SHARPNOSE PUFFER FISH: BAHAMAS REEF FISH (47)


Sharpnose Puffer Fish (Melinda Riger / G B Scuba)

SHARPNOSE PUFFER FISH: BAHAMAS REEF FISH (47)

It’s more than 4 years since I last wrote about these intriguing creatures and their endearing ways. It’s time for another look, with a new batch of great photos too. This is a species that lends itself to the ‘Fun Fact’ treatment, a method that tells you at least as much as you probably need – or want – to know about puffers. The message to take away is, best not to handle one – let alone eat one – unless you know exactly what you are doing…

Sharpnose Puffer Fish (Melinda Riger / G B Scuba)

10 PUFFER FISH FACTS TO ASTONISH YOUR FAMILY & FRIENDS

1. Puffers can inflate their bodies in an instant by ingesting huge amounts of water and becoming water-filled balloons. Then their tiny spines stick out. 

2. They need a startling form of defence (or ‘piscatorial superpower’ Linnaeus 1763*) like this because they can’t swim very well to escape from predators: it’s surprising and intimidating – and it also makes them hard to eat.

3. However, a persistent predator undeterred by the trick will find that the puffer contains a toxin (tetrodotoxin TTX) that is said to be ‘1,200 times stronger than cyanide’. One puffer fish has enough toxin to kill up to 30 humans (National Geographic).

Sharpnose Puffer Fish (Melinda Riger / G B Scuba)

4. Notwithstanding the risks, selected parts of a puffer fish are a delicacy in some cultures (known as ‘fugu’ in Japan). Specially trained chefs are used to avoid mass deaths among diners. The insurance premiums must be huge.

5. Sharks are thought to be the only species immune to the puffer fish, and are not much bothered by a small fish that can blow itself up.

6. Puffers have skin, not scales; most have toxic fins or spines of some sort, besides toxic innards. Bright coloured kinds are likely to be more toxic than their duller cousins. This warning colouration in creatures is known as aposematism.

Sharpnose Puffer Fish (Melinda Riger / G B Scuba)

7. It’s worth finding out what an uninflated puffer looks like before you try to pet a random passing fish and have a toxic encounter. There is as yet no known antidote.

8. In all, there are more than a hundred puffer species in the world, all found where there are warm shallow waters. At least 3 main species – sharpnose, band-tail and chequered – are found in the Bahamas.

Sharpnose Puffer Fish (Melinda Riger / G B Scuba)

9. Some puffer species are not toxic at all; and some – especially in Pacific waters – are far more toxic than others. That’s the region where they are treated as a delicacy.

10. I’ve checked several research papers but I can’t find an evaluation of the relative toxicity as between the Bahamas puffer species. However it’s clear that the sharpnose is certainly not one play with. Take care!

Q. SO WHAT DOES AN INFLATED PUFFER LOOK LIKE? A. THIS!

Brian Lockwood took his life in his hands to get this fantastic shot…Sharpnose Puffer Fish (Brian Lockwood)

* Not really

RELATED POST: PORCUPINE FISH

Photo Credits: All puffer fish taken by Melinda Riger of Grand Bahama Scuba except for the photo of an inflated one from recent Abaco permanent resident Brian Lockwood

OCTOPUSES: IN THEIR ELEMENT


Octopus, Bahamas (Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba)

OCTOPUSES: IN THEIR ELEMENT

We haven’t seen many octopuses in these parts for quite a while. Time to put that right. The seas of the Bahamas teem with many many marine species, but few are as fascinating or indeed versatile as the octopus. Don’t take my word for it, just watch ‘Finding Dory’ to see how amazing Hank the… [what’s that, Skippy? It’s fiction?]. As you were. That these extraordinary creatures even exist let alone thrive in our waters is a truly wonderful thing. Here are a few to admire – or in the case of the one below, to admire you.

‘Here’s lookin’ at you…’Octopus, Bahamas (Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba)Octopus, Bahamas (Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba)Octopus, Bahamas (Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba)

You can find out some more about octopuses – including the correct plural for ‘octopus’ – by clicking the links below. More importantly, you’ll see more of them too.

THE PLURAL OF OCTOPUS & RELATED CEPHALOPOD MYSTERIES

MARINE BAGPIPES FILLED WITH INK

OCTOPUSES: WORTH LEARNING TO SCUBA FOR

Octopus, Bahamas (Adam Rees / Scuba Works)

All octopedal photos: thanks to Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba (1 – 4) and Adam Rees / Scuba Works (5)

‘WELL SPOTTED’: PANTROPICAL SPOTTED DOLPHINS IN ABACO


Pan-tropical Spotted Dolphins, Abaco Bahamas (BMMRO)

‘WELL SPOTTED’: PANTROPICAL SPOTTED DOLPHINS IN ABACO

Two species of spotted dolphin are found in Bahamas waters. The most common is the ATLANTIC SPOTTED DOLPHIN Stenella frontalis, a species confined to the Atlantic. Less commonly seen – though with a global range – are Pantropical Spotted Dolphins Stenella attenuata

Pan-tropical Spotted Dolphins, Abaco Bahamas (BMMRO)

The BMMRO research boat is out whale-spotting right now, and the team is finding a good variety of cetacean species, from dolphins right up to SPERM WHALE mother and calves. A couple of days ago, the pantropicals surfaced and these great shots of them were taken.

Pan-tropical Spotted Dolphins, Abaco Bahamas (BMMRO)

The two spotted dolphin species are very similar to the untrained eye. Identification is further complicated by the fact that both species start life without spots and go through stages ranging from no spots at all to completely spotted. These stages are sometimes referred to as ‘two-tone, speckled, mottled, and fused’. The pantropicals are relatively small, reaching lengths up to 7 feet and weighing c250 pounds at adulthood. Their beaks are longer and more slender than the familiar but larger bottlenose dolphin. The beak has a white tip, a useful identifier.

Atlantic Spotted and Pantropical Spotted range maps for comparison

The pantropicals favour shallower water by day, and at night they move to deeper water where they can dive down for food such as squid. Although they are IUCN listed as ‘Least Concern’ and their world-wide numbers are estimated to be abundant, they face the usual man-related threats to the species throughout their range, especially in the Pacific region. As we see time after time, complacency can turn to concern in a very short time.

Pan-tropical Spotted Dolphins, Abaco Bahamas (BMMRO)

THREATS TO THE SPECIES

  • Entanglement in fishing gear – captured as bycatch in the course of commercial fishing
  • Entangled in discarded fishing gear
  • Illegal feeding and harassment – this is a problem in particular locations eg Hawaii
  • Overexposure to and interaction with eager tourists in inshore areas
  • Hunting – these dolphins are prolifically hunted for food in several parts of the world
  • Hunting – they are caught ‘accidentally’ in large numbers in nets set for tuna
  • Persecution in eastern tropical Pacific fisheries, according to WDC
  • Pollution, plastic ingestion etc – basically, mankind’s negligence over 60 years or so
  • General habitat degradation, disturbance and marine noise pollution – mankind again

Pan-tropical Spotted Dolphins, Abaco Bahamas (BMMRO)Pan-tropical Spotted Dolphins, Abaco Bahamas (BMMRO)

Credits: BMMRO for all photos; research credits NOAA; WDC

QUEEN ANGELFISH: BAHAMAS REEF FISH (46)


Queen Angelfish, Bahamas (Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba)

QUEEN ANGELFISH: BAHAMAS REEF FISH (46)

The Queen Angelfish Holacanthus ciliarisis is without doubt one of the most beautiful of all reef fishes in the Bahamas – and the competition is very strong. I have posted about them before, but to my surprise not for nearly 5 years. Too long: here are some much more recent photographs of adults and cute juveniles.

Queen Angelfish, Bahamas (Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba)Queen Angelfish, Bahamas (Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba)

The bright colours, the pouty expressions, the appealing poses – these fish are true Beauty Queens. And helpfully, they are unlikely to be mistaken for any other fish species.

Queen Angelfish, Bahamas (Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba)

TEENAGE QUEEN ANGELFISHQueen Angelfish (Juv), Bahamas (Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba)

JUVENILE QUEEN ANGELFISHQueen Angelfish (Juvenile), Bahamas (Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba) Queen Angelfish (Juvenile), Bahamas (Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba)

Photo Credit: ©Melinda Riger (Grand Bahama Scuba), with thanks as ever

‘ON STILTS’: ELEGANCE ON TWO LEGS (OR JUST ONE)


Black-necked Stilts, Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)‘ON STILTS’: ELEGANCE ON TWO LEGS (OR JUST ONE)

There’s something wrong in the picture above (no, I don’t mean about the photograph itself). Count up how many pink legs you can see. No, not including the reflections. Give up? It’s three. Between two birds. I assumed of course that  ‘Oner’ had a perfectly good serviceable leg tucked up into its undercarriage. I admired the balancing skills involved in resting one leg while nonchalantly standing on the other.

We were watching this pair of black-necked stilts Himantopus mexicanus at the pond at Gilpin Point, which at certain times can be ‘Stilt Central’. These birds are permanent breeders on Abaco and are without a doubt the most beautiful of all the waders (avocets, being extremely uncommon winter visitors, are disqualified from consideration for lack of presence). 

Black-necked Stilts, Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)
It gradually dawned on me that Oner really did only have one stilt to stand on. After 10 minutes observing them and the other birds around them, there was no question about it – the right leg was completely and utterly missing. This unipedal deficit had no obvious ill-effects on the bird – nor on its ability to throw a good pose (above). Or to preen (below).
Black-necked Stilts, Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)
I’m in danger of losing sight of Twoer here, a bipedal bird that deserves its own place in the story, not just a wade-on part in Oner’s story.
Twoer as Ringmaster…Black-necked Stilts, Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)
BNSs are territorial and in particular can become ‘proactive’ (ie aggressive) in protecting the area near a nest. I once mistakenly got close to a nest, not even knowing it was there. I soon learnt – a parent BNS came wading towards me, zigzagging in the water, shouting and carrying on in a way that immediately said ‘my nest is nearby’. And when I meanly stood my ground it suddenly took off and flew straight at my head…
A shouty stiltBlack-necked Stilts, Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)
On reflection…Black-necked Stilts, Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)
All photos: Keith Salvesen / Rolling Harbour Abaco (and, if anyone noticed, sorry about some formatting issues which I can’t get rid of…); Audio file Jim Holmes / Xeno Canto
Black-necked Stilts, Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)

COOKIECUTTER SHARKS: BEASTLY LITTLE SUCKERS


Cookiecutter Shark mouth, jaws & teeth (BMMRO Bahamas)

COOKIECUTTER SHARKS

BEASTLY LITTLE SUCKERS

The Cookiecutter shark Isistius brasiliensis (aka the less scary, more genial sounding ‘cigar shark’), might be an ideal candidate for a Room 101 nemesis.** These little beasts – a species of dogfish shark – are found in several mainly island-based areas dotted around the globe, including in Abaco waters.

 

HOW COME THE NAME?
These sharky little b@st@rds (*technical term*) attack marine mammals and fishes, gouging out perfect round plugs of skin and flesh, leaving what are sometimes called ‘crater wounds’. Then they eat them. Imagine getting hold of a really sharp domestic cookie cutter with circular rows of razor-sharp teeth, and grinding it hard into your thigh. There! That! 
The size of an adult shark:16″ max
The term ‘cookiecutter’ is also a pejorative slang term, meaning mass-produced, lacking in originality, or boringly samey, as in cookiecutter cars or TV genres etc. The little critters under consideration here are anything but…
                        

HORRIFYING COOKIECUTTER FACTS

  • Live in the depths, rise vertically in the day & dive back down at dusk
  • Undersides have light-emitting ‘photophores’ which emphasise…
  • …the dark collar which acts as a lure, resembling a small innocent fish
  • Bioluminescence lures prey & confuses predators (more on this below)
  • The glow is so strong it may last for some time after removal from water

  • Their lips are ‘suctorial’ = they attach tightly to their target
  • The jaws then gouge out the victim’s flesh in a remarkably neat circle
  • Omni-vicious: any medium to large ocean creature is vulnerable to attack
  • There are even occasional reports of humans being targeted

Here are two Blainville’s beaked whales that I photographed from the BMMRO research vessel. The top whale has a number of circular healed attack marks and a recent one. You can see how deep the gouged hole is. The other has well-healed scars.

Blainville's Beaked Whale - cookiecutter shark damage (Keith Salvesen)Blainville's Beaked Whale - cookiecutter shark damage (Keith Salvesen)

  • Multi-toothed: top rows of small teeth, rows of larger teeth on the bottom
  • The lower teeth are the cutters, acting like a saw when locked on
  • See header image and below for full details

    

HOW EXACTLY DO THEY DO WHAT DO THEY DO?
I can explain it no better than the renowned authority Prof. W. K. P. Dear:  “the suctorial lips ensure a tight seal. It then bites, using its narrow upper teeth as anchors while its razor sharp lower teeth slices into the prey. Finally, the shark twists and rotates its body to complete a circular cut, quite possibly aided by the initial forward momentum and subsequent struggles of its prey. The action of the lower teeth may also be assisted by back-and-forth vibrations of the jaw, a mechanism akin to that of an electric carving knife”.

                 ARE THESE SHARKS ‘PARASITES’, WOULD YOU SAY?

The behaviour of these sharks is an example of a symbiotic relationship between two species that is parasitic. This means essentially that one gains and the other suffers (e.g. no-see-ums!). This is distinct from commensalistic symbiosis, where one species gains and the other is unaffected (e.g. cattle egrets with cattle); and mutualistic symbiosis, where both gain (e.g. cleaner fish & groupers). So, in a word, yes.

  • An ‘ambush predator’: they ‘hover’ in the water column waiting…
  • They are capable of rapid movement to catch up & latch onto prey
  • They will eat a passing small fish, crustacean or even squid as a snack
  • Sometimes they operate in schools; there is safety in numbers
  • The schools are thought to increase the ‘lure’ effect of the dark collar

A beached whale that’s been heavily targeted

FUN FACT TO COUNTERACT THE BAD STUFF

In the late c20, more than 30 U.S. Navy submarines were forced back to base to repair damage caused by cookiecutter shark bites, either to the neoprene footings of sonar domes or to rubber-sheathed cables. The problems were solved by using fibreglass. Oceanographic equipment and telecommunications cables are also recorded as being damaged by these sharks.

Cookiecutter Shark – the real deal

 

MONSTERS OF THE DEEP

These great cards from the weirdly spelled WIERD ‘N’ WILD CREATURES provide excellent factual info. Their CCS card is no exception. You’ll find more details here about the effect of the bioluminescence and so on, written as clearly as I might hope to. 

Cookiecutter Shark Facts (Monsters of the Deep)Cookiecutter Shark Facts (Monsters of the Deep)

** “The worst thing in the world varies from individual to individual. It may be burial alive or death by fire, or by drowning, or by impalement, or fifty other deaths. There are cases where it is some quite trivial thing, not even fatal.” (George Orwell, 1984)

Alright now…Blainville's Beaked Whale - cookiecutter shark damage (Keith Salvesen)

Credits: BMMRO – header image; beaked whale photos – Keith Salvesen / BMMRO; Te Ara NZ for the main jaw image; all small images with thanks to Wiki and respective photographers who took the time to upload them for all to enjoy & learn from; ‘wierdnwonderful creatures’ for the monster card; range map from Wiki

PS Apologies to anyone who bothered to wade through this, and stayed awake long enough to notice that formatting gremlins struck halfway through

NASSAU GROUPER: ENDANGERED… AND PROTECTED


Nassau Grouper (Melinda Riger / Grand Bahamas Scuba)

NASSAU GROUPER: ENDANGERED… AND PROTECTED

Most creatures need some space for creative activity of one sort or another. Especially one particular sort, namely breeding. And for vulnerable and endangered species, this is especially important in order to maintain a sustainable population, and preferably to increase it year on year. Which is why there are closed seasons for certain fish, ensuring a time when they can be left alone to breed in peace and to perpetuate their species.

Nassau Grouper (Melinda Riger / Grand Bahamas Scuba)

The Nassau grouper Epinephelus striatus is just one of a number of grouper species that inhabit Bahamian waters. They are mostly found in the Northern Bahamas but only the Nassau grouper is on the IUCN Red List as an Endangered Species in need of protection.

Nassau Grouper (Melinda Riger / Grand Bahamas Scuba)

WHY ARE THESE FINE FISH ENDANGERED?

Sad to say, mankind is the main cause of the population fragility that has led to the official listing, and the imposition of a strict closed season for 3 months between December 1st and February 28th. Scientific studies have shown that commercial overfishing has reduced a thriving population to fewer than 10,000 mature fish. That may sound plenty to be going on with… until you consider that a net annual loss of only 10% would lead to extinction in a decade.

Nassau Grouper Infographic (Royal Defence Force)

10 CONVENIENTLY COLLECTED NASSAU GROUPER FACTS TO PONDER

  • An adult can grow to more than a metre long, and weigh 25 kg
  • They tend to be solitary daytime feeders, eating small fish & crustaceans
  • Their large mouths are use to ‘inhale’ or suck in prey
  • The colouring of an individual can vary from red to brown
  • These fish have little black spots around the eyes (I’ve no idea why).
  • Their habitat is in the vicinity of coral reefs, from shallows to 100 m deep
  • Spawning occurs in Dec & Jan during a full moon
  • Large numbers gather in a single location to mate in a mass spawning
  • These groupers are slow breeders, which compounds the overfishing problem
  • They are easy mass targets at spawning time; hence the need for a closed season

Nassau Grouper (Melinda Riger / Grand Bahamas Scuba)

Department of Fisheries information sheet (interesting if you have the time)

A Nassau Grouper glumly contemplates the possibility of extinctionNassau Grouper (Melinda Riger / Grand Bahamas Scuba)

RELATED POSTS

BLACK GROUPER

TIGER GROUPER

RED HIND

NASSAU GROUPER 1

CLEANING STATIONS

Nassau Grouper (Melinda Riger / . Grand Bahama Scuba)

Credits: all photos, Melinda Riger; Infographic by Royal Defence Force (tip o’ the  hat to Char Albury); Info Sheet, Dept of Fisheries