BAHAMAS REEF FISH (39): YELLOWTAIL DAMSELFISH


Yellowtail Damselfish (©Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba)

BAHAMAS REEF FISH (39): YELLOWTAIL DAMSELFISH

Yellowtails are just one of several damselfish species in Bahamas waters. These small fish are conspicuous not just for the bright tails that give them their name. More striking if anything – especially if seen underwater in sunlight against the coral – are the electric blue spots visible in both adults and juveniles.

Yellowtail Damselfish (©Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba)

The body of adults is dark blue to brownish to almost black 

The body of juveniles is blue

Yellowtails are a common and widespread variety of damselfish. They have a limited ability to change colour according to their surroundings, but with their bright tails and luminous blue flecks, it’s hard to see how they can look, to a predator, anything other than a tasty snack.

I have enjoyed seeing these little fish at Fowl Cay Marine Preserve, Abaco. The reef there makes for easy and rewarding snorkelling, with a wide variety of small and medium-size reef fishes to be seen. It’s an expedition I would definitely recommend to anyone wanting to see a healthy and active reef in a completely natural protected area.

I found that a video I took with a tiny camera was sadly of use only to myself. No one else would be able to make anything out due to the marked camera shake. Novices, huh? You are spared that: here’s a brief example of yellowtails swimming instead, showing the difference between juveniles and adults.

Credits: all photos, Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba; video from Desert Diving

‘RAISE AWARENESS’: SPOTTED EAGLE RAYS


Spotted Eagle Rays, Abaco, Bahamas (Gabrielle Manni)

Spotted Eagle Rays – Abaco, Bahamas

‘RAISE AWARENESS’: SPOTTED EAGLE RAYS

Mention of rays may conjure up thoughts of the familiar southern stingrays that populate the bright shallows and colourful reefs of the Bahamas. But there are other ray species out there gracefully patrolling the coral reefs – and one of these species is the spotted eagle ray (Aetobatus narinari).

Spotted Eagle Rays, Abaco, Bahamas (Catherine / Tara Pyfrom)

These fish (for that is what they are) are not uncommon. In fact they are found in tropical oceans worldwide (though there is a taxonomic distinction between the Atlantic version and the Pacific / Indo-Pacific ones). Note the concentration in the Caribbean sea.

Spotted Eagle Rays, Grand Bahama, Bahamas (Melinda Riger / GB Scuba)

Spotted eagle rays obviously have spots, but they are not notably eagle-like to look at. In fact, their snouts resemble a duck’s bill, and in some place they are less glamorously known as the duckbill ray. The ‘eagle’ part relates to the way in which they use their wings and appear to be soaring as they glide effortlessly through the water (see videos below).

Spotted Eagle Rays (Lazlo-photos Wiki)

Despite their global presence, these rays are categorised as ‘near-threatened’ on the IUCN Red List. Aside from vulnerability to predators including many types of shark, the rays may be caught as bycatch. In some areas they suffer entanglement in shark nets. And unsurprisingly there is a trade for them for large commercial aquariums. For the Atlantic species, Florida has taken a lead by banning fishing for, landing, buying or trading in spotted eagle rays. 

Spotted Eagle Rays, Abaco, Bahamas (Gabrielle Manni)

10 ESSENTIAL FACTS ABOUT SPOTTED EAGLE RAYS

  • They have 2 – 6 venomous barbed spines at the base of the tail
  • Adults are among the largest rays, with a 10 ft wingspan
  • They can leap clear of the water, and may do this more than once at a time
  • Occasionally they land in boats, to the consternation of all concerned
  • Their main diet is small fish and crustaceans, & sometimes octopuses
  • Their broad snouts are used to dig food out of the seabed as they forage
  • The rays are basically shy but may be curious of divers & snorkellers
  • They suffer from parasites, both externally and in their gills
  • Ray sex is quite physical, yet actual mating is brief (up to 90 secs…)
  • The female hatches her eggs internally, then her ‘pups’ are born live a year later

SPOTTED EAGLE RAY PUP

                          

Spotted Eagle Ray (John Norton Wiki)

 VIDEO SHOWCASE
These 3 short videos demonstrate the grace and beauty of spotted eagle rays as they glide elegantly around the reefs. The first (50s) was taken off Grand Bahama by Fred Riger (Melinda’s husband, for those who follow the underwater forays hereabouts); then one by Stephen Dickey (2:12) ; and finally one from Wildscreen Arkive (2:00).

WEIRD CREATURE CORNER

I have a lot of time for these cards produced by ‘Weird ‘n’ Wild Creatures’. In their unique style they are simple, educative and often give information nuggets not found elsewhere. The link is to their 4th series, Monsters of the Deep.

 

Photo credits: Gabrielle Manni (1), (5); Catherine & Tara Pyfrom (2); Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba (3); Lazlo-photos Wiki (4); Wiki (baby ray thumbnails); John Norton Wiki (6); Jacob Robertson Wiki (7); Weird ‘n’ Wild Creatures – card images. Videos as credited in text.

Spotted Eagle Ray, TCI (Jacob Robertson, Wiki)

AN ‘EXHILARATION’ OF ABACO DOLPHINS


Bottlenose Dolphins, Abaco Bahamas (BMMRO)

AN ‘EXHILARATION’ OF ABACO DOLPHINS

Bottlenose dolphins! Tursiops truncatus! These engagingly playful show-offs of the inshore waters round Abaco are 99.99% adorable**. It’s been a harrowing few weeks in the western Atlantic, and everyone is hoping that the 2017 hurricane season has had enough of causing death and destruction over vast swathes of vulnerable islands and on the US mainland. Some cheer is needed.

Bottlenose Dolphins, Abaco Bahamas (BMMRO)

Dolphins are good for the soul. And if you are out on a boat watching them – and especially tracking them for a whole day – every encounter reinforces the impression that all the leaping, bow-wave riding, boat under-swimming, and general sociability and interaction is often as much for sheer enjoyment as anything else. 

Bottlenose Dolphins, Abaco Bahamas (BMMRO)

Abaco is fortunate in having the HQ of the Bahamas Mammals Research Organisation (BMMRO) based at Sandy Point. That just happens to be an excellent area for bottlenose dolphin spotting in the turquoise shallows. Many sightings are made within clear sight of land. Further south, where the bright blue gives way to darker and deeper water, live the equally frolicsome Atlantic spotted dolphins. The 3 photos above were all taken on the margins of where the colour of the sea changes from light to dark.

Bottlenose Dolphins, Abaco Bahamas (BMMRO)

I’m a bit of a collector of collective nouns. For dolphins, apart from the matter-of-fact ‘group’ or ‘pod’, there is no exotic word to describe a number of them when they are having fun. No equivalent of ‘exaltation’ (larks), ‘charm’ (goldfinches) or ‘parliament’ (owls). So I’m nominating an ‘exhilaration’ as a candidate to fill the gap…

The photo above shows clearly how individual dolphins can be identified by researchers. All tend to have scars or tears to their dorsal fins that enable them to be distinguished. The closest has distinctive scars near the tip. The furthest has a W-shaped nick at the back. In fact, it could even be Rocky, a well-known dolphin on Abaco that has been sighted over many years. There are regular reports annually. I saw him myself once, in 2012, playing about in Hopetown harbour. 

STOP PRESS To demonstrate how the ID methods work, I’ve now cross-checked with the BMMRO photo ID archive. Here is Rocky’s original dorsal fin ID image (“Tt15”) from October 2010. There’s a W-shaped nick, sure, but my speculation above was wrong because overall the two fins are clearly different…

Rocky the Dolphin Tt15, from BMMRO ID photo archive

** The 0.01%? Dolphins may, rarely, be alarming for divers in circumstances I won’t repeat here (hint: to do with over-friendliness, ok? Yes, the thing that dogs do)

Credits: all photos BMMRO – and taken in the last 2 months

HURRICANE MARIA: TRACKING UPDATE for SEP 20th (Abaco, Bahamas)


HURRICANE MARIA: TRACKING UPDATE SEP 20th

Abaco, Bahamas

Hurricane Maria is currently passing over Puerto Rico as a Cat 4 on the Saffir-Simpson Scale. The big question for those to the north-west in general and (for this blog) Abaco in particular is, has the storm’s swerve to the east continued? And it’s now clear that the tendency has indeed been maintained. This means that today, more of the Bahamas Islands are now free for now from the cone of the predicted path. Here are the latest trackers for 11.00 am EDT today.

CURRENT POSITION

PREDICTED PATH

For the Abacos, the situation continues to improve for the moment at least. It’s certainly way too soon to be sure, but right now the outlook is good. And of course, Abaco may still experience a buffeting as the storm gradually progresses to the east. 

LOOKING FORWARD

Here is an estimate – and only that – of the position of Maria in relation to Abaco on Saturday Sep 23 at noon, if the current course holds. It will be a close shave, for sure.

Credits: NOAAW / GOES; GOES East; NASA; Wunderground; Accuweather; NOAA / NHC; Windy.com STAY SAFE

HURRICANE MARIA: TRACKING UPDATE SEP 19th (Abaco, Bahamas)


HURRICANE MARIA: TRACKING UPDATE SEP 19th

Abaco, Bahamas

In the life of a massive Cat. 5 hurricane, a lot can happen over 24 hours. One source reports ‘mind-boggling devastation’ on Dominica. Other islands on the storm’s path are braced for their own tragedies for their populations, many still reeling from the passage of Irma just 2 weeks ago. Here are the latest trackers for 11.00 am EDT today; and a calculated prediction for the position on Friday midnight.

CURRENT POSITION

PREDICTED PATH

The first thing to note is that (after a slight drop in wind speed) the storm has now intensified to become Cat. 5. In due course wind speeds are expected to reduce gradually, as shown, but of course it won’t necessarily turn out that way.

For the Abacos, however, the situation is notably better that this time yesterday, when the islands were squarely with the cone (though not right at the centre). However the distinct tendency of Maria to hook right / east that was evident yesterday has increased to the extent that Abaco – and indeed the northern Bahamas – is no longer within the cone. Much the same happened with Irma. Both sources below show a similar prediction. Again, it won’t necessarily turn out that way, but there’s at least some encouragement for a better outlook. And of course, this does not mean that Abaco won’t get some heavy weather as Maria moves on…

LOOKING AHEAD

I’ve used a realtime tracker and moved it forward along its timeline to midnight on Friday. I’ve centred the prediction on South Abaco (white circles). There’s plenty of scope for the course to alter in the meantime, but the model suggests the main storm will progress mainly to the east of the Bahamas – and if the veer continues, then the more so for the northern islands. But remember – the predictions are just that and no more…

Credits: NOAAW / GOES; GOES East; NASA; Wunderground; NOAA / NHC; Windy.com STAY SAFE

HURRICANE MARIA 2017: TRACKING THE NEW THREAT


HURRICANE MARIA 2017: TRACKING THE NEW THREAT

‘A PROBLEM LIKE MARIA’ feat. ‘DROP OFF THE QUAY, LEE’

It never rains, but it pours. Sometimes doubly so. Just as those so cruelly affected by Irma are beginning to deal with the trail of terrible damage and destruction of the huge hurricane, so another storm, Maria, approaches along a similar path. This has now been upgraded from a tropical storm to a Cat. 1 hurricane, and is expected to continue to pick up intensity.

The trackers below were all updated early this morning. The good news is that Lee is forecast to break up and dissipate. So at the moment, that threat can probably be discounted. Maria, on the other hand, is one to watch with eagle eyes: already on course to reach the Leeward Islands today, then expected to intensify and probably reach the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico as a Cat 3 or 4 hurricane by Wednesday. After that, the storm looks set to pass Hispaniola and may hit the Turks and Caicos by Friday unless there’s a more significant hook to the right along the way. Beyond that, the Bahamas…

You may wonder why I put in 3 or 4 trackers of the many that are out there. It’s because they each present the information in a slightly different way. Some are easy to interpret; some are overloaded with info or otherwise confusing; some seem to me to be less accurate. The ones here are the ones I have used and found useful (= clear and reliable) since 2011, Hurricane Irene…

OPTIONAL MUSICAL DIGRESSION

I initially decided to omit my usual OMD, often added when a relevant song gets name-checked hereabouts. Then I rethought it. I’m not meaning to be frivolous nor to downplay the seriousness of extreme weather events on all those so badly affected.  But on the other hand, there are a few things that can lighten the spirit, albeit briefly. A really well put together song with clever lyrics is one such. Get rid of the squall, Paul; Drop off the quay, Lee; Just sing ‘see ya, Maria’; 

Credits: NOAAW / RAMMB / GOES; GOES East; Wunderground; NOAA / NHC; Paul Simon

HURRICANE IRMA AFTERMATH: ABACO’S SIDESWIPE(S)


Hurricane Irma, Abaco

HURRICANE IRMA HITS CHEROKEE, ABACO, BAHAMAS

HURRICANE IRMA AFTERMATH: ABACO’S SIDESWIPE(S)

Hurricane Irma barrels on northwards as Florida begins to count the cost.  Abaco has had its turn to experience the awesome power of this brute of a storm. Or make that turns (plural) because such a massive storm 400 miles across, spiralling longs strands of filthy weather outwards with centrifugal menace, can strike more than once as the main storm passes further off.

Hurricane Irma, Abaco

Thanks to the relatively late shift of the storm’s path to the west, there was no direct hit on Abaco (as was once forecast). High winds and heavy seas, but none of the cruel devastation elsewhere that we have all been watching and reading about with horror and sympathy for the victims.

Seaweed covering the beach at Casuarina, AbacoHurricane Irma, Abaco

By Saturday evening, relieved messages were already being posted. Later, an official statement confirmed limited harm and damage. The airport was reopened. Albury’s Ferries announced the forthcoming resumption of services. Gradually, the overall picture took shape as more reports and messages came in from the mainland and the cays.

Tahiti Beach, Elbow Cay, Abaco

At Delphi, Jason confirmed that the worst of the storm passed quite quickly and that there was no structural damage, though doubtless the gardens have taken a beating – a minuscule inconvenience comparatively.

Hurricane Irma, Abaco    Hurricane Irma, AbacoHurricane Irma, Abaco

By yesterday morning, the only area I hadn’t seen anything about was the west side of Abaco – Sandy Point. Might things have been different -perhaps worse –  on the west coast? Then I heard from BMMRO HQ that the situation was much as elsewhere. The whales and dolphins of the Bahamas will continue be researched when the boat can put out to sea…

Atlantic Spotted Dolphins seen off Abaco before Irma came alongAtlantic Spotted Dolphins, Abaco, Bahamas (BMMRO)

Like the aftershocks of an earthquake, bouts of high winds and huge gusts have continued to pass over; and in places the sea has been sucked out from the beaches. There have been outages of course (not a novel experience even in calm times); and I’ve seen reports of interruption with water supplies. But I think it can be said that Abaco has escaped quite lightly – and certainly in comparison with the terrible devastation elsewhere.

Roof tiles have been lost, but there seems to have been limited structural damage. Trees have been trashed of course, and there has been plenty of beach erosion. Many beaches have been smothered in seaweed. But all-in-all, Abaco has fared alright, which is not to say that people’s thoughts have been absent from those who have taken the hit and borne the brunt of Irma’s rage.

Bahama Palm Shores, Abaco

The Low Place, Man-o-War Cay

WHAT ABOUT HURRICANE JOSE?

The tracking for this pursuer of Irma has appeared to show the storm going round in circles in mid-Atlantic. Until quite recently. This morning’s prediction shows a determined move to the west towards the end of the week. One to keep a very close eye on still.

WHAT ARE THE VIEWS FROM SPACE RIGHT NOW?

NASA-NOAA’s Suomi NPP satellite: night-time view of Irma over Florida

NASA / GOES East satellite: daytime view of the storm moving north over Florida

Credits: Karen Eldon (1); Olivia Patterson Maura (2, 9, 10); Andrea Janeen Sands Albury (3); Abaco Buzz (4); Jason Prangnall (5, 6); Dive Abaco (7); BMMRO (8); Beth Nace (11, 12, 13); Charmaine Albury (14); Wunderground for the Jose Tracker; NASA / NOAA / GOES for the space shots