WTF? (WHAT’S THAT FISH?): THE FROGFISH


Frogfish (Adam Rees / Scuba Works)

The Astoundingly 5* Strange Frogfish (Adam Rees / Scuba Works)

WTF? (WHAT’S THAT FISH?)

A COMPENDIUM OF SUBSURFACE WEIRDNESS

A SERIES OF 15 OF THE STRANGEST SEA CREATURES IN BAHAMAS WATERS

INTRODUCTION

WTF? stands for ‘What’s That Fish’? But it might also be your exclamation when you come across one of these creatures. The WTF? series highlights some of the unusual, curious, weird and downright extraordinary fishes that inhabit the waters of the northern Bahamas. Some represent local forms of a species found elsewhere in the world; others are in their own evolutionary cul-de-sac. Just as I think I have seen it all, so another oddity crops up somewhere that demands inclusion. 

The WTF? series, put together over several years, is intended to be the most direct route to an underwater menagerie of piscine strangeness, with some great photos to whet your appetite to learn more about these fascinating denizens of the ocean. 

1. THE FROGFISH

* CLICK ON THIS TITLE TO BE TRANSPORTED TO THE STRANGE WORLD OF THE FROGFISH *

Frogfish (Adam Rees, Scuba Works)Credits are given in the individual articles. Thanks to all those that have provide the photos, without which this type of illustrated, unscientifically scientific poke around in the ocean depths would not be possible.

IS THIS THE REAL LIFE? OR IS THIS JUST FANS AT SEA?


Purple sea fan, Bahamas (Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba)

IS THIS THE REAL LIFE? OR IS THIS JUST FANS AT SEA?

I wrote the original post on this theme, with its somewhat Bohemian and rhapsodic title, a while back. It was put together at a time of sunshine, normality and optimism. The 2019 hurricane season was far in the future, and the prospect of one – let alone two – of the finest islands in the Bahamas being virtually eradicated overnight was unthinkable.

Purple Sea Fans, Abaco, Bahamas (Dive Abaco / Keith & Melinda Rogers)

Right now, in the aftermath of the devastation wrought by Hurricane Dorian, and as the communities gradually start on the long road to recovery, the priorities remain personal and community safety, food, fresh water, medical supplies and access to all the other necessities that the major relief operation has so effectively enabled. However, as gradual improvements to daily life are achieved, so a degree of interest in the natural world is returning.

Purple sea fan, Bahamas (Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba)

The despoliation of the land is there for all to see, visible even from space. As yet – as far as I know – no one has had the time or opportunity, or even a boat and the right equipment to investigate below the surface of the sea. What of the reefs: the bright darting reef fish; the larger denizens of the deep; the corals, sponges and anemones? The massive Cat 5 storm caused an unprecedented 23′ surge. It’s hard to see how the reefs can have remained unaffected, and there must be the possibility that the THIRD LARGEST BARRIER REEF in the world will have been altered irrevocably.

Purple sea fan, Bahamas (Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba)

Since Dorian, the related organisations have been unable to operate. Abaco’s ‘Dive Abaco’ was virtually annihilated along with the rest of Marsh Harbour. Grand Bahama Scuba has just reopened, although it may take a while before dive trips are anywhere back to normal. This post contains beautiful photos from both the Melindas concerned, taken in happier times before the dark cloud swept over the islands just one month ago.

Purple sea fan, Bahamas (Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba)

NOTES FROM THE PRE-DORIAN PAST

The waters of Abaco teem with myriads of fish that depend on the coral reefs for shelter and safety, for breeding, for growing up in, and for nourishment. Sea fans (or gorgonians, to use the technical name) are animals too. They may look like plants and stay rooted to the spot, but like anemones these ‘soft corals’ are creatures of the reef and essential indicators of its health.

Purple Sea Fans, Abaco, Bahamas (Dive Abaco / Keith & Melinda Rogers)

At the moment it can still be said that the static (‘sessile’) members of the Abaco reef community are relatively unscathed by the impact of (and I don’t want to get into any arguments here) whatever causes mass bleaching and the death of reefs elsewhere in the world.

Purple Sea Fans, Abaco, Bahamas (Dive Abaco / Keith & Melinda Rogers)

Purple Sea Fans, Abaco, Bahamas (Dive Abaco / Keith & Melinda Rogers)  Purple Sea Fans, Abaco, Bahamas (Dive Abaco / Keith & Melinda Rogers)

The purple sea fan Gorgonia ventalina (classified by Linnaeus in 1785) is one of the most common species of sea fan, and a spectacular one at that. The main branches are linked by a lattice of smaller branches. Below the ‘skin’ is a skeleton made of calcite compounded with a form of collagen. 

Purple Sea Fans, Abaco, Bahamas (Dive Abaco / Keith & Melinda Rogers)

Sea fans are filter-feeders, and have polyps with eight tiny tentacles that catch plankton as it drifts past. They develop so that their orientation is across the prevailing current. This maximises the water passing by and consequently the supply of food as the fans gently wave in the flow.

Purple Sea Fans, Abaco, Bahamas (Dive Abaco / Keith & Melinda Rogers)  Purple Sea Fans, Abaco, Bahamas (Dive Abaco / Keith & Melinda Rogers)

Gorgonians have a chemical defence mechanism that protects against potential troublemakers. The main effect is to make themselves unpleasant to nibble or uproot.

Purple Sea Fans, Abaco, Bahamas (Dive Abaco / Keith & Melinda Rogers)

One species impervious to this deterrent is the fascinating FLAMINGO TONGUE SNAIL (more of which quite soon). Other ‘safe’ species include the fireworm and BUTTERFLYFISHES.

Purple Sea Fans, Abaco, Bahamas (Dive Abaco / Keith & Melinda Rogers)

One benefit of sea fans to mankind is that their defensive chemicals have been discovered to provide the basis for drug research and development, specifically in the field of  anti-inflammatories. Another benefit, of course, is that they are very beautiful to look at. And in bad times, that can only be good .

Purple Sea Fans, Abaco, Bahamas (Dive Abaco / Keith & Melinda Rogers)

Purple Sea Fans, Abaco, Bahamas (Dive Abaco / Keith & Melinda Rogers)    Purple Sea Fans, Abaco, Bahamas (Dive Abaco / Keith & Melinda Rogers)

Most of the photos featured are by courtesy of Capt. Keith and Melinda Rogers of the well-known local scuba dive and snorkel centre DIVE ABACO, located in central Marsh Harbour. As prime enablers of reef exploration in Abaco waters, it can truly be said that they too have plenty of fans.

Purple Sea Fans, Abaco, Bahamas (Dive Abaco / Keith & Melinda Rogers)

Credits: Melinda and Keith Rodgers / Dive Abaco, Marsh Harbour; Melinda and Fred Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba (1, 3, 4, 5)

** The answer to the questions in the Title is… it’s both!

FINALLY, A SPECIAL FAN FOR ABACO AND GRAND BAHAMA

Purple Sea Fans, Abaco, Bahamas (Dive Abaco / Keith & Melinda Rogers)

BLUE CHROMIS: A FLASH OF COLOUR ON THE REEF


BLUE CHROMIS: A FLASH OF COLOUR ON THE REEF

I’ve gone pictorial for today because I have only got my phone with me while we are away. Composition is slow, close to decomposition – and the comms connection is close to disconnection

Blue chromis (Chromis cyaneus) belong to the same group of fishes as damselfishes. These unmistakeable, bright reef denizens are very visible despite their tiny size. These fish are shoalers, so out on the reef you can enjoy them flickering around you as you swim along or hang in the water to admire the corals.

Like many a pretty and easily captured small fish that can be monetised once removed from its natural home environment, the blue chromis is popular for aquariums, and for humans to keep in their own home environments, unselfishly feeding them concocted food.

Blue chromis are adaptable and sociable, and will happily swim with other small reef fishes (as above). My own favourite combo is chromis mixed in with sergeant majors. But a shoal of them (mostly) alone is pretty special too….

I cynically mentioned ‘concocted’ food earlier. Here is one online care instruction for looking after them: “They are omnivores, meaning that they eat both meaty and plant based foods. They are not difficult to feed and will eat a variety of regular aquarium fare, frozen, live, and sometimes even dry food. Feeding them a variety of foods will help them retain their color in captivity. They sometimes feed on the algae in the tank”. 

If you are tempted to rescue some from their reef habitat, rest assured that: They have been known to spawn in captivity. Blue chromis can usually be obtained for about $10-15. And don’t hold back on the frozen food (though maybe warm it up a bit before feeding time).

Credits: Melinda Rodgers / Dive Abaco; Melinda Riger / G B Scuba

BABY SPERM WHALE IN BAHAMAS WATERS: AMAZING FOOTAGE


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

BABY SPERM WHALE IN BAHAMAS WATERS: AMAZING FOOTAGE

Over several years I have had the privilege of being able to feature wonderful photographs and video footage in this blog. Birds, course, and also reef fish, sharks, seahorses, coral and anemones and a whole lot more. I have also been involved throughout with the wonderful work of the Bahamas Marine Mammal Research Organisation (BMMRO), and have been a part of team since 2017. Abaco is lucky enough to have the HQ at Sandy Point, but we must keep in mind that the organisation’s remit extends throughout the entire Bahamas archipelago, and has firm links with research and conservation organisations on the other islands.

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

The clear turquoise waters around the islands and their cays are well-known to, and appreciated by, all. This is the playground of the smaller marine mammals – the dolphins, smaller whales and the (now a significant presence) manatees.

   

Less well known are the denizens of the deeper waters and the immense depths of the GREAT BAHAMA CANYON of the northern Bahamas. This is the realm of the large marine animals, from the mysterious speciality beaked whales right up to massive sperm whales. 

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

About 3 weeks ago, the BMMRO research team encountered something truly wondrous off the south Abaco coastline – something to quicken the pulse and gladden the heart – a newborn sperm whale investigating the underwater world it has just been born into. Hopefully it will flourish and live for decades. The hope is sadly tempered by the overwhelming – and increasing – evidence of the terrible effect that humans have caused in just one generation by the pollution of air, land and sea. 

Charlotte Dunn posted the footage of 2 separate sightings. Her first caption reads:

“Close encounter with a curious newborn (‘neonate’) sperm whale yesterday – reminding us of the importance of our Shared Waters project about the effects of ship traffic on resident sperm whales, http://www.bahamaswhales.org/research.aspx. The young individuals like this one will be the most impacted if we don’t make serious conservation changes. As this young whale matures, the policy changes we make in the Bahamas now will affect its survival”.

“While their mothers are feeding at depth (knocking sound in the background) this newborn is being cared for by a slightly older calf until the adults return.”

After the second encounter, Charlotte wrote: “Here’s another amazing short clip of the neonate sperm whale we videoed off south Abaco two weeks ago – thank you to the BEP Foundation and the Devereux Ocean Foundation for funding some of our important work with sperm whales in the Bahamas”.

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

On Charlotte’s conservation points above, over the last 3 months or so I have been checking daily for posts and articles specifically related to stranded, dead, and killed whales, and their stomach contents as revealed by necropsies. I have collected images from around the world. I won’t wreck this marvellous find in Abaco waters by including any of these. This casual research reveals a horrifying attrition rate for marine mammals. Most animals were full of plastics, from micro through flip-flops all the way up to very large chunks. Some of this junk clearly was the actual cause of death rather than a contributing factor. A whale may take several weeks to die in this way. All of it is entirely the responsibility of mankind – and pretty much caused in the last 50 years.

So let’s enjoy this little sperm whale, and hope it grows to an adulthood that will have seen a radical change for the better in its birth environment – the one that should never have been considered ours to destroy.

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

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)

Baby sperm whale off south Abaco, Bahamas ©BMMRO

MEET ARNOLD: BE A BAHAMAS BLACK GROUPER GROUPIE


Black Grouper, Bahamas (Arnold) - Melinda Riger @ GB Scuba

MEET ARNOLD: BE A BAHAMAS BLACK GROUPER GROUPIE

The Black Grouper, like all its cousins, has the twin disadvantages of being fished for sport and fished for food. As demand for grouper on the menu rises, so does its vulnerability. The species is described as a ‘slow breeder’, so a depleting population has less chance of sustaining numbers. The consequence is an exponentially diminishing stock of the species. The equation is simple: fewer fish means less and less stock replenishment.

Black Grouper, Bahamas (Arnold) - Melinda Riger @ GB Scuba

Formerly plentiful, these groupers (like other grouper species) have moved from an IUCN listing of ‘Least Concern’ to ‘Near-Threatened’. Whatever effect climate change may be having on the oceans, stock depletion of this noble species also has more direct human causes.

Black Grouper, Bahamas (Arnold) - Melinda Riger @ GB Scuba

An adult black grouper’s diet consists of small fish and squid. Juveniles feed primarily on crustaceans. However, certain tiny reef fish – blennies and gobies for example – are important to the species as ‘cleaners’. You can read about their significance by clicking CLEANING STATIONS.

Black Grouper, Bahamas (Arnold) - Melinda Riger @ GB Scuba

The service performed by tiny fish on large ones (not only groupers) is an example of a symbiotic relationship known as ‘mutualism’**, in which both parties benefit (the little fishes get gacky bits of grouper to eat). The cleaners are able to do their work inside the gills and even the mouth of the host without being at risk.

Black Grouper, Bahamas (Arnold) - Melinda Riger @ GB Scuba

The NASSAU GROUPER has a defined and enforced closed season to help maintain numbers. It will be interesting to see if the same protection is eventually extended to the black grouper and indeed to other grouper species.

** The other two types of symbiotic relationship are commensalism, in which only one species benefits while the other is neither helped nor harmed; and parasitism, where one creature (the parasite) gains, while the other (the host) suffers.

RELATED POSTS

TIGER GROUPER

NASSAU GROUPER

RED HIND

GRAYSBY

Credits: all photos Melinda Riger of Grand Bahama Scuba 

Black Grouper, Bahamas (Arnold) - Melinda Riger @ GB Scuba

FLAMINGO TONGUE SNAILS: DECORATIVE CORAL-DWELLERS


Flamingo Tongue Snails (Melinda Rogers, Dive Abaco, Bahamas)

FLAMINGO TONGUE SNAILS: DECORATIVE CORAL-DWELLERS

FLAMINGO TONGUE SNAILS Cyphoma gibbous are small marine gastropod molluscs related to cowries. The living animal is brightly coloured and strikingly patterned, but that colour only exists in the ‘live’ parts – the so-called ‘mantle’. The shell itself is usually pale, and characterised by a thick ridge round the middle. These snails live in the tropical waters of the Caribbean and the wider western Atlantic. Whether alive or dead, they are gratifyingly easy to identify.

Flamingo Tongue Snails (Melinda Rogers, Dive Abaco, Bahamas)

THE IMPORTANCE OF CORAL

Flamingo tongue snails feed by browsing on soft corals. Often, they will leave tracks behind them on the coral stems as they forage (see image below). But corals are not only food – they provide the ideal sites for the creature’s breeding cycle.

Flamingo Tongue Snails (Dive Abaco, Bahamas)Flamingo Tongue Snails (Melinda Rogers, Dive Abaco, Bahamas)

Adult females attach eggs to coral which they have recently fed upon. About 10 days later, the larvae hatch. They eventually settle onto other gorgonian corals such as Sea Fans. Juveniles tend to live on the underside of coral branches, while adults are far more visible and mobile. Where the snail leaves a feeding scar, the corals can regrow the polyps, and therefore the snail’s feeding preference is generally not harmful to the coral.

The principal purpose of the patterned mantle of tissue over the shell is to act as the creature’s breathing apparatus. The tissue absorbs oxygen and releases carbon dioxide. As it has been (unkindly?) described, the mantle is “basically their lungs, stretched out over their rather boring-looking shell”

Flamingo Tongue Snails (Melinda Rogers, Dive Abaco, Bahamas)

THREATS AND DEFENCE

The species, once common, is becoming rarer. The natural predators include hogfish, pufferfish and spiny lobsters, though the spotted mantle provides some defence by being rather unpalatable. Gorgonian corals contain natural toxins, and instead of secreting these after feeding, the snail stores them. This supplements the defence provided by its APOSEMATIC COLORATION, the vivid colour and /or pattern warning sign to predators found in many animal species.

Flamingo Tongue Snails (Melinda Rogers, Dive Abaco, Bahamas)

MANKIND’S CONTRIBUTION

It comes as little surprise to learn that man is now considered to be the greatest menace to these little creatures, and the reason for their significant decline in numbers. The threat comes from snorkelers and divers who mistakenly / ignorantly think that the colour of the mantle is the actual shell of the animal, collect up a whole bunch from the reef, and in due course are left with… dead snails and “boring-looking shells” (see photos below). Don’t be a collector; be a protector…

Flamingo Tongue Snails (Melinda Rogers, Dive Abaco, Bahamas)

The photos below are of nude flamingo tongue shells from the Delphi Club Collection. Until I read the ‘boring-looking shell’ comment, I believed everyone thought they were rather lovely… I did, anyway. You decide!

Flamingo Tongue Snail Shell, Keith Salvesen AbacoFlamingo Tongue Snail Shell, Keith Salvesen Abaco

Image Credits:  Melinda Rogers / Dive Abaco; Keith Salvesen / Rolling Harbour

Flamingo Tongue Snails (Melinda Rogers, Dive Abaco, Bahamas)

IS THIS THE REAL LIFE? OR IS THIS JUST FANS AT SEA?


Purple Sea Fans, Abaco, Bahamas (Dive Abaco / Keith & Melinda Rogers)

IS THIS THE REAL LIFE? OR IS THIS JUST FANS AT SEA?

The waters of Abaco teem with myriads of fish that depend on the coral reefs for shelter and safety, for breeding, for growing up in, and for nourishment. Sea fans (or gorgonians, to use the technical name) are animals too. They may look like plants and stay rooted to the spot, but like anemones these ‘soft corals’ are creatures of the reef and essential indicators of its health.

Purple Sea Fans, Abaco, Bahamas (Dive Abaco / Keith & Melinda Rogers)

At the moment it can still be said that the static (‘sessile’) members of the Abaco reef community are relatively unscathed by the impact of (and I don’t want to get into any arguments here) whatever causes mass bleaching and the death of reefs elsewhere in the world.

Purple Sea Fans, Abaco, Bahamas (Dive Abaco / Keith & Melinda Rogers)

Purple Sea Fans, Abaco, Bahamas (Dive Abaco / Keith & Melinda Rogers)  Purple Sea Fans, Abaco, Bahamas (Dive Abaco / Keith & Melinda Rogers)

The purple sea fan Gorgonia ventalina (classified by Linnaeus in 1785) is one of the most common species of sea fan, and a spectacular one at that. The main branches are linked by a lattice of smaller branches. Below the ‘skin’ is a skeleton made of calcite compounded with a form of collagen. 

Purple Sea Fans, Abaco, Bahamas (Dive Abaco / Keith & Melinda Rogers)

Sea fans are filter-feeders, and have polyps with eight tiny tentacles that catch plankton as it drifts past. They develop so that their orientation is across the prevailing current. This maximises the water passing by and consequently the supply of food as the fans gently wave in the flow.

Purple Sea Fans, Abaco, Bahamas (Dive Abaco / Keith & Melinda Rogers)  Purple Sea Fans, Abaco, Bahamas (Dive Abaco / Keith & Melinda Rogers)

Gorgonians have a chemical defense mechanism that protects against potential troublemakers. The main effect is to make themselves unpleasant to nibble or uproot.

Purple Sea Fans, Abaco, Bahamas (Dive Abaco / Keith & Melinda Rogers)

One species impervious to this deterrent is the fascinating FLAMINGO TONGUE SNAIL (more of which quite soon). Other ‘safe’ species include the fireworm and BUTTERFLYFISHES.

Purple Sea Fans, Abaco, Bahamas (Dive Abaco / Keith & Melinda Rogers)

One benefit of sea fans to mankind is that their defensive chemicals have been discovered to provide the basis for drug research and development. It’s tempting to say that by way of gratitude, we pollute the waters they need for their very existence. So, consider it said…

Purple Sea Fans, Abaco, Bahamas (Dive Abaco / Keith & Melinda Rogers)

Purple Sea Fans, Abaco, Bahamas (Dive Abaco / Keith & Melinda Rogers)    Purple Sea Fans, Abaco, Bahamas (Dive Abaco / Keith & Melinda Rogers)

All the photos featured are by courtesy of Capt. Keith and Melinda Rogers of the well-known local scuba dive and snorkel centre DIVE ABACO, located in central Marsh Harbour. As prime enablers of reef exploration in Abaco waters, it can truly be said that they too have plenty of fans.

Purple Sea Fans, Abaco, Bahamas (Dive Abaco / Keith & Melinda Rogers)

Credits: Keith and Melinda Rodgers; Dive Abaco @DiveAbaco, Marsh Harbour, The Bahamas ** The answer to the questions in the Title is… it’s both!

Purple Sea Fans, Abaco, Bahamas (Dive Abaco / Keith & Melinda Rogers)