WRY ‘CUDA & SARDONIC SMILES, ABACO BAHAMAS


Barracuda, Abaco Bahamas (Melinda Rogers / Dive Abaco)

WRY ‘CUDA & SARDONIC SMILES, ABACO BAHAMAS

There’s no doubt about it, barracudas have a particularly unwelcoming look to them. They exude menace. There’s something about the torpedo shape, the primitive head, and the uncomfortably snaggle-toothed grin-with-underbite that suggests a creature not to be underestimated.

Barracuda, Abaco Bahamas (Melinda Rogers / Dive Abaco)

And that smiley mouth – rather scornful and derisive, is it not? A powerful creature in its element, where you are the intruder… and it sees it like that too. An adult barracuda may grow to nearly 6 foot long. Your are only temporarily of its world, and (it observes) you are keeping your distance.

Barracuda, Bahamas (Melinda Riger / G B Scuba)

The dental arrangements of a ‘cuda are a wonder in themselves. The teeth are razor sharp; an orthodontist’s nightmare because they are all different sizes and grow at different angles. Some are conventionally set in the jaws, but some actually grow from the roof of the mouth. There are ‘normal’ sized teeth interspersed with wicked-looking fangs that randomly grow facing forwards, backwards and sideways.

Barracuda, Abaco Bahamas (Melinda Rogers / Dive Abaco)

WHY THE UNTIDY MOUTH FURNITURE?Barracuda, Abaco Bahamas (Melinda Rogers / Dive Abaco)

The name Barracuda is thought to derive from the Spanish word barraco meaning (in one of its senses) “overlapping teeth”. The jaws that contain the teeth are strong, and the underbite adds to the effectiveness of ‘cuda predation. Prey is highly unlikely to escape once caught.  When the jaws snap shut, the sharp angled teeth – particularly the back-facing ones (cf fishhook barbs) prevent the victim from pulling away. Then the munching and shredding can begin inside what is essentially a perfectly equipped multi-bladed mincing machine.

Credits: Melinda Rogers / Dive Abaco except #3 & #8  Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba

Here’s looking at you…

BABY SPERM WHALE, ABACO, BAHAMAS: HOPE FOR A NEW DECADE


Sperm Whale baby (neonate) Abaco Bahamas (Charlotte Dunn / BMMRO)

BABY SPERM WHALE, ABACO, BAHAMAS

HOPE FOR A NEW DECADE 

Looking back at 2019, one of the most enjoyable posts to put together featured an adult sperm whale with a neonate calf. The wonderful photos were obtained last summer during 2 research trips in the deeper water off the south coast of Abaco by the Bahamas Marine Mammal Research Organisation (BMMRO) It seems fitting to greet the new decade with a revised version of my original post. There’s optimism in these images, and more generally in the recovery in some areas of the savagely depleted whale populations of past decades. I’d like to think that a smiling baby whale holds out hope for the 2020s.

Sperm Whale baby (neonate) Abaco Bahamas (Charlotte Dunn / BMMRO)

Sperm Whale baby (neonate) Abaco Bahamas (Charlotte Dunn / BMMRO)

Sperm Whale baby (neonate) Abaco Bahamas (Charlotte Dunn / BMMRO)

Sperm Whale baby (neonate) Abaco Bahamas (Charlotte Dunn / BMMRO)

These are just some of the BMMRO research team’s images and footage of the baby sperm whale investigating the underwater world it has just been born into. Hopefully it will flourish and live for decades. If it does not, the overwhelmingly likely cause will be mankind, either directly or indirectly. 

CREDITS: Brilliant close-up footage plus the clips I have taken from it – Charlotte Dunn / Diane Claridge / BMMRO. 

DONATE: If you are touched by the magic of this little Bahamas sperm whale, may I invite you to consider making a donation to BMMRO for its research and conservation work – a scientific commitment that reaches far beyond the waters of the Bahamas. The system is set up to process donations from just $10 upwards, and every cent is used to further the work of BMMRO. Please click the logo below to reach the right page directly.

Sperm Whale baby (neonate) Abaco Bahamas (Charlotte Dunn / BMMRO)

 

BRAIN WAVES: UNDERSEA CORAL MAZES & LABYRINTHS


BRAIN CORAL Abaco Bahamas (Melinda Rogers / Dive Abaco)

BRAIN WAVES: UNDERSEA CORAL MAZES & LABYRINTHS

The name ‘brain coral’ is essentially a no-brainer. How could you not call the creatures on this page anything else. These corals come in wide varieties of colour, shape and – well, braininess – and are divided into two main families worldwide. 

BRAIN CORAL Abaco Bahamas (Melinda Rogers / Dive Abaco)

Each ‘brain’ is in fact a complex colony consisting of genetically similar polyps. These secrete CALCIUM CARBONATE which forms a hard carapace. This chemical compound is found in minerals, the shells of sea creatures, eggs, and even pearls. In human terms it has many industrial applications and widespread medicinal use, most familiarly in the treatment of gastric problems. 

BRAIN CORAL Abaco Bahamas (Melinda Rogers / Dive Abaco)

BRAIN CORAL Abaco Bahamas (Melinda Rogers / Dive Abaco)

The hardness of this type of coral makes it a important component of reefs throughout warm water zones world-wide. The dense protection also guarantees (or did until our generation began systematically to dismantle the earth) –  extraordinary longevity. The largest brain corals develop to a height of almost 2 meters, and are believed to be several hundred years old.

BRAIN CORAL Abaco Bahamas (Melinda Rogers / Dive Abaco)

BRAIN CORAL Abaco Bahamas (Melinda Rogers / Dive Abaco)

HOW ON EARTH DO THEY LIVE?

If you look closely at the cropped image below and other images on this page, you will see hundreds of little tentacles nestled in the trenches on the surface. These corals feed at night, deploying their tentacles to catch food. This consists of tiny creatures and their algal contents. During the day, the tentacles are retracted into the sinuous grooves. Some brain corals have developed tentacles with defensive stings. 

BRAIN CORAL Abaco Bahamas (Melinda Rogers / Dive Abaco)

THE TRACKS LOOKS LIKE MAZES OR DO I MEAN LABYRINTHS?

Mazes, I think. The difference between mazes and labyrinths is that labyrinths have a single continuous path which leads to the centre. As long as you keep going forward, you will get there eventually. You can’t get lost. Mazes have multiple paths which branch off and will not necessarily lead to the centre. There are dead ends. Therefore, you can get lost. Check out which type of puzzle occurs on brain coral. Answer below…**

BRAIN CORAL Abaco Bahamas (Melinda Rogers / Dive Abaco)

CREDIT: all amazing underwater brain-work thanks to Melinda Rogers / Dive Abaco; Lucca Labyrinth, Keith Salvesen / Rolling Harbour

** On the coral I got lost straight away in blind alleys. Therefore these are mazes. Here is a beautiful inscribed labyrinth dating from c12 or c13 from the porch of St Martin Cathedral in Lucca, Italy. Very beautiful but not such a challenge.

Labyrinth (Maze), Porch Lucca Cathedral (Keith Salvesen)

BRAIN CORAL Abaco Bahamas (Melinda Rogers / Dive Abaco)

‘DEEP DIVERS IN DIVERS DEEPS’: CUVIER’S BEAKED WHALES


Cuvier's Beaked Whale, Bahamas (BMMRO / Charlotte Dunn)

‘DEEP DIVERS IN DIVERS DEEPS’: CUVIER’S BEAKED WHALES

JOURNEY TO THE WORLD’S MIDNIGHT ZONE

Please join me in a dive down from the sparkling surface of the turquoise sea to the twilight zone at 200 meters. You’ll pass plenty of sea-life on the way: manatees grazing on seagrass just below the surface; reef fish, barracudas, reef sharks, mahi-mahi, maybe an orca at 100 meters. Other familiar creatures that are found even lower include a few reef fish, some shark species and green sea turtles. You are now running out of clear light.

Cuvier's Beaked Whale, Bahamas (BMMRO / Charlotte Dunn)

As you descend from 200 meters the waters become murky, then inky. The variety of inhabitants and their numbers are gradually decreasing. There are eels, some sharks, squid, stranger deep-water creatures. You may be surprised to see familiar bottlenose dolphins, recorded as diving nearly 300 meters. At 332 meters you will equal the deepest point any human being has ever scuba-dived (Ahmed Gabr 2014). There is little light, but you still have a long way to go to reach your goal.

Dolphin dive depth (Neal)

Descending still deeper, species and numbers continue to thin out. Around the world the limits of larger recognisable species is being reached – more shark species, tuna, chinook salmon, emperor penguins, swordfish, the few corals that can survive the depth. As the light fades to black, giant creatures and strange fish abound. Huge crabs. Sunfish. The (no-longer-extinct) Coelocanth. Massive octopuses. 

Cuvier's Beaked Whale, Bahamas (BMMRO / Charlotte Dunn)

Deeper down, nearing 1000 meters now, there are still some familiar species. Leatherback turtles; Baird’s beaked whales (nb not in the Atlantic); and at 920 meters, the deepest recorded sperm whale dive. It’s pitch dark: you have reached the level that sunlight never penetrates. You are in the Midnight Zone.

Sperm whale dive depth (Neal)

DEEP OCEAN DWELLERS

In black depths below 1000 meters, creatures have adpated to create their own light sources – so-called bioluminescence. This is the realm of the self-lit anglerfish, the blobfish and the goblin shark. It’s the Attenborough world of deep sea exploration. The geology is changing: there are hypervents, volcanic rocks, heavy metals. Below are the deep ocean-floor trenches. Yet there are still recognisable species down here, diving astonishingly deep to 1800 meters to feed – not least the narwhal which makes this trip several times a day to feed.

We need to quicken up the descent now – we have to get down nearly twice as far as this to reach our destination…

Cuvier's Beaked Whale leap (M.Rosso GIMA - IUCN)

We pass large squid and isopods, the deepest diving shark – the Greenland, the 10 meter-long 700 kilo colossal squid – yet amazingly there are marine mammals yet to be encountered: at 2400 meters we drift past a huge elephant seal. There are evil-looking creatures down here with names to match – devilfish, viperfish, black swallowers that can eat a larger fish whole, vampire squid and zombie worms. 

At 3000 feet, we finally end our quest. We have reached the depth to which the world’s deepest diving mammal has been recorded: the Cuvier’s beaked whale Ziphius cavirostris


Cuvier's Beaked Whale (NOAA Fisheries)

Cuvier’s beaked whales, or “goose-beaked whales,” are not rare. For a start, unlike many beaked whale species, they inhabit most oceans and seas in the world and have the most extensive range. Unsurprisingly therefore, they are one of the most often sighted beaked whale species and one of the best studied. 

Cuvier's Beaked Whale Bahamas (BMMRO / Charlotte Dunn)

FIN FACT

You may be wondering about the pressure exerted on a creature at a depth of 3000 meters. The answer is, an astounding 300 atm (atmospheres), enough to crush all but the hardiest and best adapted of species. The question how these whales manage to survive at such a depth is one for the future…

The Cuvier’s is one of the 3 beaked whale species found in Bahamas waters. Like the rarer Blainville’s and Gervais’s beaked whales, the Cuvier’s is the subject of ongoing research by the BAHAMAS MARINE MAMMAL RESEARCH ORGANISATION BMMRO

Cuvier's Beaked Whale leap (BW - Getty - Times)

The research into marine mammal populations in the Bahamas and far beyond is focussed on the massive increase in single and mass strandings, including recently in a remote area of Scotland (Hebrides) where more than 40 Cuvier’s were washed ashore.

One significant area of research examines the effect on marine mammals of man-made noise. There is plenty of it in the world’s oceans caused by noise pollution in and around shipping channels that traverse marine mammal migration, feeding and breeding grounds; naval surface and submarine exercises; seismic surveys, sonar waves and undersea resource investigations. The evidence of sound / acoustic damage as an additional hazard for marine mammals is starting to look very clear.

Cuvier's Beaked Whale Bahamas (BMMRO / Charlotte Dunn)

DEEP WATER INFOGRAPHIC

Do not miss this wonderful work by Neal Agarwal. This article is based around it and includes facts and images derived from his incredibly complex structure that has resulted in a remarkably simple resource for layman and ocean-lover alike (I realise these categories may overlap). To see the entire masterpiece, double click of the box below – “it will be worth it”.

CREDITS: Neal Agarwal; BMMRO / Charlotte Dunn; M.Rosso GIMA – IUCN; NOAA Fisheries; BW – Getty – Times; Pierangelo Pirak / BBC Earth (depth infographic), general sources – BMMRO, IUCN, NOAA, WDC

As ever, the Bahamas Philatelic Bureau has produced a wonderful stamp special issue

EEL-SPOTTING: FORAYS WITH MORAYS (7)


Spotted Moray Eel, Bahamas (Melinda Riger / G B Scuba)

EEL-SPOTTING: FORAYS WITH MORAYS (7)

MORAY EELS are plentiful around the reefs of the Bahamas. Some species, anyway. The ones you are most likely to encounter are green morays, and the spotted morays shown here. Less common are chain and golden-tail morays and, rarer still I suspect (because I have only  one image in the archive…) is the ‘purple-mouth’.  

Spotted Moray Eel, Bahamas (Melinda Riger / G B Scuba)

Despite their moderately intimidating appearance – an adult may grow to 1.5 meters or more, with sharp teeth at the front end – these eels are not especially aggressive unless provoked. Best to assume that all humans will behave respectfully around them and remember that people are the intruders in the eels’ domain. 

Spotted Moray Eel, Bahamas (Melinda Riger / G B Scuba)

Morays tend to be loners of the reefs, but they do gather in groups from time to time. And as shown below, they will also hunt with other species, for example this tiger grouper.

Spotted Moray Eel, Bahamas (Melinda Riger / G B Scuba)

Sharp-eyed, sharp-toothed

Spotted Moray Eel, Bahamas (Melinda Riger / G B Scuba)

Looks friendly enough…

Spotted Moray Eel, Bahamas (Melinda Riger / G B Scuba)

A long and surprisingly large body, generally concealed in the crevices of the reef

Spotted Moray Eel, Bahamas (Melinda Riger / G B Scuba)

Credits: Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba

Lurkin’ GoodSpotted Moray Eel, Bahamas (Melinda Riger / G B Scuba)

BAHAMAS MARINE MAMMAL RESEARCH: 20/20 VISIONS


Sperm Whale Calf, Abaco Bahamas (BMMRO)

Neonate Sperm Whale Calf, Abaco Bahamas

BAHAMAS MARINE MAMMAL RESEARCH: 20/20 VISIONS

Change is in the air. And in the sea. Above, you will notice the brand new logo of the Bahamas Marine Mammal Research Organisation BMMRO based in Sandy point, Abaco. Several major Bahamas-wide projects are in progress or in preparation, and as we approach 2020, this is the perfect time for some marine mammal news, illustrated with great images from BMMRO research trips.

Bottlenose Dolphins, Abaco Bahamas (BMMRO)

Bottlenose Dolphins

BMMRO’s scientific research over many years is a prime reason why we all have the privilege of seeing the neonate sperm whale calf in the header image. It was photographed with its mother off South Abaco last Spring. Much-appreciated support of the essential research and conservation work of the organisation helps to ensure that the whales, dolphins and manatees in Bahamas waters are watched over, documented in minute detail (even their calls) and protected. The marine mammals of the Bahamas have a promising future looking ahead to 2020, and well beyond.

Blainville's Beaked Whale, Abaco Bahamas (BMMRO)

Blainville’s Beaked Whale and young calf

Humpback Whale, Bahamas (BMMRO)

Humpback Whale

ATLANTIC SPOTTED DOLPHINS

WEST INDIAN MANATEES – GINA and RANDY

West Indian Manatee, Bahamas - Gina (BMMRO)  West Indian Manatee, Bahamas - Randy (BMMRO)

All photographs and video footage: BMMRO

Sperm Whale tailing, Abaco Bahamas (BMMRO)

Sperm Whale Tailing, Bahamas

ELKHORN CORAL, ABACO BAHAMAS (DORIAN UPDATE)


Elkhorn Coral, Abaco Bahamas (Melinda Rogers / Dive Abaco)

ELKHORN CORAL, ABACO BAHAMAS (DORIAN UPDATE)

Elkhorn coral (Acropora palmata) is a widespread reef coral, an unmistakeable species with large branches that resemble elk antlers. The dense growths create an ideal shady habitat for many reef creatures. These include reef fishes of all shapes and sizes, lobsters, shrimps and many more besides. Some of these are essential for the wellbeing of the reef and also its denizens.

Elkhorn Coral, Abaco Bahamas (Melinda Rogers / Dive Abaco)

GOOD POST-DORIAN NEWS ABOUT ABACORAL

A recent report from FRIENDS OF THE ENVIRONMENT brings encouraging news about the reefs of  Abaco post-hurricane, and an indication of the resilience of the coral to extreme conditions (with one exception for a reef too close to the shore to avoid damage from debris).

Shortly before Dorian hit, The Perry Institute for Marine Science and its partners surveyed reefs across Grand Bahama and Abaco to assess their health. Following Dorian, they were able to reassess these areas and the impact of the hurricane. Over the 370 miles that the surveys covered, minimal damage was found on the majority of reefs. Unfortunately Mermaid Reef, where FRIENDS does most of our educational field trips, sustained extensive damage due to debris from its close proximity to the shoreline. We are looking into how we can help with logistics to get the debris removed, and hopefully the recovery will begin soon.

Elkhorn Coral, Pelican Cays, Abaco Bahamas (Friends of the Environment)

Elkhorn coral standing strong post-Dorian at Sandy Cay Reef, Pelican Shores, Abaco

The scientists were also able to visit four of the Reef Rescue Network’s coral nurseries and assess out-planted corals in national parks in both Grand Bahama and Abaco. The great news is that all of the corals on these nurseries survived the storm and will be used to support reef restoration. Also from the surveys, it appears that our offshore reefs around Abaco sustained minimal damage, including Sandy Cay Reef in Pelican Cays Land and Sea Park (pictured above). This gives us hope for the recovery of our oceans post-Dorian and proves how resilient these amazing ecosystems are.

Elkhorn Coral, Abaco Bahamas (Melinda Rogers / Dive Abaco)

Examples of species vital for healthy corals include several types of PARROTFISH, the colourful and voracious herbivores that spend most of their time eating algae off the coral reefs using their beak-like teeth. This algal diet is digested, and the remains excreted as sand. Tread with care on your favourite beach; in part at least, it will consist of parrotfish poop.

Elkhorn Coral, Abaco Bahamas (Melinda Rogers / Dive Abaco)

Other vital reef species living in the shelter of elkhorn and other corals are the CLEANERS, little fish and shrimps that cater for the wellbeing and grooming of large and even predatory fishes. Gobies, wrasse, Pedersen shrimps and many others pick dead skin and parasites from the ‘client’ fish including their gills, and even from between the teeth of predators. This service is an excellent example of MUTUALISM, a symbiotic relationship in which both parties benefit: close grooming in return for rich pickings of food.

Elkhorn Coral, Abaco Bahamas (Melinda Rogers / Dive Abaco)

VULNERABILITY TO OFFICIALLY NON-EXISTENT CLIMATE CRISIS

Formally abundant, over just a couple of decades elkhorn coral has been massively affected by [climate change, human activity and habitat destruction] inexplicable natural attrition in many areas. One cause of decline that is incontrovertible is damage from storms, which are empirically increasing in both frequency and intensity, though apparently for no known reason.

Elkhorn Coral, Abaco Bahamas (Melinda Rogers / Dive Abaco)

Physical damage to corals may seriously impact on reproductive success; elkhorn coral is no exception. The effects of a reduction of reef fertility are compounded by the fact that natural recovery is in any case inevitably a slow process. The worse the problem gets, the harder it becomes even to survive let alone recover. 

Elkhorn Coral, Abaco Bahamas (Melinda Rogers / Dive Abaco)

SO HOW DOES ELKHORN CORAL REPRODUCE?

There are two types of reproduction, which one might call asexual and sexual:

  1. Elkhorn coral reproduction occurs when a branch breaks off and attaches to the substrate, forming a the start of a new colony. This process is known as fragmentation and accounts for roughly half of coral spread. Considerable success is being achieved now with many coral species by in effect farming fragments and cloning colonies (see above, Reef Rescue Network’s coral nurseries)
  2. Sexual reproduction occurs once a year in August or September, when coral colonies release millions of gametes by broadcast spawning (there’s much more to be said on this interesting topic, and one day I will)

Elkhorn Coral, Abaco Bahamas (Melinda Rogers / Dive Abaco)

THE FEATURED PHOTOGRAPHS

You may have wondered in which healthily coral-infested waters these superb elkhorn coral photographs were taken. Did I perhaps source them from a National Geographic coral reef special edition? In fact, every image featured was obtained among the reefs of Abaco.

All except the recent Perry Institute / Friends of the Environment photo were taken by Melinda Rogers of Dive Abaco, Marsh Harbour. The long-established and highly regarded Dive Shop she and her husband Keith run was obliterated (see above) less than 3 months ago by Hurricane Dorian, along with most of the rest of the town. It’s a pleasure to be able to showcase these images taken in sunnier times.

Elkhorn Coral, Abaco Bahamas (Melinda Rogers / Dive Abaco)