EYES ON STALKS: CONCH WATCH ON ABACO


Conch Man-o-War Cay, Abaco, Bahamas (Charmaine Albury)

EYES ON STALKS: CONCH WATCH ON ABACO

This is not so much about you looking at, and admiring (without salivating too much, I trust) conchs in their natural element. More about them watching you watching them – and focusing on their rather remarkable stalk-based eyes. Take a look at these examples of the ‘watcher in the shallows‘ (to misquote a well-known book title).

Conch and their eyes, Bahamas (Melinda Riger)Conch and their eyes, Bahamas (Melinda Riger)

HALF A DOZEN CONCH EYE FACTS TO PONDER

  • The eyestalks are attached to an extendable ‘snout’
  • The two eyestalks (ommatophores) are retractable within the shell
  • Their purpose is to provide a wider field of vision around the shell
  • The eyes at the tip of each eyestalk have ‘proper’ lenses, pupils and irises 
  • Amazingly, amputated eyes normally regenerate completely
  • The small projection below the eye is a ‘sensory tentacle’ or feeler

Conch and their eyes, Bahamas (Melinda Riger)Conch and their eyes, Bahamas (Melinda Riger)

CAUTIONARY WARNING

For a rather depressing view of the current state of conch populations, check out this recent article in the MIAMI HERALD. Not a great deal to be optimistic about…

I’M WATCHING YOU…

CREDITS: All remarkable ‘conch watching’ photos by Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba – except for the wonderful header image by Charmaine Albury (contributor the The Birds of Abaco), taken on Man-o-War Cay; Cindy James Pinder for the heads-up for the Miami Herald article

ROCK BEAUTY: BAHAMAS REEF FISH (37)


Rock Beauty, Bahamas (Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba)

 ROCK BEAUTY: BAHAMAS REEF FISH (37)

The Rock Beauty Holacanthus tricolor is a small species of Angelfish. Seen swimming around the reefs they are unmistakeable, not least because of their bright yellow hi-viz jackets, remarkable blue eyeliner and blue-black lippy. They featured near the start of this series HERE, and a recent online search (for something else completely, as is often the way) reminded me to give them another swim round Rolling Harbour.

Rock Beauty, Bahamas (Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba)

In addition to the hi-viz-and-eyeliner combo, the Beauty above has chosen a fetchingly cheeky pair of matching ISOPODS (crustacean parasites) to adorn its face –  possibly the piscine equivalent of a tat…

Rock Beauty, Bahamas (Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba)

Rock Beauties look like prime candidates for anyone’s aquarium, but their dietary requirements and tendency for aggression make them unsuitable. They are highly specialised feeders, needing marine sponge in their daily diet. They are also prone to chase their tank-mates and nip them. On balance, they look more fetching nosing about the coral anyway.

WHAT DO JUVENILES LOOK LIKE?

Juvenile rock beauties are cute mini-versions of the adults, only more yellow (including the lips). In some development stages, they have a smart blue circle in the middle of the dark patch on their sides (bottom image).


Rock Beauty (Juvenile)

NOTE Rock Beauties have no known relationship to Chrissie, Debbie, Lita, Stevie, Joanna, Madge and the rest of the accredited ‘Rock Beauties aka Chicks’.  

NOT A TRUE ‘ROCK BEAUTY’ (no offence, Lita)

A TRUE ROCK BEAUTY
800px-Holacanthus_tricolor_1

Credits: Melinda Riger, Grand Bahama Scuba,Wiki

HAWKSBILL TURTLES + ANGELS = REEF HEAVEN


Hawksbill Turtle & Angelfish (Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba)

HAWKSBILL TURTLES + ANGELS = REEF HEAVEN

Hawksbills on their own, nosing around the colourful coral reefs of the Bahamas, are a beautiful sight. I don’t want to overdo the religious tendency of the title, but they are indeed wonderful to behold. Add FRENCH ANGELFISH and a QUEEN ANGELFISH and it’s as close to perfection as a reef scene gets. Click on the links above for more pictures and details about the two angelfish species seen here with the turtle. As ever, Melinda Riger was ready with her camera to capture these great images.

Hawksbill Turtle & Angelfish (Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba) Hawksbill Turtle & Angelfish (Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba) Hawksbill Turtle & Angelfish (Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba) Hawksbill Turtle & Angelfish (Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba)

This astonishing photo was of course achieved by carefully balancing a GoPro on the turtle’s back, wrapping duct tape around it, and pressing ‘go’ (camera and turtle simultaneously). **

Hawksbill Turtle & Angelfish (Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba)

** This is not true. It’s just a cleverly shot turtle’s-eye view as it forages on the reef

This short video shot by Melinda’s husband Fred of a turtle ‘loving’ the camera is one of those wildlife events that cannot be predicted… but when it happens, it’s frankly a bit of a scoop.

OPTIONAL MUSICAL DIGRESSION

As I was writing this, an earworm started up and grew insidiously in both ears and then inside my head… the dread words “Elenore, gee I think you’re swell”. Followed by “so happy together…”. And then “she’d rather be with me…” Yes, I’ve now got TURTLES in my head, the (?long-and-hitherto-forgotten) band from the second half of the 60’s, with their cheery anodyne soppy-poppy love songs. And dammit, they’ve stuck… Here’s a reminder for those whose memory I have jogged. For anyone under, say, 75, step away from this area. Nothing to hear here.

Hawksbill Turtle & Angelfish (Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba)

Credits: Grand Bahama Scuba: all photos – Melinda Riger & video – Fred Riger; Turtle music – someone else’s music collection, not mine, honestly… (oh dear another lie I am afraid – cred gone)

BAHAMAS REEF FISH (36): REEF BUTTERFLYFISH


Reef Butterflyfish, Bahamas - Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba

 BAHAMAS REEF FISH (36): REEF BUTTERFLYFISH

Butterflyfishes come in several varieties in Bahamian waters; and there are more than 120 species worldwide. Not so long ago I wrote about the LONGSNOUT variety, also known as the “Butterbun”. Now it’s time to take a look at the Reef Butterfyfish.

Reef Butterflyfish, Bahamas - Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba

In some ways butterflyfishes resemble small angelfishes – adult Reefs are just a few inches long. As the name suggests, these are creatures of the reefs, and of shallow waters. As one might expect, these colourful fish are popular for aquariums (or, strictly I suppose, aquaria). 

Reef Butterflyfish, Bahamas - Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba

Butterflyfishes have interesting spawning patterns. They release large numbers of buoyant eggs into the water. These become mixed in with plankton and suchlike, and float where the tides take them until they hatch. Then, most unusually, they go through a larval stage when they are covered by bony material, which they lose as they mature. This is known as an ‘armoured’ stage, which I can only assume is to provide protection to the tiny fry – perhaps by making them crunchy and unappetising. I’ve been trying to find a usable illustrative drawing, without success so far.

Reef Butterflyfish, Bahamas - Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba

OPTIONAL MUSICAL DIGRESSION

In some parts of the world the butterflyfish is called a BORBOLETTA, which is Portugese for ‘butterfly’. It is also the title of Santana’s criminally underrated sixth album (1974). For sure it’s no 1st, Abraxas, 3rd or Caravanserai… but if you can tolerate the man’s move to ‘jazz-funk-fusion’ – maybe John McLaughlin had a hand in that – there is much to enjoy. There’s less searing guitar and there’s some strange ‘soundscape’ stuff that’s maybe not to everyone’s taste. But still – it stand up pretty well in comparison with some of the later Carlos creations where a certain tiresomeness began to creep in and some tracks are (IMVHO) not really listenable-to. Anyway, the recently released (2016) Santana IV is a welcome return to the good old days, and the good old team.

Here’s ‘Promise of a Fisherman’ – 8 minutes of  Santana, from which you can judge the direction he’s taken by Album 6…

Reef Butterflyfish, Bahamas - Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba

All photos by Melinda Riger of Grand Bahama Scuba – mainstay, with Adam Rees, of the underwater photos I use, what with me being a feeble swimmer and all. Tip o’ the Hat to Carlos, who I have even managed to see Live a couple of times.

REDSPOTTED HAWKFISH: BAHAMAS REEF FISH (35)


Redspotted Hawkfish, Bahamas (Melinda Riger)

REDSPOTTED HAWKFISH: BAHAMAS REEF FISH (35)

The redspotted hawkfish (Amblycirrhitus pinos) is one of a number of species of hawkfishes found worldwide. This one is found on the sub-tropical and tropical reefs of the Western Atlantic, and is therefore a fish you might see when out snorkelling or (more likely) scuba-ing in the Bahamas. These are small creatures – adults are unlikely to exceed 4 inches in length.

Redspotted Hawkfish, Bahamas (Melinda Riger)

There’s not a whole lot else to report about them. They have no medicinal superpowers, for example, nor wickedly toxic spines. A quick scroll through the highways and byways of the interweb reveals that redspotted hawkfish are considered (rightly, I think) to be attractive, tend to be shy, enjoy perching on coral ledges, and are generally benign, except to smaller fishes to which they may show aggression or – worse – an appetite. 

Redspotted Hawkfish, Bahamas (Melinda Riger)

As you might predict, these pretty little fish are popular in the aquarium trade, where on any view they should be kept safe from predators. But maybe captivity is a little limited in opportunities for travel and exploration. They can be bought for (I just checked) $29.99. Or else left alone on a reef to take their chances.

Photo Credits: Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba, with thanks as per…

JAW-DROPPING: A GROUP OF GROUPER(S)


Grouper at cleaning station - Melinda Riger @ GB Scuba

JAW-DROPPING: A GROUP OF GROUPER(S)

Today is going to be about Jaws – not those sinister-music-sharky types, but a look at the dentition, gill arrangements and oral hygiene of groupers(s). First, though, the vexed question of the correct plural for a group of these fish. I tackled the complex 3-option correct plural of OCTOPUS a while back. Now another problem piscine plural has cropped up.

Tiger Grouper - Melinda Riger @ G B ScubaThe short answer is that the plural is usually ‘groupers’, but also – perhaps less commonly – ‘grouper’ (there’s a similar situation with plural of ‘hare’). One online source suggests ‘grouperer’, but that just seems cumbersome. I think there may be a useful distinction to be made here. When talking about grouper of the same species, one could say “I saw 17 Nassau grouper today”. But where reference is made to mixed species, “I saw plenty of groupers today” implies that there was more than one species – black and tiger, maybe. 

Grouper at cleaning station - Melinda Riger @ GB Scuba

Grouper - Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba

In some of these photos you’ll notice tiny fish attending to the grouper. These are CLEANERS and they are an essential part of the bodily and oral hygiene routine for larger fish species. The big fish call in at so-called CLEANING STATIONS, where the tiddlers remove parasites and dead skin, and polish up the gills. They will even enter the fish’s mouth to pick bits from between its teeth – the deal being that they will not be eaten. This mutually beneficial arrangement is called ‘cleaning symbiosis’ and is carried out by (for example) gobies, wrasses and cleaner shrimps.

Peterson’s cleaner shrimps and cleaner wrasseGrouper with Peterson's cleaner shrimps and wrasse - Melinda Riger @ GB Scuba

Some of these photos show groupers with open gills as well as open mouths, an invitation to the cleaners to do their work. I’d intended to write about how and why gills work but I’ve thought better of it. There’s a lot of detail about chemical exchange involved that, when I looked more closely, seemed rather dull… and therefore outside the remit of this blog, which includes trying to avoid ‘dull’. If you really want to know more, Wiki has a good article HERE. Good luck with that….

Grouper - Melinda Riger @ GB Scuba

Credits: All photos Melinda Riger, Grand Bahama Scuba

ONE GOOD INTERN DESERVES ANOTHER (Part 1)


Coral reef research, Australia (Oscar Ward)

ONE GOOD INTERN DESERVES ANOTHER (Part 1)

Four years ago a young English friend of ours, Oscar Ward, was lucky enough to be offered an internship with the Bahamas Marine Mammal Research Organisation (BMMRO). At the time, he was post-school, and waiting to start a degree course in marine biology at university. He had no practical experience at all, so he had to progress from the menial tasks (scraping barnacles off the bottom of the research boat) to the more adventurous (whale poop-scooping) to the scholarly (collection and analysis of samples and data, including audio file matching of whale calls for identification). The need for hard work, concentration and accuracy were made clear from the outset… and as you will see, Oscar’s short internship has stood him in very good stead during his university course.

Oscar weekending at Gilpin Point – self-sufficientBMMRO Internship - weekend off (Oscar Ward)

From a promising start on Abaco, and with 2 year’s study behind him, Oscar is currently spending the 3rd year of his 4-year course in Australia, working with The Australian Institute of Marine Science. He has been involved in a number of complex projects focussed on corals and reef life – as we all know, a matter of huge concern – and the projections for the future of the reef systems in a time of warming seas and raised acid levels. Oscar also assists PhD students, for example examining the damaging effects of parasitic worms on coral; and the effect of changing light conditions on corals.

Nurse Sharks, Great Barrier Reef (Oscar Ward)

Much of Oscar’s time has been spent doing fieldwork. Often he is at sea, monitoring and collecting samples in the Southern Great Barrier Reef, diving two or three times a day. This work is often carried out in restricted or preservation zones, and with ever-present manta rays, sharks and sea turtles around him.

Manta Ray, Great Barrier Reef (Oscar Ward)

Right now Oscar is involved with the investigations into the recent bleaching events, work that is at the forefront of serious concern for the GBR and far beyond. I have recently corresponded with him – he has definitely not forgotten that his grounding for the fieldwork and studies that he is engaged in – and very likely his career – came from his time on Abaco and the lessons he learned during his time with the BMMRO at Sandy Point.  (In part 2: another good intern, currently at Sandy Point)

Coral reef research, Australia (Oscar Ward)

All photos: Oscar Ward (the header image is taken from a research vessel – no idea how, maybe a drone with fish-eye lens?)