“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

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

RAYS OF SUNSHINE ON THE ABACO MARLS


Stingrays Abaco Marls 1

RAYS OF SUNSHINE ON THE ABACO MARLS

The Marls of Abaco are prime bonefishing grounds, a vast area of labyrinthine mangrove swamps, sandy islets, channels and shallow flats on the west side of the main island. The fish are wily and powerful, the fly hooks are barbless, and each one caught, retained, boated and swiftly released is a prize. There’s plenty of other wildlife to be seen. Heron and egrets, ospreys, belted kingfishers, wading birds and many other bird species make the Marls their home. In the water, there are snappers, jacks, barracuda, and sharks of various kinds and sizes. These latter range from small black tip, lemon and hammerhead sharks to more substantial contenders, with the occasional massive bull shark to add a frisson for those on a suddenly fragile-seeming skiff… 

There are also rays. I have posted before about the SOUTHERN STINGRAY and the YELLOW STINGRAY Out on the Marls I have mainly seen Southerns as they move serenely and unhurriedly through the warm shallow water. A couple of weeks ago, we were out with the rods when we had a completely new Ray experience. I’m not overly given to anthropomorphism and getting too emotional about encounters, but we all found this one quite moving – even our very experienced guide.

Gliding to our right side, a pair of stingrays slowed as they neared the skiffStingrays Abaco Marls 2

The adult paused very close to us, allowing the little ray to catch upStingrays Abaco Marls 3

Lifting a wing slightly the adult let the juvenile creep under, while keeping a beady eye on usStingrays Abaco Marls 4

The large ray was missing the tip of its tail, presumably from some adverse encounterStingrays Abaco Marls 5

The creatures examined us carefully for 2 or 3 minutes, before separatingStingrays Abaco Marls 6

Then they slowly drifted away across the sand…Stingrays Abaco Marls 7

According to our guide, this gently protective behaviour is not uncommon. They may well have been completely unrelated, the large ray tolerating the smaller one accompanying it through the waters and offering a kindly wing in the presence of danger or suspicious objects like us.

Photo Credits: Mrs RH (I was too entranced at the sharp end, with a bird’s eye view, to get a camera out)

FRENCH ANGELS: BAHAMAS REEF FISH (15)


French Angelfish Pomacanthus wiki

FRENCH ANGELS: BAHAMAS REEF FISH (15)

JUVENILE FRENCH ANGELFISH – BLACK WITH YELLOW BANDSFrench Angelfish (juv)

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 ANGELFISHFrench Angelfish ©Melinda Riger @ Grand Bahama Scuba

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.French Angelfish ©Melinda Riger @ GBS

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.wikiFrench Angelfish 2 ©Melinda Riger @ GBS

Credits: Melinda Riger (Grand Bahama Scuba); Wiki

MARINE DEBRIS? NO THANKS! 10 FACTS FROM NOAA


Ten Things You Should Know About Marine Debris

monksealMonkseal being rescued from marine debris

Entangled-harbor-seal NOAA Marine Debris
Our waterways are littered with stuff that doesn’t belong in them. Plastic bags, cigarette butts, fishing nets, sunken vessels, glass bottles, abandoned crab traps…the list is endless. Some of this marine debris comes from human activity at sea, and some of it makes its way into our waterways from land.
While we know that marine debris is bad for the environment, harms wildlife, and threatens human health and navigation, there is much we don’t know. How much marine debris is in our environment? How long does it last? How harmful is it to natural resources or human health and safety? How long does it take to break down in the water? The NOAA Marine Debris Program is finding answers to these questions.

1. It doesn’t stay put

While a lot of debris sinks, much also floats. Once this marine debris enters the ocean, it moves via oceanic currents and atmospheric winds. Factors that affect currents and winds (for example, El Niño and seasonal changes) also affect the movement of marine debris in the ocean. Debris is often carried far from its origin, which makes it difficult to determine exactly where an item came from.

2. It comes in many forms

Marine debris comes in many forms, ranging from small plastic cigarette butts to 4,000-pound derelict fishing nets. Plastic bags, glass, metal, Styrofoam, tires, derelict fishing gear, and abandoned vessels are all examples of debris that often ends up in our waterways.img_0510_ss-1

3. It’s your problem, too

Marine debris is a problem for all of us. It affects everything from the environment to the economy; from fishing and navigation to human health and safety; from the tiniest coral polyps to giant blue whales.

4. NOAA is fighting this problem

The NOAA Marine Debris Program works in the U.S. and around the world to research, reduce, and prevent debris in our oceans and coastal waterways. Much of this work is done in partnership with other agencies, non-governmental organizations, academia, industry, and private businesses.The Marine Debris Research, Prevention, and Reduction Act, signed into law in 2006, formally created the Marine Debris Program. The Act directs NOAA to map, identify, measure impacts of, remove, and prevent marine debris.

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5. Some debris is being turned into energy

Abandoned and lost fishing gear is a big problem. It entangles and kills marine life and is a hazard to navigation. Based on a model program in Hawaii, the Fishing for Energy program was formed in 2008 to tackle this problem with creative new ideas. The program is a partnership between NOAA, Covanta Energy Corporation, National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, and Schnitzer Steel.This program offers the fishing community a no-cost way to dispose of old or derelict fishing gear. Once removed from the environment, the gear is transported to the nearest Covanta Energy-from-Waste facility. About one ton of derelict nets creates enough electricity to power one home for 25 days!

6. Marine debris can hurt or kill animals

Marine debris may be mistaken by some animals for food or eaten accidently. Often, larger items like nets, fishing line, and abandoned crab pots snare or trap animals. Entanglement can lead to injury, illness, suffocation, starvation, and even death. NOAA is working with many partners to tackle this problem by reducing and preventing marine debris in our oceans and waterways.

Sea turtle entangled in a ghost net

7. There’s a lot to learn about this problem

We know that marine debris is a big problem, but there’s much we need to learn. NOAA funds projects across the country and works with scientists and experts around the globe to better understand how marine debris moves, where it comes from, and how it affects the environment. This knowledge will help us find better ways to tackle the problem.

8. You can help us get the word out!

The NOAA Marine Debris Program offers a heap of creative products to get the word out about marine debris. Looking for brochures, posters, fact sheets, or guidebooks? We’ve got those. Like videos? We’ve got those, too. We even have a blog! You’ll find it all online.

9. This is a global problem.

Marine debris is a global problem that requires global solutions. NOAA experts work with scientists and organizations around the world to share lessons learned, discover what programs work best, and map out future strategies to fight this problem.

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10. Small steps lead to big results

Fighting the marine debris problem begins at home.

  • - Try to cut back on the amount of trash you produce.
  • - Opt for reusable items instead of single-use products.
  • - Recycle as much of your trash as you can.
  • - Join local efforts to pick up trash.
  • - Keep streets, sidewalks, parking lots, and storm drains free of trash—they can empty into our oceans and waterways.

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Click to link
noaaleft
Minorly adapted from an NOAA article, with added illustrative NOAA images

WTF? (WHAT’S THAT FISH?) REMORAS: WEIRD SUCKERS


File:Nurse shark with remoras.jpg

WTF? (WHAT’S THAT FISH?) REMORAS: WEIRD SUCKERS

WHAT ON EARTH ARE REMORAS?

Remoras (Echeneidae), also known as Sharksuckers, Whalesuckers or Suckerfishes, are  ray-finned fish that grow up to 3 feet long. Remora ©Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba copy

You may have noticed them in pictures of sharks and wondered briefly why they hang out with such dangerous creatures. There is filmed evidence that remoras do occasionally get eaten by their hosts…383586_510314062323321_1002533913_n

WHAT DO THEY DO?

Remoras have remarkable dorsal fins that form a sucker-like organ with a ribbed structure. It looks a bit like the sole of a trainer or beach shoe.Remora (head( ©Melinda Riger @ G B ScubaThis bizarre organ can open and close to create or release suction, enabling it can latch onto larger marine creatures. The remora can increase suction by sliding backward, or it can release itself by swimming forward – the ‘slats’ are smooth in one direction, and rough the other way. They have been known to attach themselves to boats. And scuba divers. Even with hairy legs…

WHAT KIND OF CREATURES DO THEY GET ATTACHED TO?

Remoras  associate with specific host species. They commonly attach themselves to sharks, manta rays, whales, turtles, and manatees / dugongs. Smaller remoras may latch onto fish such as tuna and swordfish, and some travel in the mouths or gills of large manta rays, ocean sunfish, swordfish, and sailfish.File:Manta-ray australia.jpgFile:Sea turtle and remora.JPGFile:Mother and baby sperm whale.jpg

WHY WOULD THEY WANT TO DO THAT?

The relationship between a remora and its host is known as  Commensalismspecifically ‘Phoresy‘. The host to which it attaches for transport gains nothing from the relationship, but also loses little. The remora benefits by using the host as transport and protection, and also feeds on morsels dropped by the host. Controversy surrounds whether a remora’s diet is primarily leftover fragments, or the feces of the host. Maybe it’s a healthy  mix of both.

Remora ©Melinda Riger @GBS

WHERE CAN I FIND ONE?

Remoras are found in tropical, sub-tropical and temperate waters, including the mediterranean. You will definitely find them in the Bahamas. Melinda’s photos were all taken in the waters south of Grand Bahama.

ARE THEY USEFUL TO MANKIND IN ANY WAY?

Yes, but not in a good way, some may think. Some cultures use remoras to catch turtles. A cord or rope is fastened to the remora’s tail, and when a turtle is sighted, the fish is released from the boat; it usually heads directly for the turtle and fastens itself to the turtle’s shell, and then both remora and turtle are hauled in. Smaller turtles can be pulled completely into the boat by this method, while larger ones are hauled within harpooning range. This practice has been reported throughout the Indian Ocean, especially from eastern Africa near Zanzibar and Mozambique,  from northern Australia, Japan and even the Americas.

Remora ©Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba

Because of the shape of the jaws, appearance of the sucker, and coloration of the remora, it sometimes appears to be swimming upside down (see above). This probably led to an older name reversus, although this might also derive from the fact that the remora frequently attaches itself to the tops of manta rays or other fish, so that the remora is upside down while attached.

THANKS FOR THAT. BUT WHERE CAN I GET MORE INFO ON THESE SUCKERS?

RIGHT HERE – AN EXCELLENT VIDEO WITH PLENTY OF LIVE REMORA ACTION

OH! FINAL QUESTION. ARE REMORAS EDIBLE?

I though someone might ask that, so I’ve checked it out. Here is the best recipe I have found, expanded slightly from a blokey Australian chat thread:

Recipe for cooking Remora

  • put a 12 ltr pot on to boil
  • when the pot is bubbling violently, add 2 whole remora, 2 garden rocks, 1 carrot & a large turnip
  • add grandfather’s boots to taste, and turn heat down after 3 hours
  • simmer for a further 6 hours
  • turn off heat and drain carefully
  • remove and discard remora, and serve the rest on a bed of tin tacks

Credits: Melinda Riger, Grand Bahama Scuba; Wikimedia; meaty Wiki chunks & assorted pickings

A GHOST CRAB’S DAY AT THE SEASIDE AT DELPHI, ABACO


Crab, Delphi Club Beach, Abaco

A GHOST CRAB’S DAY AT THE SEASIDE AT DELPHI, ABACO

Crabby the Crab lived amongst the greenery at the very back of the Delphi Club BeachGhost Crab Delphi Beach 1

It was a very beautiful beach indeed. Lucky Crabby!Delphi Beach + Shell

One day Crabby decided to go down to the sea for a swimGhost Crab Delphi Beach 2

He scuttled across the sand towards the sound of the wavesGhost Crab Delphi Beach 3

He passed the burrow of his friend Sandy. Sandy was very busy tidying his house.Ghost Crab Delphi Beach 4

“Would you like to come for a paddle?” asked Crabby. “No thanks”, said Sandy, “I’m busy today”Ghost Crab Delphi Beach 5

So Crabby carried on towards the water’s edge. He got closer, to where the sand was wet…Ghost Crab Delphi Beach 6

…and closer, to where the water tickled his toes…Ghost Crab Delphi Beach 7

…and closer, to where the tide ripples reached.  Crabby waved his claws with excitementGhost Crab Delphi Beach 8

Finally, he was paddling in the warm water. It was just perfect. Whoops! Don’t fall in, Crabby!Ghost Crab Delphi Beach 9

Very soon Crabby was in the water, right up to his eyes. What a beautiful day for a swim!Ghost Crab in surf.Delphi Club.Abaco bahamas.6.13.Tom Sheley copy

See ‘Crab Run: The Movie’, starring Crabby the Crab

CREDITS: header & beach, RH; last image, Tom Sheley; the rest, Charlie Skinner. DEBITS: pre-Christmas nauseatingly anthropomorphic tomfoolery and video – blame me. No crabs were harmed or even mildly embarrassed during this photoshoot.

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