BAHAMAS MASTERS OF UNDERWATER CAMOUFLAGE
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..
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…
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)
RECIPE: Take one incompetent swimmer who hasn’t snorkelled in, oh, nearly 40 years. Place him over a coral reef for his first time ever. Add a small underwater camera totally alien to him. Immerse for 30 minutes in warm briny water.
Lessons have been learnt for next time. Mainly, don’t keep waving the camera about; let the fish move round you rather than vice versa; and most important of all, remember to keep breathing or else…
Here for the first time on public release is BLUE TANG: THE MOVIE (music by Adrian Legg), 45 secs of advanced camera-shake with some beautiful fish more or less in shot for most of the time. If you are prone to sea-sickness, do not enlarge the video. If you are allergic to poor photography… well, thanks for visiting.
Trout & Salmon Magazine is essential reading for the freshwater game- fisherman. However, it occasionally spreads its net wider than rivers and lakes, and this month’s issue trails important news for the Delphi Club: an article in the December issue to be published on 24 November 2011 entitled BONEFISH DELPHI STYLE – Michael Shortt finds hard-fighting fish in a Bahamian home from home. I expect further details will appear on the Club website but I mention it in passing before turning to another feature in this month’s T&S issue. For DCB website CLICK ===>>> DELPHI CLUB ABACO
TROUT & SALMON NOV 2011: WATERPROOF CAMERAS REVIEW You’ll find details of an early version of a cheap and cheerful Kodak underwater camera at the end of the rollingharbour GADGETS page. This straightforward little camera is now into its third version at much the same price, and in due course I will update my original post.
T&S has now reviewed 3 other waterproof cameras, all in a higher price bracket. They may be of interest for those planning a stay in 2011–12. For a fishing trip on a skiff a waterproof camera is not really a necessity. However, it is highly desirable if you are planning a scuba or snorkelling trip, for example with Kay Politano’s excellent ABACO ABOVE AND BELOW – see FOWL CAY REEF posts.
There’s always the Rolling Harbour beach to investigate at the Delphi Club, where there are areas of sea grass that shelter numerous small species. I haven’t yet used my little Kodak there, but I’ll get the chance in early 2012 – who knows what’s to be found? In theory you (but not me – I don’t get very far out of my depth before turning turtle) could take a Club kayak out to deeper water, which could be very interesting… Anyway, here is the review: © Trout & Salmon Magazine, reproduced without express permission yet but in the hope that they will approve of the publicity, and not cancel my sub…
AFTERTHOUGHT: if you arrived on this page via a G**gle search for Trout & Salmon Delphi Club / Abaco / Bonefishing, and all you got ‘was a lousy camera review’, bad luck – this is the unruly younger sibling of the main DCB website, to which the correct re-directions are CLICK ===>>> DELPHI CLUB ABACO
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]
Here are some more stills of reef fish taken from the video of our reef-snorkelling trip to Fowl Key with Abaco Above and Below. I’ll add the fish IDs gradually. The first batch are images of individual fish; the second batch is a sequence showing a queen parrot fish feeding on small fish (?gobies) – images that I’d expect David Attenborough to describe in his quiet and breathy way as “really quite extraordinary”, especially if he has seen the general standard of pics in this blog…
PREDATORY QUEEN PARROTFISH (CUE JAWS-STYLE THEME MUSIC)
You will need: swimming kit; sweatshirt (it can be cold on the boat after snorkelling); stuff for Island Hopping later on, inc. camera, money etc; snorkel practice in the pool if you haven’t used one for (say) 20+ years – use the Club gear; Ian Took’s slim ‘Fishes of the Caribbean Reefs’. NB there is limited room on the boat, so you’ll need a bit of a nifty towel work to preserve modesty when changing…
Kay Politano of Abaco Above and Below in Marsh Harbour pencils in an unspecified number of places for a day’s island-hopping and reef-snorkelling while I find out how many non-fishing-that-day Delphi guests might be interested. Seven sign up, and one morning we all set off to Marsh Harbour. In Kay’s shop we try on our flippers, marvel at the scuba possibilities (a completely implausible proposition for most of us…), then we troop off to the marina and Kay’s reassuringly powerful and safe-looking catamaran. It takes 12 passengers; the other 5 are already aboard. We set off towards a threatening-looking weather front; rain later is a certainty…
Kay and rh at the controls
Passing by several Cays, we arrive at Fowl Cay Marine Preserve and drop anchor. We don our flippers, wrestle with our masks and snorkels, and in turn drop off the back of the boat (ok, stern, is it?) into warmish water, under thick grey cloud. My practice in the Delphi pool has paid off, and soon I am wheezing and gurgling my way towards the reef with my head (mostly) under water, a situation I generally avoid.
I am completely unprepared for what I find when I get to the reef. David Attenborough’s favourite production team has kindly arranged for a wide variety of bright fish, some electrically charged, to come up close and inspect me, an intruder in their world. I’ll spare you the colour-supp superlatives and graphic intensifiers – you’re probably blasé and have seen it all before – but I am totally gobsmacked, even with my mouthpiece in place. It’s all real! It’s even better than TV! And don’t get me started on the coral…
While I gasp and bubble my way around, I keep a small waterproof video camera running (see GADGETS review). My swimming is feeble at the best of times, but somehow it all seems to be coming together – my flailing limbs, the laboured breathing, the reef, the fish and the footage. We circle round the reef – occasional pale figures appear in my lateral vision – for about 25 minutes, then return to the boat and the struggle to remove our flippers…
Everyone is excited about what they have seen (some saw barracudas). Who cares that it’s started drizzling… we are wet already and it’s off to Lubbers Cay for lunch; see forthcoming Island-Hopping Post. And see MARINE LIFE page for more reef fish photos taken on this expedition.
ADDITION April 2012 I notice there have been a few specific searches ‘what is the plural of Sergeant Major?’ Good question. The strict grammatically correct answer is, I suspect (as with the military rank), ‘sergeants major’ because it’s the sergeants who are plural and the ‘major’ is a qualifier to distinguish from other degrees of sergeant (were there sergeants minor, for example). It’s the same with courts martial – not ‘court martials’. BUT it sounds all wrong and pernickety. I reckon the whole fish is a sergeant major. If there are 2 or more, you’ve got some sergeant majors to play with.