“I MUST FLY”: GONE TO ABACO. BACK SOMETIME.
UPDATES AS & WHEN
Photos: Tom Sheley, RH, Charlie Skinner, Melinda, Kaitlyn Blair on FB, RH
THE SPOTTED TRUNKFISH is a reef fish distinctive for its dark spots on a silvery-white background. It’s very wrong of me to comment, I know, but arguably its appearance is amusing. It probably feels the same about divers with all their gear…
However the trunkfish deserves to be treated with due respect. When touched, they secrete a colourless toxin from glands on their skin. The toxin is only dangerous when ingested, so divers are unlikely to be harmed by the it. Predators however are at risk, and creatures as large as nurse sharks are known to have died as a result of eating a trunkfish.
THE SMOOTH TRUNKFISH is almost a negative of the spotted trunkfish, with white spots on a dark background rather than vice versa. Adults develop hexagonal patterning on their sides. They also secrete toxins and are best left untouched. Their ability to pucker up is impressive…
I have been idly filing away some stunning close-up reef denizen images by Melinda Riger. A Monday morning is the perfect time to showcase some pouts, poses and glad eyes from the ‘catfish walk’, starting with my absolute favourite…
For more octopus information and a discussion of the correct plural (choice of 3) CLICK HERE
For a post about underwater species camouflage CLICK HERE
**Since I posted this earlier today, I have been asked (re photo 1) what the… the… heck a Cowfish looks like, when it’s not puckering up while facing you. The answer is: stunningly glamorous…
Thanks as ever to Melinda Riger of Grand Bahama Scuba for use permission for her fab photos; tip of the dorsal fin to Wiki for the shark eye header pic
“Oh, that this too too solid flesh would melt, thaw and…” Ah! Sorry. I’m soliloquising again. Must be Thursday. And the merest mention of Hamlet is enough to set anyone off. But I speak not of noble yet gloomy Danes of Elsinore and of discernibly introspective aspect. These ones are pretty reef fish of the Caribbean seas, mainly in the Bahamas and along the Florida coast. There are a number of different types of hamlet, of which the 4 featured below in Melinda’s amazing underwater images were were encountered in one dive.
Hamlets have outstandingly interesting reproductive skills, being ‘synchronous hermaphrodites’. They have the unusual benefit of having both male and female sexual organs as adults, permitting imaginative combinations of pairings (though not including self-fertilization). When they find a mate, “the pair takes turns between which one acts as the male and which acts as the female through multiple matings, usually over the course of several nights”. I don’t dare check whether there are websites that cater for this sort of energetic coupling. The wonder is that Hamlets preferentially mate with individuals of their same colour pattern, and that they are not more wanton with their attentions and sexual flexibility.
OPTIONAL CULTURAL, HISTORICAL & MUSICAL DIVERSION INSPIRED BY HAMLET
The other notable Hamlet is, of course, the mild cigar equated in the famed commercials with happiness, accompanied by an excerpt from a jazzy version of Bach’s ‘Air on the G String’. Here is one of the best – and possibly the only advert to my knowledge to feature not one, but two excellent Sir Walter Raleigh jokes.
Bach’s well-known descending chord sequence of was of course
shamelessly ripped off by ingeniously adapted by Procol Harum for ‘A Whiter Shade of Pale’, their first single in 1967. Relive the Summer of Love right here and now. Is this the music that might even put those versatile hamlets in the mood…
Any fret-tweakers might like to see the sheet music of the Air for guitar – you could even play it on air guitar – which is relatively easy, being in C major.Credits: All fish pics Melinda Riger of Grand Bahama Scuba, except wiki-header; open-source online material; my mp3, dammit – I can’t get the wretched tune out of my mind…
QUEEN ANGELFISH: COLOURFUL CORAL ROYALTY – BAHAMAS REEF FISH (13)
One of the earliest posts in the Bahamas Reef Fish series was about Queen Angelfish Holacanthus ciliaris, and you can see it HERE. I make no apology for returning with some more recent photos from Melinda Riger – these fish deserve plenty of attention for their wonderful bright presence that stands out even amongst the colourful corals of the reef.
The grouper family is a large one, and a number of varieties of the species inhabit Bahamas waters. Like most groupers, these are denizens of coral reefs. An adult grouper may grow to 3 ft long and weigh in the region of 10 lbs.
Groupers are effective predators, with strong gills that enable them to suck their prey into their large mouths from a short distance away. They will eat smaller fish, crustaceans, and even OCTOPUSES (click to discover the correct plural form for this creature).
Many divers become familiar with the groupers of the reefs they explore, and some of the fish are given pet names. They are often distinguished from each other by distinctive markings or injury scars. More varieties of grouper will be on show soon; though it has to be said that this series will be no beauty parade… (see above and below for further details)
UPDATE I’ve found a video of a tiger grouper off Nassau sizing up the photographer, before swimming away
The coral reefs of the Bahamas provide a home for a myriad of subaquatic creatures and plants. Not necessarily a safe one, though. Some species prefer to remain largely hidden to reduce the chances of becoming part of the lengthy reef food chain. Rocks, of course, can offer some security, but also the sandy bottom. Even brain coral can provide some protection…
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.
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.
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.
Credits: All images ©Melinda Riger @ Grand Bahama Scuba
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
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.
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 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.
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).
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.
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 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.
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.
THREE-SPOT DAMSELFISHPhoto credits: Melinda Riger @ Grand Bahama Scuba (except header image – Wiki-cheers)
Butterflyfishes (Chaetodontidae) belong to a large worldwide family of small, colourful reef fishes. There are several sorts to be found in the Bahamas, of which 4 are shown below. These creatures resemble small angel fishes, and are invariably vividly coloured, strikingly patterned, or in many cases, both. Apart from that, the most interesting fact about them is that their species name Chaetodontidae derives from a Greek compound noun meaning ‘hair tooth’. This unsettling description relates to the rows of tiny, fine filament-like teeth inside their protuberant mouths. If I ever get a photo of a butterflyfish showing its teeth while feeding or yawning, I will add it here…
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
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
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
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:
Some more bullet points from Tim Smith’s article:
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…
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.**
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.
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.**Photo Credits: main images ©Melinda Riger, Grand Bahama Scuba; Header – Wikipix
** I can say this – I am one…
The Queen Angel is one of several reef fish species where the difference in colouring between juveniles and adults is marked. They are commonly found in the waters of Florida and the Bahamas, with a range extending to the Gulf of Mexico. Adults can grow to 3.5 lbs (to mix metric with avoirdupois) and they can live up to 15 years. Like all Angelfish, they rely on their pectoral fins for propulsion as they forage on the reefs for their mixed diet of sponges, coral, plankton, algae, and even jellyfish. As the photo below shows, they have no problem swimming upside down…
Evidence suggests that adult Queen Angels may form ‘monogamous’ pairings. Brief research in the factosphere suggests that the proposition is somewhat tenuous. Maybe pairs just like hanging out - possibly to gain some territorial advantage – and anthropomorphising that into lifelong partnership terms may be overstating the relationship… Whether wed for life or not, the actual mating process is remarkably efficient. The pair snuggle up close, simultaneously releasing large quantities of sperm and tens of thousands of eggs. The fertilised eggs hatch within a day. Respect!
Photo Credits for the amazing main images: ©Melinda Riger (Grand Bahama Scuba), with thanks; header image WikiPic
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.
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 (school-age)
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
I usually have 3 or 4 planned posts on the go. Some are quick to compose, some are not. Especially those requiring technical input from the technically unsound – downloading a video, changing the file format, editing and polishing, uploading to a compatible ‘carrier’ etc. I’ve been meaning to get round to making some fish and reef videos from footage of a trip with Kay Politano of Abaco Above & Below. Now I have…
If you are tolerant enough to at least start this one, which focusses on coral, can I restate the excuses? I swim like a panicking cat. I hadn’t snorkelled for a great many
decades years until 2011. I was a stranger to underwater scenery, let alone photography. I wave my tiny camera around too excitedly, though not deliberately to inflict seasickness on hapless viewers… It is a bit less bad this time round, however. Luckily I can tell from my stats if anyone has bothered to click on the video below, and you can rely on me to trash the thing if I find a paltry (or non-existent) response. Best just to watch on the small screen, though.
With those dire warnings, here is the video. I would be very interested to ID all the corals that can be seen. There are the easy ones like sea fan, elkhorn, mustard hill, brain… but what’s that one over there? No, behind the waving one…? Comments / suggestions welcome. And if you don’t much care for coral, there are some pretty fish to look at…
Music Credit: Adrian Legg’s ‘Old Friends’, from ‘Guitar Bones’
ADDENDUM JAN 13 I am really grateful to Capt Rick Guest for taking the time to view the video, and the trouble to analyse the contents. He has very helpfully highlighted many points of interest in the film, both as to coral and as to fish, so I’ll post his commentary in full, with my thanks. Of both interest and concern are Rick’s remarks about the Elkhorn Coral. I had wondered about its bleached look. It’s dying…
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’
EXPLORING THE CORAL REEF AT FOWL CAY MARINE PRESERVE, ABACO
First, a warning for anyone arriving new to this blog (hi! welcome) either on purpose or accidentally: I can’t swim very well, I hadn’t snorkelled for decades until last year, and I’d never before used a camera underwater.
That said, there is probably enough in this 2:40 min video to warrant a quick view. As with other videos from this expedition to Fowl Cay Marine Preserve (STINGRAY / BLUE TANG), best viewed small to avoid queasiness and disorientation. You can always Pause for a breather. There are some nice fish obligingly in view from time to time, and the coral is very diverse. And I’ll know what to do this year to get better results, besides trying harder with the swimming… (Music: East Wes by Eric Johnson, off Ah Via Musicom)
AUDUBON FISHES OF THE CARIBBEAN & GULF OF MEXICO APP
iphone, ipad (172mb) £0.69 / $0.99 offer until 31 Jan, then reverts to $9.99 rollingharbour rating *****
This is app is so good, and such an utter bargain until 31 Jan 2012, that I have awarded it the rh logo position at the top of the page. Praise indeed. Audubon guides are legendary, of course. The excellent Audubon bird app has already been reviewed and also given a rare 5*- see BIRD APP on the BOOKS ETC drop-down menu. Now here are the Caribbean Fishes, in all their glory. First, a clip shot of the download page – click on it to enlarge and avoid eye-strain
This is a very well designed app, a comprehensive search and identification tool with a myriad of features. It’s fine for an iPhone, but I guess it would really come into its own on an iPad. Whatever that is. Here’s a brief overview of the contents
SEARCH OPTIONS: by shape (dividing size into 5 categories, from giant to tiny); family (alphabetical list of species); name (alphabetical list with useful thumbnails to assist – and cleverly, the ability to search by first name ‘Sergeant’ or last name ‘Major’), or advanced search (size / shape; habitat; regions; colour)
REFERENCE sections on biology; fish-watching tips; marine habitats; biogeography; conservation; fish taxonomy; dangerous fishes; large glossary
OTHER FEATURES include the facility for having a (free) account, enabling a ‘My Content’ facility; Journal; and GPS
Crits? Very few at first glance. The odd typo. My inital search for bonefish by size (over-optimistic, of course) led me to the larger ladyfish, but a search by name took me straight to it. The most significant confusions may arise from the present ‘single image’ ID format. For example, if you look for the uncomely greeny-blue adult male stoplight parrotfish, you may be surprised to find the prettier black, white & red female pictured. Similarly, you won’t find juveniles, such as the small blue-with-yellow-spots yellowtail damselfish. But these are small points in an app with such a large scope. Anyway, who knows what upgrades will follow?
Overall for £0.69 / $0.99 a complete steal for New Year
A while ago, I posted stills from a reef-snorkelling video – my first ever underwater video attempt, and indeed my first snorkel for about 40 years CLICK===>>> REEF FISH I started with a stingray, producing some rather… ok, very… modest results, but it was at least identifiable if you looked carefully and felt benign.
I’ve learned a few tricks since then. Here is the whole clip, still hopeless in most respects but there’s something quite cute about the creature. Mercifully it is only 37 seconds long. I reserve the right to delete this post when I realise no one has actually watched it! [LATER: Oh! I find a few hardy souls have done so. It's a democratic vote for the ray to stay, as I see it]
[Belated credit to the fairly litigious Joe Satriani (see JS v Coldplay 2009) for borrowing the intro to one of his songs. It's a non-commercial tribute, Joe]