BAHAMAS REEF FISH (44): PORKFISH


Porkfish (Grunt), Bahamas - Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba

BAHAMAS REEF FISH (44): PORKFISH

Behold the porkfish Anisotremus virginicus, the slightly unattractively named representative of the (arguably) even less attractively named grunt species. These small, bright-coloured reef dwellers are rarely more than 12 inches long. They are mainly nocturnal fish, feeding on small crustaceans, mollusks and so on. Juveniles have been observed acting as cleaners to larger species, feeding on parasites – an example of mutualism between species, in which both sides benefit from the arrangement.

Porkfish (Grunt), Bahamas - Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba

WHY IS A ‘PORKFISH’ A ‘GRUNT’

The terminology seems to be somewhat confused by local usages, but in general terms all porkfish are grunts; but not vice versa. Yet I notice that the term ‘porkfish’ is used to describe other types of grunt. A good rule of thumb is the the Atlantic Porkfish is the only grunt with two black vertical bars and yellow stripes… Note that grunts differ from their cousins the snappers by having a different dental arrangement – no canine teeth.

Porkfish (Grunt), Bahamas - Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba

AND WHY ‘GRUNT’ ANYWAY? DO THEY SOUND LIKE PIGS?

Well, perhaps a bit. All grunts, including porkfish, are capable of producing grunt-like sounds from some kind of grinding of their back teeth that is too technical to go into here**. The sound is associated with ‘situations of duress and danger’ – such as being caught and unhooked…

Porkfish (Grunt), Bahamas - Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba

DO YOU HAPPEN TO HAVE A RECORDING?

As it so happens I do. This is taken from a rather longer Youtube video in which a grunt was caught, unhooked and returned.You’ll hear a couple of grunts as the fish was unhooked, and some (perhaps understandable) hilarity on the boat. I guess you had to be there.

Porkfish are gregarious, and also mix with other speciesPorkfish (Grunt), Bahamas - Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba

ARE PORKFISH EDIBLE?

Like most if not all grunts, they are, with the proviso that there is some association with ciguatera. I’ve never knowingly eaten one myself, but I gather that “grits and grunts” is a popular culinary combo in some places. For those that might want to know more, a quick look at a couple of threads reveals the following:

  • They taste great, a bit like ham
  • Their white meat cooks very well
  • They taste better than black margates (another grunt species)
  • Eat them in enchilado or breaded fillets
  • ‘Big-ass head’ on them so not much if you filet
  • If you scale and cook whole you get a better yield on them
  • When fishing for supper, ‘shoot ’em up and hold off for the bigger ones’

Porkfish (Grunt) - Brian Gratwicke (wiki)

Credits: all great photos by Melinda Riger /  Grand Bahama Scuba, except the last by Brian Gratwicke (wiki); soundbite from Youtube video 2010 by peachyree; research from seaworld.org; britannica.com and the usual suspects…

** Subtle code for “I haven’t really understood it…”

THE ARTICULATE WHALE (1): TELLING A TALE AFTER DEATH


False Killer Whale (Endless Ocean-wiki)

THE ARTICULATE WHALE (1): TELLING A TALE AFTER DEATH

The ‘false killer whale’ Pseudorca crassidens has a somewhat misleading name: first (as implied), it is not a killer whale; second, it’s not actually a whale at all, but a large species of dolphin. However, it does have some killer whale tendencies – attacking and killing smaller marine mammals for example – and perhaps a passing resemblance, so the species has been given something of an upgrade, name-wise.

False Killer Whale (NOAA-wiki)

Although these fine creatures are distributed widely around the globe, the overall numbers are thought to be small, and relatively little is known about them in the wild. They are, of course, used as aquarium exhibits but the knowledge gleaned in captivity cannot provide much of an overview of their oceanic behaviour, which remains relatively unstudied.

False Killer Whale range map - wiki

However, there is one source of valuable data – the scientific study of stranded animals. And as it happens, Abaconians will very soon be able to obtain at least a skeleton knowledge of the FKW, the end-product of a long and complicated research project by the BMMRO in conjunction with Friends of the Environment. Just a quick word of warning before you read further – some images below are not especially pleasant to look at, so be prepared for them… They are illustrative and not intended for close inspection (unless you want).

Exactly a year ago an FKW was reported to have stranded on Duck Cay, off Cherokee Sound. BMMRO were quickly on the scene, and hoping to undertake the usual procedure of a necropsy, in which post-mortem samples are taken for analysis. However the poor creature was in an advancing state of decomposition, so only skin samples and photographs could be taken.

False Killer Whale, Abaco Bahamas (BMMRO)         False Killer Whale, Abaco Bahamas (BMMRO)

Telescoping the intervening months for the sake of brevity, the decision was made to cut up the carcass (note the face-masks) and bury it where it was, so that its integrity would be preserved for later retrieval, cleaning, reconstruction (‘re-articulation’) and exhibition for educational purposes.

False Killer Whale, Abaco Bahamas (BMMRO) False Killer Whale, Abaco Bahamas (BMMRO) False Killer Whale, Abaco Bahamas (BMMRO)

False Killer Whale, Abaco Bahamas (BMMRO)

In December, the remains were exhumed for the next phase of the animal’s decomposition – submersion in cages in the mangroves – before the final cleaning of the bones in readiness for its re-articulation and display.

False Killer Whale bones, Abaco Bahamas (BMMRO)False Killer Whale, Abaco Bahamas (BMMRO)False Killer Whale bones, Abaco Bahamas (BMMRO)

Cleaning the bones has been a meticulous process, leaving the resulting skeleton ready to reconstruct in situ at Friends of the Environment’s Kenyon Research Centre in Marsh Harbour. Adult FKWs can grow up to 6 metres long, so there are a great many bones from large to very small to place correctly – and plenty of teeth (see below). The re-articulation is nearly finished, and it is hoped that the completed skeleton will be on display in the very near future. I am planning to see it in about 2 weeks time, and – this sounds quite strange, I know – I’m very excited about it.

False Killer Whale bones, Abaco Bahamas (BMMRO)False Killer Whale bones, Abaco Bahamas (BMMRO)False Killer Whale tooth & bones, Abaco Bahamas (BMMRO)False Killer Whale skeleton, Abaco Bahamas (BMMRO)

This ambitious year-long project has involved BMMRO, FOTE, BEP (Bahamas Environment Protection Foundation), interns, and volunteers. I am keen to know whether, in the modern way, an affectionate name has been chosen for the skeleton. ‘Duck Cay’ doesn’t provide a very promising start. Well, maybe Donald is in vogue…? 

ARE STRANDINGS FREQUENT – AND WHY REPORT THEM?

Each year there may be half-a-dozen reports of cetacean strandings in Abaco waters, both whales and dolphins. As far as I can make out, the animals are almost invariably dead. If still alive, reporting is clearly urgent to ensure a quick response and to maximise the creature’s chances of survival. If dead, a carcass can provide scientists with valuable data on the biology and health of marine mammals and, in turn, the health of our marine ecosystems. This includes basic information, such as an animal’s age, its size, the types of prey it consumes, and the occurrence of diseases. Necropsies can provide more detailed information to add to the growing knowledge-base of marine mammal populations.

And a project like this one, with its great educational potential, can in effect enable a stranded marine mammal to tell its story even after death.

STRANDING NETWORK HOTLINE NUMBER +1 242 366 4155
(or +1 242 357 6666 / +1 242 577 0655)
False Killer Whale skull, Abaco Bahamas (BMMRO)

Credits: header image, Endless Ocean / wiki; #1 NOAA; all other photos BMMRO or FOTE, with thanks; range map wiki 

MANATEES IN THE BAHAMAS? WE GOTTEM!


MANATEES IN THE BAHAMAS? WE GOTTEM!

Not so long ago, most people had no idea that the waters of the Bahamas in general – and Abaco in particular – contained a small population of these curious, gentle, trusting creatures. When I first wrote about them and their adventures, there was surprise – maybe disbelief. A few years later, all that has changed thanks to the BMMRO and an outreach program that raised awareness – and consequently the sighting and reporting – of manatees. They are now widely recognised as they nose their way round harbours, docks and landing stages – and quite rightly they still excite delight and a degree of wonderment. 

You can find out more – lots more – about Bahamas manatees on my page HERE. I have a post in progress about recent manatee developments with a rescue one but alas I have found I have already run out of week through some kind of bizarre time / space continuum dislocation (specifically, flagrant time-mismanagement). So I am posting a few adorable images to be going on with. 

And remember, if you happen to see one, please do report it to the BMMRO or let me know. Useful data includes date, location and a description if possible of any damage – notches and nicks – to the paddle (= tail). It’s a good method for ID. Photos a bonus.  Every sighting adds to the database of knowledge about these strangest of creatures of the Bahamian seas. And you’ll be pleased to know that they are undoubtedly managing to breed in the Bahamas: there are baby manatees to prove it…

All photos: BMMRO

BAHAMAS REEF FISH (43): CUBERA SNAPPER


BAHAMAS REEF FISH (43): CUBERA SNAPPER

The cubera snapper (Lutjanus cyanopterus) is the largest snapper species. Adults may grow to 5′ long but they average around 3′ long and weigh 40 lbs or so (the record apparently stands at a massive 126 lbs). These are game fish, and they are a commercially important species. They are also IUCN listed as vulnerable, perhaps for that very reason. 

10 CUBERA SNAPPER SNAPPY  FACTS

  • The largest of a large number of snapper species in the western Atlantic
  • Feed on fish, shrimps & crabs, with large strong teeth (see pics) and jaws
  • Among their (few) predators are sharks, barracuda, and moray eels
  • Edible, but beware of the danger of CIGUATERA poisoning
  • In summer months, spawning is governed by lunar cycles
  • Cuberas form huge spawning masses (to 10k) in offshore shallows
  • Sadly the resulting eggs and larvae are rich pickings for predators…
  • Youngsters live in sea grass or mangroves for protection
  • Cuberas are game fish with commercial importance
  • IUCN listed as vulnerable – largely courtesy of mankind (see »)

RANGE FINDER

Cubera Snapper Range Map (wiki)

CONSERVATION MATTERS

Overfishing is one of the greatest threats to the species. Those young fish that are not predated naturally and grow to adulthood are targets for fishermen. There’s no prissy ‘catch & release’, as with bonefish. At spawning time, as the fish instinctively (and predictably) mass as the moon dictates, so do the human predators. The spawning sites are where the best protection can be given, to ensure the annual reproductive cycle is uninterrupted. If not, ‘vulnerable’ will soon give way to ‘endangered’…

I’d been going to pull apart a long recipe for the “wonderfully sweet white meat ” of this fish for the tastiest morsels of info, then (not being a cook) I quickly tired of the idea. Sorry to disappoint. 

Credits: Melinda Riger for the wonderful photos; range map from wiki; magpie research pickings, including (but not limited to ) Nat Geo

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

GRAYSBY (GROUPER): BAHAMAS REEF FISH (42)


Graysby (grouper) - Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba

GRAYSBY (GROUPER): BAHAMAS REEF FISH (42)

The Graysby Cephalopholis cruentata is a small, spotty grouper, which grows to a maximum of around 16 inches. These rather unassuming and solitary fish have a preference for coral reefs, where they can blend in with their surroundings on ledges and in caves and crevices during the day. At night, they become active – that’s when they feed on feed on small fish, crabs and shrimps. 

Graysby (grouper) - Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama ScubaGraysby (grouper) - Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba

The graysby has variable colouring in a range from light brown to pale gray, with all-over spots that may be red, orange or brownish. Often, they have 3 to 5 contrasting spots on their backs, along the base of the dorsal fin, as below:

Graysby (grouper) - Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama ScubaGraysby (grouper) - Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba

The long erectile dorsal fin comprises both spines and ‘rays’ – spines at the front, rays at the back. Like this:

The spots of a graysby can change in colour (at least to a limited extent), becoming either paler or darker. I imagine this is a protective feature to enable the fish to blend in more easily with its reef surroundings. 

Graysby (grouper) - Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba

Signalling to turn right…

I wondered if they are edible. I believe so – but then I also read that the larger adults carry the risk of ciguatera and raised mercury levels. So I’ll give it a miss thanks.

Photo & other credits: all photographs by Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba; aqua.org; SAMFC (drawing)

WTF? (WHAT’S THAT FISH?) 14: ARROW CRABS


Arrow Crab (Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba)

WTF? (WHAT’S THAT FISH?) 14: ARROW CRABS

It’s been a while since the last in the WTF? series, which is dedicated to the wilder, less conventionally fish-shaped side of reef life – those creatures that you may come across, blink into your face-mask,  and silently mouth the words ‘What’s That Fish?’ (that’s what it looks like you are saying, anyway).

Arrow Crab (Adam Rees)

Let’s meet some Arrow Crabs Stenorhynchus seticornis, one of the very few creatures surely to have a triangular body plus a huge pointy nose (rostrum), supported on long skinny legs. To which add, they wear tiny blue gloves on their two front claws.

Arrow Crab (Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba)

These crabs are coral reef dwellers and mostly stay concealed during the day. Their body is protected by a carapace, and the rostrum has serrated edges like a tiny rasp or file. I haven’t found a definitive reason for this gadget, but I suspect it is more for probing than for piercing or fighting.

Arrow Crab (Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba)

There’s a considerable colour variation among these crabs, as these images show. The body may even have blue iridescent lines (#2, above). And those claws may be any of 50 shades of blue…

Arrow Crab (Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba)

Arrow crabs are most active at night. They eat feather-duster worms (illus.) and similar invertebrates such as bristle worms.

Feather-duster worm (Melinda Riger / G B Scuba)

Arrow Crab Meal

Like certain types of shrimp, they also have a symbiotic relationship with anemones, whereby they make use of an anemone to benefit from the food it captures – and possibly for cover too. They are protected from anemone stings, whereas some of their predators are not.

This was the place where I was going to tell you about the arrow crab’s private life, but, well… “it’s complicated”. Briefly it is: male passes sperm-filled capsule to female; she uses it in some way whereby it fertilises her eggs; she then ‘broods’ the eggs in one of her ‘swimming legs’; the eggs hatch into larvae and swim off to eat plankton; each one then grows & moults, repeating the process until it has reached adult form. On balance, humans have arguably perfected a preferable method.

Arrow Crab (Nick Hobgood / Wiki)

Arrow Crabs are apparently popular aquarium creatures, although they sound to me rather a disagreeable challenge. They can move quickly on those long legs, and it seems as if they inclined to be aggressive to other inhabitants of the tank. As far as I can make out, it’s best not to put 2 of them together: they certainly won’t be doing the sperm capsule thing described earlier… 

Arrow Crab (Adam Rees)

Master of Disguise

Photo credits: Melinda Riger / G B Scuba (1, 3, 4, 5, 6); Adam Rees / Scuba Works (2, 8, 9); Nick Hopgood,Wiki (7); Chuck Elliot – video

Arrow Crab (Adam Rees)