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
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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.

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


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

Shark! ©Melinda Riger @ GB Scuba

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

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

Take comfort from the fact that no fatalities and only half a dozen injuries from shark attacks have been recorded in Abaco waters for over 250 years (since 1749). Risk assessors and the nervous, take note.562948_451267911561270_623113740_n555792_536784029676324_391849202_n

By way of comparison, in the last 150 years there have been 36 recorded shark attacks in the Mediterranean, of which 18 have been fatal…427529_456773757677352_433374920_n

Since 1845 there have been a number of shark attacks in British waters, with one fatality.  There were two more fatalities in an incident in 1956 , but this was an ‘own-goal’ arising from an attempt to blow up a shark with dynamite. It can hardly be blamed on the shark.392552_465306553490739_673110738_n

WEIRD NON-SHARK RELATED STATISTIC: Amazingly, in the 3 years 2007 – 09 in England and Wales, 42 people died from being bitten by animals, only a few of which were dogs.

CONCLUSION You are statistically far safer to spend 250 years swimming off Abaco than spending 3 years stroking a cat in Manchester. Or Swansea.

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LEAVE SHARKS ALONE AND THEY’LL LEAVE YOU ALONE306092_500604003294327_1470960886_n

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