FRIENDS WITH

A. FEEDING HABITS

1. Named for their dental arrangements – a mouthful of teeth, forming the characteristic ‘beak’

2. Primarily herbivore but not above snacking on small creatures / organisms or even molluscs

3. Their teeth grow continuously, replacing ones worn away by feeding on coral

4. As they feed on algae etc, their teeth grind up the coral, which they  ingest

5. Then (get this!) they digest it and excrete it as sand… it’s a component of your favourite beach!

6. “One parrotfish can produce 90 kilograms (200 lb) of sand each year”. Wiki says so – it must be true

7. They are a vital species in preventing algae from choking coral

PRINCESS PARROTFISHPrincess ParrotfishQUEEN PARROTFISH (initial phase)

B. PERSONAL INFORMATION (theirs, I mean)

1. Some species secrete a protective mucous cocoon to sleep in or to conceal themselves from predators

2. A mucous substance also helps heal damage, repel parasites, & protect them from UV light

3. As they develop, most species change colour significantly to become vivid adults – “polychromatism”

4. Some juveniles can change colour temporarily to mimic other species as a protection

5. Most are “sequential hermaphrodites”, turning from female to male (a few change vice versa)

6. They tend to hang out in groups of similarly-sized / -developed fish

7. Single males tend to have several lady friends, and aggressively defend their love rights

8. Parrotfish are PELAGIC SPAWNERS. Females release many tiny buoyant eggs into the water, which float freely and settle into the coral until they hatch

9. Unlike other fishes, they use their pectoral fins to propel themselves

10. Their feeding behaviour makes them unsuitable for marine aquariums

RAINBOW PARROTFISH& Royal Grammas

Anyone interested in getting more information about Parrotfishes – maybe about that whole female / male transformation thing? – is recommended to look at an article by Tim Smith of Miami University, Ohio entitled THE BAHAMAS: A CLOSER LOOK AT THE COLORFUL AND UNIQUE PARROTFISH Click on the P-word to get to it directly.

If you are pressed for time, here is the article conveniently digested into bullet points:

  • a superior competitor among herbivorous reef fishes
  • large, heavy scales in regular rows on head and body, with teeth fused together to form a beak-like jaw
  • unique pharyngeal dentition: upper interlocking pharyngeal bones located above the gills rest plush against the lower pharyngeal bone to form the pharyngeal mill (molar-like teeth in their throats) used to grind up the hard coral skeleton that contains microscopic algae
  • the crushed calcareous material travels through the fish’s digestive system and is voided on the reef as white coral sand
  • some fish will return to the same location to deposit this calcareous powder resulting in the formation of small hills over time
  • most parrotfish live on reefs from which they rarely wander far
  • rainbow parrotfish are thought to use the sun for navigation to travel from its nocturnal cave in deeper water to the shore to feed
  • all parrotfish uniquely use the pectoral fins located behind the gills for propulsion (not their caudal or tail fins)
  • in addition to scraping algae from substrate, some parrotfish browse on sea grasses
  • at night, each fish separates to search for a suitable place within the reef to sleep.
  • the large, thick scales of the parrotfish are strong enough to stop a spear in some species
  • the flesh is soft and spoils quickly, the parrotfish is not known as a food fish in the Bahamas
  • in Hawaii they are eaten raw and at one time were reserved for royalty
  • the blue parrotfish may carry ciguatera-producing toxins that result in illness when consumed
  • it’s high time for another picture or two

REDBAND PARROTFISH

Some more bullet points from Tim Smith’s article:

  • at night some species simply burrow into the sand
  • others secrete a filmy mucus cocoon in 30 minutes which masks its scent, affording the parrotfish protection from coral reef night predators such as sharks and moray eels.
  • the parrotfish has the ability to undergo sex reversal in which female fish become males
  • parrotfish born male remain male throughout their lives and are called primary males.
  • female born fish may change sex & color to become male – secondary males or referred to as supermales or terminal males.
  • some parrotfish are chameleon-like, changing their colors to match their surroundings.
  • parrotfish spawn throughout the year
  • there are 80 species of parrotfish
  • the vibrantly colored parrotfish plays a major role in maintaining the cycle of reef growth and erosion
  • “Do not be alarmed if you experience a sudden drift of sediment or hear the crunching sound of coral the next time you are snorkeling or diving along a coral reef in the Bahamas. It is just a parrotfish doing its job.”
  • I sense a stoplight is about to interrupt the proceedings… and here it is

STOPLIGHT PARROTFISH (adult and, below, juvenile form)Thanks to Melinda of Grand Bahama Scuba for her fantastic illustrative pics; the header is mine own

It’s possible that I won’t be quite as attentive with posts / replies to comments etc over the next couple of weeks or so. I’ve a few things in the pipeline, but it may depend on wifi access… I’m giving up trying to use an iPhone to post while on the move – fine for snaps, but not for anything more complicated. So apologies in advance, and like Arnie, I’m afraid I’ll be back…

Gone Fishin'Relax... at Lubbers Quarters

GRAY ANGELFISH (Pomacanthus arcuatus) BAHAMAS REEF FISH (3)



Gray_angelfish
Gray Angelfish

GRAY ANGELFISH (Pomacanthus arcuatus) BAHAMAS REEF FISH (3)

I recently posted about the highly coloured QUEEN 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.**Gray Angelfish ©Melinda Riger GB Scuba

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. Gray Angelfish between juvenile and adult phase

It’s clear from side on that Gray Angelfish are ‘upright flat’, but it’s surprising just how slim they actually are. Photographer Melinda Riger has captured this front view against a stunning red backdrop. Disappointingly, these fish seem to lead blameless and anodyne lives as reef-foragers, and I’ve been unable to turn up a single interesting fact about them. That’s lawyers for you.**Gray Angelfish (front view) ©Melinda RigerGray Angelfish ©Melinda Riga @ BP ScubaPhoto Credits: main images ©Melinda Riger, Grand Bahama Scuba; Header – Wikipix

** I can say this – I am one…

SPOTTED DRUM FISH – BAHAMAS REEF FISH (1)


SPOTTED DRUM FISH Equetus punctatus BAHAMAS REEF FISH (1)

This post is the first of a planned series on Bahamian reef fish. Those who follow this blog (I thank you both) may recall with horror (or worse, pity) my own efforts with reef fish, using a tiny cellphone-sized video camera.  Misty stills culled from video footage. Enthusiastically wobbly movies as I struggle to swim and breathe simultaneously in an alien element. I am more underwater CLOUSEAU than COUSTEAU. However, thanks to Melinda Riger, who with husband Fred runs GRAND BAHAMA SCUBA, I have kind permission to borrow and display images from her stock of wonderful reef fish photographs.

The spotted drum fish (or Jack-knife fish) belongs to a large worldwide family, the Sciaenidae. Besides other drum varieties, the family includes ‘croakers’. These species are all named for the repetitive throbbing or drumming sounds they make. This involves the fish beating its abdominal muscles against its swim bladder. If I find out the reason for this (Species communication? Food call? Alarm? Warning? A piscine ‘advance’? Happiness?) I will add it here in due course. Here an example of an atlantic croaker from the excellent DOSITS site (Discovery of Sounds in the Sea)


The spotted drum is one of the few fish of the species to inhabit coral reefs – most are bottom-dwellers (often in estuaries), avoiding clear water. These fish tend to be nocturnal feeders, feeding on small crabs, shrimp and small invertebrates. As far as I can make out they are solely (or primarily) carnivore, and do not graze on algae of other reef plant life.

Drumfish

Drumfish

The photos above are of adult spotted drums. The ones below are of juveniles, and show the remarkable growth-pattern of these fish, from the fragile slender creature in the top image, through the intermediate phase of the one below it (with the amazing brain coral), to the striking adult versions above. People like to keep these pretty fish in aquariums; fine, I’m sure there are plenty to go round, but these ones look pretty happy to me in their natural reef environment…

Juvenile Drum Fish (pre-school)Juvenile Drumfish 2 ©Melinda Riger GB Scuba

Juvenile drum fish (school-age)

Juvenile Drumfish ©Melinda Riger GB Scuba(Header image credit: Wiki-Cheers)

Finally, I’ve just come across this short video from a “Florida Aquarium”, showing how these fish swim. It rather looks as though it has been fin-clipped for some reason… or just damaged, maybe

FLAMINGO TONGUE SNAILS & SHELLS: COLOURFUL GASTROPODS OF THE CARIBBEAN


FLAMINGO TONGUE SNAILS & SHELLS: COLOURFUL GASTROPODS OF THE CARIBBEAN

The FLAMINGO TONGUE SNAIL Cyphoma gibbosum is a small sea snail (marine gastropod mollusc), related to cowries. The live animal is brightly coloured and strikingly patterned, but that colour is only in the ‘live’ parts – the shell itself is pale and characterised by  a thick ridge round the middle. These snails live in the tropical waters of the Caribbean and wider western Atlantic. Whether alive or dead, they are easy to identify.

This snail on the left (thanks, Wiki) is snacking on a coral stem, leaving a feeding track behind it. The structural shell ridge is clearly visible beneath the distinctively marked live tissue.

The flamingo tongue feeds by browsing on soft corals. Adult females attach eggs to coral which they have recently fed upon. About 10 days later, the larvae hatch. They eventually settle onto other gorgonian corals such as Sea Fans. Juveniles tend to live on the underside of coral branches, while adults are far more visible and mobile. Where the snail leaves a feeding scar, the corals can regrow the polyps, and therefore predation by C. gibbosum is generally not harmful to the coral.

The principal purpose of the mantle of  tissue over the shell is as the creature’s breathing apparatus.  The tissue absorbs oxygen and releases carbon dioxide. As I have seen it described (unkindly?) “it’s basically their lungs, stretched out over their rather boring-looking shell”. 

This species was once common but is becoming rarer. One significant threat comes from snorkelers and divers who mistakenly think that the colour is the shell of the animal, collect up a whole bunch, and in due course are left with… (see photos below)

These photos are of flamingo tongue shells from the Delphi Club Collection. Until I read the ‘boring-looking shell’ comment, I thought everyone thought they were rather lovely… you decide!

Finally, a couple of videos. The first is rather charmingly titled ‘FLAMINGO TONGUES DOING…. SOMETHING’. Any (printable but amusing) suggestions via the Comment box are welcome (Hi Trish!). The second punchily summarises this post. Maybe that’s all that was needed!

“MANATEE MANIA IN THE ABACOS” BMMRO FALL 2012 NEWSLETTER


“MANATEE MANIA IN THE ABACOS” – BMMRO FALL 2012 NEWSLETTER

The BMMRO has just published the Fall 2012 newsletter, and it’s no surprise to find that the front page news is the arrival of young manatee Georgie on Abaco. After nosing and indeed grazing her way around Abaco and the Cays, she still appears to be contentedly moored in Cherokee after the best part of a month. Here’s the official map of her wanderings 

Besides the manatee there’s plenty more to read and look at including 

  • Charlotte Dunn’s ‘President’s Update’
  • Articles on whales, and a friendly bottlenose dolphin’s visit to Hope Town
  • Fall ‘cetacean sightings’ map
  • Students at ‘Whale Camp’
  • A quiz to make sure you have taken it all in…

To read the four-page document –  and admire the photos - CLICK BMMRO FALL 2012 NEWSLETTER

ABACO MANATEE GEORGIE’S TRIP: HOPE TOWN TO CHEROKEE


ABACO’S MANATEE, GEORGIE, SWIMS  FROM HOPE TOWN VIA LITTLE HARBOUR TO CHEROKEE

GEORGIE UPDATE 2 OCT Cindy James Pinder has posted on Facebook “Oh no, Georgie the manatee has lost her tracking device. Be on the look out for it in the Cherokee area. We are going to go out and look for her tomorrow with BMMRO. We are hoping that she goes back to the dock area looking for fresh water.” 

BMMRO UPDATE 1 OCT I’ve just heard from Diane Claridge and Kendria Ferguson. They have kindly clarified the details of Georgie’s route, which makes her journey longer than my guesstimate (see below). Georgie has continued on her way, and after some resting and some quality sea grass munching, Kendria says (yesterday ) “…right now she is in CHEROKEE!”. I’m not sure where the fresh water springs are along the east coast, but I am beginning to think that Georgie may be on her way to check out Rolling Harbour and the Delphi Club, drawn by telepathic and symbiotic forces as yet unexplained, projected from the blogosphere… 

BMMRO FACEBOOK “Georgie the manatee is creating quit a stir in Cherokee! Thank you for the sighting reports! (get some photos please!) To everyone there please don’t feed her lettuce. Manatees become very dependent on humans-their fast learners! It also teaches them to come into marinas which is where their number one predator lives – BOATS!! We want to ensure Georgie’s safety whiles she is here! We are unfamiliar with the area-so if anyone knows of any natural freshwater resources (shallow water seepage/blueholes) please do share that info! It is ok to give her a hose, mainly because we are not sure if she’s getting adequate freshwater in the area. Please remember she is a toddler and her belly is never full so have a cut off limit!  See you tomorrow Cherokee!! Take care of Georgie!”

Georgie’s next stop?

BMMRO report 30 SEP Georgie the manatee continues to travel around the Abaco’s! Fitted with a new satellite tag, she is currently exploring LITTLE HARBOUR. Yesterday, scientists caught up with her by CORNISH CAY where she was taking a quick nap and feeding on seagrass. We will continue to update the public on her whereabouts. Thank you to everyone for all their assistance in locating Georgie and ensuring her safety whiles she takes a much needed vacation from the Berry Islands.

A short time ago I wondered (in print) when a manatee would next be seen in Abaco waters – the nearest candidates being the small Berry Is. population. The answer was quick. Now! Georgie – the recently weaned calf of Rita – had swum across from the Berrys to Abaco, explored the Marls, headed  north to Little Abaco, then travelled south on the eastern side of Abaco. She was spotted at Green Turtle Cay, but it had become clear that her satellite tag was malfunctioning, so locating Georgie and monitoring her progress depended on reported sightings.

The BMMRO reported yesterday “Georgie the manatee was sighted at the Sailing Club dock in Hope Town Harbour just after 2pm today! We’d appreciate any further sighting reports as to her whereabouts! Please drive carefully in and around Hope Town Harbour.” Hope Town resident Stafford Patterson was able to get 2 fine photos of Georgie. I contacted him about using them, and he has replied “Permission granted!! And we were happy to host Georgie yesterday.” So here is Abaco’s sole resident manatee (as far as I am aware) enjoying her visit to Elbow Cay.

A team was able to fit a new satellite tag to Georgie (see below), so following her adventures will now be much easier. But where will she go next? What this space or, better still, check out the BMMRO FACEBOOK page

STOP PRESS I’ve been wondering about the distance Georgie has travelled (remembering always that she was weaned only recently). So with the the help of an online map measuring thingy (Free! Cool!), here’s a calculation based loosely on more assumptions than you will find on ASSUMPTION ISLAND. For a start, I don’t know where in the Berry Is. Georgie officially set off from; nor where she was seen on  the Marls; nor how she negotiated Little Abaco and the Cays along the east coast of Abaco; nor how many times she circled round exploring as she went. However, taking the ‘as the manatee swims’ direct line approach and assuming no significant deviations, the gizmo reckons the journey was a minimum of 150 miles. With any luck the recovered defective tag will have recorded her exact route, and amply demonstrate that I have wasted 1/2 an hour on this. Still, I wanted to know…

 

And for anyone wondering about Assumption Island, it does indeed exist, located in the Indian Ocean north of Madagascar. And the spooky thing is… it is shaped remarkably like a manatee! Well, quite like one, anyway.

Assumption Island (geographically correct)  Assumption Island (manatee rotation)      Awww…Cute!!!

                                

Credit: savethemanatee.org

A GLIMPSE OF ARTIFICIAL REEF NIGHTLIFE – ABACO, BAHAMAS


A GLIMPSE OF ARTIFICIAL REEF NIGHTLIFE

This very short time-lapse video was posted on the always informative ABACO SCIENTIST website administered by Craig Layman of FIU (Florida International University). The site benefits from the wide knowledge of a variety of contributors in many different fields. As it says, Abaco, just like all of the Bahamian Islands, hosts a wealth of natural wonders. From parrots to whales to blue holes to mangrove wetlands, it is no wonder that scientific research is thriving on the island. The Abaco Scientist is intended as your one-stop source for all things science on Abaco and throughout The Bahamas.

The coral reefs of Abaco and the Bahamas (as elsewhere) are vital yet vulnerable eco-systems. The adverse effects of global warming (or however you describe it if you shy away from that specific term) are increasingly evident. To that damage can be added a slew of other major threats to coral survival – and to the marine life that thrives on the reefs.  There are a number of research projects in progress in the Bahamas into the effectiveness of artificial reefs as a means of conservation of the ecology of reef waters. One of these is by FIU undergraduate student Martha Zapata. In her words, We have recently been capturing time lapse video of the artificial reefs at night. Many reef fishes, like grunts, will leave the reef around dusk to forage in the nearby seagrass beds during the night. We wanted to be able to observe the fish on the reefs without influencing their behavior, so we used infrared light (which fish cannot see) to illuminate the reef. The image sequences have shown a stark difference in fish abundance from day to night. Also, we have been able to observe some of the more cryptic organisms that have made these reefs their home. Usually masters of disguise, urchins roam about the surface of the reef. Look out for the banded coral shrimp and crab that crawl up the side of the reef to graze on algae and detritus while the fish are away. Even a moray eel makes an appearance near the end!

Besides specially constructed artificial reefs, other man-made objects provide  good foundations for an artificial reefs and marine life – in particular, wrecks. There are many of these in the low waters of the Bahamas, some centuries old, others recent. Fred and Melinda Riger of Grand Bahama Scuba, Freeport, take their diving schools to wrecks because of the profusion of marine life that gathers around – and indeed inside – them.

LAUGHING GULLS ON THE ABACO MARLS


LAUGHING GULLS ON THE ABACO MARLS

Laughing gulls. Amusingly raucous and raucously amusing. Unless, maybe, you are living right next to a breeding colony during a collective fit of hysterics. These gulls, Leucophaeus atricilla, will be familiar to anyone on the Atlantic coast of North America; in the Caribbean; and further south to the northern coastal areas of South America. In winter, their migration pattern simply involves relocating to the southern parts of their range. They are easily recognisable in the breeding season by their smart black caps, though this fades in winter. And by their unmistakeable call, of course. Immature birds tend to be darker than adults. They breed in large colonies, each female laying 3 – 4 eggs. And like most (all?) gulls, they’ll eat pretty much anything.

Laughing Gull Conservation Status

We saw – and heard – plenty while bonefishing on the Abaco Marls in June. I took some rather grainy distance shots, as they tended to fly off as the skiff was slowly poled towards them. This gull has found a good vantage point for some quality preening among the mangroves.

The pair below stayed put, and watched our gradual approach with suspicion that turned into noisy protest as we poled past them. I presume they were defending their territory – probably a nest site nearby.

I took a very short video just before they flew off as we drifted by. Apologies for the sound of the breeze – I’ve no idea if it’s possible to reduce the background noise while retaining the bird call. Listening to online bird sound clips (e.g. on the excellent Xeno-Canto) I think not. Or not without expensive editing equipment of a complexity I can’t face…

And here (thanks, Don Jones @Xeno-Canto) is what laughing gulls sound like when one of them has told the one about the bonefish and the shrimp…


SEA URCHINS & SEA BISCUITS – BEACHCOMBING TREASURES ON ABACO


SEA URCHINS & SEA BISCUITS – BEACHCOMBING TREASURES ON ABACO 

It’s time we had some more shells and other beach treasures on these pages. In the absence of star Abaco beachcomber and blog-contributor KASIA I have taken a closer look at the Delphi Club collection. This has been casually accumulated by the Club, its members and guests during the past 3 years whenever a good specimen has been encountered, and is displayed in the Great Room. The first items to catch my eye were the ECHINODERMS, a family that includes sea urchins, sand dollars, sea biscuits and star fish. Their sun-bleached tests are often found, though in my limited experience the larger they are, the rarer.  The link above is to the Wiki-blurb, which has the unpromisingly daunting heading  “This article may be too technical for most readers to understand…”. Now there’s a challenge!

First up is a very large SEA URCHIN, a thing of great delicacy and fragility that weighs next to nothing. I have never seen a bigger one. Looking at the fine detail, it is hard to believe that such perfection of symmetry and intricacy can exist in a creature so very painful to tread on. 

This SEA URCHIN is smaller, with more prominent nodules and a much more random pattern – reminiscent of a cartoon of some distant white planet. It has cast a fine knobbly shadow.

SEA BISCUITS have similar five-way symmetry to their first cousins SAND DOLLARS but are generally pebble-shaped rather than disc-shaped. I have included 2 close-ups to show the fine details of the pattern – almost like lace-work

This SEA BISCUIT is a different type, with the 5 radials reaching right round it. For some reason it only has 4 and not 5 small holes (as one might expect) at the centre. Unlike SAND DOLLARS they tend to be more oblong than round.

FISH FRENZY AT FOWL CAY MARINE PRESERVE, ABACO, BAHAMAS


FISH FRENZY AT FOWL CAY MARINE PRESERVE, ABACO

This is the first short video from footage taken in June at Fowl Cay, 2000 acres of protected coral reef waters. This was the start of another great day out snorkelling and island-hopping with dive-diva Kay Politano of ABOVE & BELOW ABACO Marsh Harbour.  In due course there will be more videos of fish and coral. There is very slight evidence that lessons have been learned since last year’s erratic novice snorkeler / underwater photographer efforts. Still a way to go of course. The production process has been hampered by a major format problem between my camera chip thingy and the Mac I now use. It told me the data was unrecognisable / corrupted / damaged etc, which was massively disappointing. Then I thought of  <<techno-tip>> downloading to an old PC and transferring to the Mac on a memory stick. Problem solved.

This huge swirling mass of (tens of) thousands of small fish confronted me as I round one end of the reef. I’ve never seen anything like it before, except on TV. It was an astounding, dizzy-making spectacle. When I swam into the middle of the shoal, I expected to feel tickled all over – but despite the huge numbers of fish, their speed, and their sudden and apparently random direction changes, I wasn’t conscious of feeling them at all. I assume the commotion resulted from the presence of larger fish feeding on the small ones. Or possibly from my appearance…

Music credit: Gordon Giltrap (Hofner champion) ‘Fast Approaching’

BAHAMAS CONCH QUEST – GASTROPODS, SHELLS & CONSERVATION


BAHAMAS CONCH QUEST – GASTROPODS, SHELLS & CONSERVATION

Conchs are among the most familiar of all shells. On Abaco they are everywhere: in the sea, on the beach, used ornamentally in gardens, piled up wherever conch is on the menu… (basically, anywhere serving food)

Conchs have other uses besides being a staple food. They provide sought-after pink pearls.  Only about 1 conch in 10,000 has a pearl, so bear in mind that if you miss one during your search, you may have another 10,000 to wade through… Conchs can produce music, of a sort (such as when used enthusiastically by the famous ‘conch-blower’ home-team supporter during cricket Test Matches in the West Indies). They are undeniably decorative on a porch or on a shelf.

Conchs have featured in literature and film. In William Golding’s Lord of the Flies the conch represents power and order. A conch is blown to call meetings of the marooned boys. Its power is symbolised by the rule that you have to be holding it to speak at the meeting (an idea that many – all? – Parliaments could benefit from…)

Ian Fleming mentions conchs in several of the Bond books, all such references being totally eclipsed by the memory of the appearance, in the film Dr No, of Honeychile Rider emerging from the sea, conch in hand. Oh, I see. That’s just men is it? Or (good grief) just me? Anyway, may we all agree amicably that Ursula Andress was a most decorative conch carrier?

CONCH CONSERVATION

The supply of conchs is not infinite. Overfish them, take them before maturity  or pollute their habitat and this valuable marine resource depletes – and conchs, as with so many marine species, will become threatened. Fortunately there is a Bahamas-wide conservation organisation with a website packed with interest. 

COMMUNITY CONCH is “a nonprofit organization that aims to protect queen conchs in the Bahamas, a species of mollusk threatened by aggressive over-fishing. We promote sustainable harvest of queen conch through research, education and community-based conservation”

community conch logo

“Helping to sustain a way of life in the Bahamas”

Much of the research has been carried out in Berry Is, Andros and Exuma Cays. However the team has recently been based at Sandy point, Abaco. To see some of their work on Abaco CLICK LINK===>> ABACO EXPEDITION   

In many past posts I have listed ’10 Essential Facts’ about the topic discussed. In that spirit I have borrowed and slightly edited CC’s conch facts; and added a CC video of a conch’s stately ‘full speed ahead’ progress. NB No zoom… 

12 CONCH FACTS

  • The queen conch is a large edible sea snail native to the coasts of the Caribbean, the Florida Keys, the Bahamas, and Bermuda. Conchs are herbivores – they eat algae and other tiny marine plants
  • Main predators include nurse sharks, loggerhead turtles, other snail species, blue crabs, eagle rays, spiny lobsters, and other crustaceans
  • Mating aggregations may contain hundreds or even thousands of individual male and female conchs
  • Female conchs lay hundreds of thousands of tiny eggs in a sandy egg mass. The larvae emerge after 5 days and may drift on ocean currents for a month before settling in suitable habitat on the sea floor
  • In their first year conchs live under the sand during the day & come out to feed on the surface at night
  • A queen conch may take 5 years to reach maturity and can reproduce
  • They live an average of 7 years, but are known to live as long as 20 – 30 years
  • Conchs produce natural pearls that come in a range of hues, including white, brown, orange & pink
  • The conch is listed by CITES as a species which may become threatened with extinction if trade is not tightly controlled
  • It is now illegal to take queen conchs in the state of Florida due to severe overfishing
  • 80% of legal internationally traded conch is consumed in the United States. The smuggling of conch meat into the U.S. is a significant challenge to conch management in The Bahamas
  • Queen conch are vulnerable to overfishing because they are (1) relatively slow to grow (2) late to mature (3) aggregate to mate (4) easily harvested in shallow waters

A SPEEDY CONCH

(Conch photos taken by RH / Mrs RH at Sandy Point, Abaco)

INTERNATIONAL MARINE BIODIVERSITY DAY – MAY 22


INTERNATIONAL MARINE BIODIVERSITY DAY – MAY 22

Yesterday was an important day in the marine conservation and research calendar. Me neither! I had a heads up from the redoubtable SEAMONSTER late last night. So at least I found out on the right day. I am posting the excellent logo to help to raise awareness retrospectively… I ‘get’ everything depicted in this clever sea creature globe – except for the tiny dinosaur… or is it a sea otter?

CLICK this large logo to link the the relevant website, where there are articles catering for every conceivable marine interest

BONEFISH RESEARCH: THE IMPACT OF HOOK RETENTION


THE IMPACT OF HOOK RETENTION ON RELEASED BONEFISH

Anyone committed to catch and release for bonefish will have wondered about the hooks that from time to time are left in a fish. The issue has now been the subject of a detailed scientific report from ELSEVIER highlighted in the ever-useful THE ABACO SCIENTIST (thanks to Craig Layman). The report’s main conclusions can be summarised as follows:

  • Hooks, especially shallow ones, are expelled fairly quickly
  • For deep-hooked fish, barbless hooks are significantly easier for the fish to deal with
  • The presence of a hook does not appear to interfere with feeding
  • Hook size is not a material factor
  • All the test sample fish survived
Overall, therefore, this is a vindication for the policy of barbless hook use for C&R. The report concludes that it’s best simply to leave a difficult-to-remove hook in the fish. Here, guide Ishi prepares to remove a barbless hook from one of my fish caught on the Abaco Marls.
I have included a clip of the report’s front page and Abstract; and the link to a PDF of the full report for those interested in checking out the detailed scientific aspects of this research. To go direct to the general Fisheries Research section click ELSEVIER. The astounding photo is courtesy of Abaco’s conservation organisation FRIENDS OF THE ENVIRONMENT

REPORT PDF

NEW in June 2012 see later post + video CATCH & RELEASE DEMO ON THE ABACO MARLS for a quick release method with a barbless hook involving minimal contact with the fish. It isn’t suitable for deep-hooked fish or large ones, but it shows how quick the operation can be

BEACHCOMBING WITH KASIA: EXPLORING A ROCKY SHORE


Kasia’s back! She recently explored a rather unpromising-looking stretch of Abaco coastline, and it proved to be anything but… Kasia writes: The story goes: one day I took myself for a walk and a bit of beachcombing. I usually don’t bring my camera with me but luckily this time I did. This particular beach looks very barren but on close inspection and a patient eye there are some lovely treasures to be found. Here are some of the treasures I captured!

A tangle of 3 bleached trees, with their roots apparently intertwined

CHITONS

Great close-ups… are those eggs behind this first one? There’s a similar image in the Macmillan ‘Marine Life of the Caribbean’ but unfortunately neither the caption nor the text refers to them. ADDENDUM: Colin Redfern writes: The “eggs” behind the chiton are fecal pellets

NERITES (Nerita)

 

WEST INDIAN TOP-SHELLS (Cittarium Pica) 

In this image, several very small chitons can also be seen on the rock

It looks as if someone… or something… has been having a Nerite feast on the shore. A bird maybe?  I had taken the shells above and below to be another variety of Nerite, but as so often scientist and shell expert Colin Redfern has kindly corrected the error. He writes: “Very nice photos. The “nerite feast” is actually a pile of broken West Indian Top-shells (Cittarium pica). The photo immediately above shows a live group of the same species. This is what Bahamians call a whelk (or wilk), and in the lower photo they have been harvested, probably for a stew.

 ROCK POOL MISCELLANY

I am trying to ID a much as I can in this pool. All suggestions welcome via ‘Leave a Comment’. So far, the corals are Brain Coral and Pink Coral (I think) but I am going see what else can be given a name…

These are my favourite! :) Kasia

COMET SEA STAR (possibly juvenile, with 3 such short stubs?)

A SPONGE (?) OF SOME SORT (any help with ID appreciated…)

                RED ROCK URCHINS