SAWFISH: UNIQUE LIVE BIRTH FOOTAGE ON ANDROS


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SAWFISH: UNIQUE LIVE BIRTH FOOTAGE ON ANDROS

The word ‘awesome’ – a word of Biblical origin and medieval usage connoting an experience of wonderment with an element of dread* – lost its power once it became the common verbal currency for describing the offer of a beer, a photograph of a sulky cat, or a so-so pub band. Where to turn for something truly momentous? Oh, actually that might do nicely. Breathtaking, astounding, astonishing, awe-inspiring, staggering, extraordinary, stupendous, and spectacular are examples of synonyms that have retained at least some of their power. And perhaps ‘mind-blowing’, though it’s a bit substance-tinged. ‘Amazing’ has pretty much gone the way of awesome. Amazeballs and badass? Let’s not!

Sawfish Grand Bahama (BNT / Buzz Cox)

Ok. Having got that linguistic grump out of the way (index under ‘English Language, debasement of, modern usage in), here’s the real deal: a truly phenomenal short video of a smalltooth sawfish Pristis pectinata safely giving live birth in the wild to her 5 babies (which are called pups) on Andros during a FSU research trip. The pups emerge as small replicas of their parent, complete with their hedgetrimmer-style rostrums, ready to swim away. Fishes that carry their young and give birth to one or more developed juveniles in this way are called ovoviviparous.

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The commentary is clear and informative, the research potential for this vulnerable species is considerable, and if you have a soul and a spare 3 minutes, you really should watch this!

This unique recorded event took place last December. The joint research trip to Andros by the FSU Coastal and Marine Lab and NOAA was led by Dr. Dean Grubbs. The purpose of the research was to discover evidence of any exchange between the sawfish population in the U.S. and Bahamas. You can find out more about the research and scientists at the FSUCML website. And if you want to get involved and take part in an expedition, click GET INTO THE FIELD

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RELATED POSTS

RH SAWFISH PAGE – pics, facts and vids, including how the rostrum is used in feeding

GUITARFISH (WTF? 8)

* ‘Awful’ had the same meaning as awesome, historically – cf dreadful. It did not mean a bad film or a lousy restaurant.Sawfish_1This recent photograph by Adam Rees of Scuba Works was taken in Florida waters. It is one of an astonishing school of 8 smalltooth sawfish, the largest group Adam has ever encountered.sawfish-2-adam-rees-scuba-works-copy

Credits: Header, Grant Johnson @60poundbullet (Bimini), with many thanks; BNT / Buzz Cox (Grand Bahama); Adam Rees / Scuba Works

BLUEHEAD WRASSE: PRIVATE LIFE LAID BARE


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BLUEHEAD WRASSE: PRIVATE LIFE LAID BARE

The bluehead wrasse (or blue-headed wrasse) Thalassoma bifasciatum is a denizen of the coral reefs of the tropical waters of the western Atlantic Ocean. This bright little 4-inch fish is… a wrasse with a blue head. No more and no less. Unless it’s a juvenile. Then it is mainly bright yellow. It’s similar to BLUE TANG (aka ‘the Disney Dory’), which starts life bright yellow and grows up to be blue.

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The species may be found singly, in pairs or small groups, or in schools.  They have an important role to play in the life of the reef. They are CLEANER FISH, vital to the health and wellbeing of the larger species they attend to, and thus of the reef itself. This is ‘cleaning symbiosis’, a relationship of mutual benefit. The big fish get cleaned; the little fish have a useful function and – importantly for them – therefore don’t get eaten. 

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Having said that, blueheads are of course fair game as a snack for species that aren’t in the market for their cleaning services. And, unfairly, some species that are content to let cleaner gobies runtle around their gills and mouths are not so considerate of the wrasse. Some types of grouper and moray eel, for example.

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TELL US EXACTLY SEVEN BLUEHEAD WRASSE FACTS

  • Juveniles can alter the intensity of their colour, stripes & bars
  • The bluehead wrasse is a ‘protogynous sequential hermaphrodite’
  • All are born female**. Some change sex to male during maturation (see below)
  • Food includes zooplankton, small molluscs and small crustaceans…
  • …and parasites / other juicy bits (fungal growths, anyone?) from bigger fish
  • The main threat to the species is coral reef degradation or destruction
  • The bright colours invite aquarium use, but the trade is not a significant one

** Some sources suggest some are born male and remain male. I’m not sure which is right

A juvenile bluehead (with feather-duster worms) – mostly yellow, with a pale underside
Bluehead Wrasse juvenile (wiki)

THE REMARKABLE SEX LIFE OF THE BLUEHEAD WRASSE

This is an unavoidable topic, I’m afraid. The bluehead’s sex life is the most interesting thing about them, and this is no time to be prudish. It is the subject of extensive scientific research, not all of which I have read since I decided to write about the species last night. Like many human relationships, “it’s complicated”, but in a conch shell it boils down to this:

  • To recap, BWs are born female and as they mature, some become male.
  • Males reach an ‘initial phase’ when they can breed in groups with females
  • Some males grow even larger & reach full colouration. This is the ‘terminal phase’
  • These large males aggressively chase away smaller ones & seek females to pair with
  • Their state of readiness (as it were) is signalled by colour changes
  • This behaviour is similar to that seen in many city centres in a Saturday night
  • The smaller fish have one bonus – their sperm count is higher than a dominant male
  • Prozac tests have shown that the drug reduces a dominant male’s aggression

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As the excellent organisation OCEANA puts it: Bluehead Wrasses may reproduce in four different ways throughout their lifetime:  1) as a female in a group spawning event; 2) as a female in a pair spawning event within the territory of a large male; 3) as a small male in a group spawning event; and 4) as a dominant, terminal male in a pair spawning event within its own territory.

A cropped still from a video I took at Fowl Cay marine reserve. I’ve looked at dozens of images online and not found one that was all blue with a yellow end to its tail fin. Maybe it’s not a BW at all. Or it’s a different type of fish completely. Or perhaps it is just an all-blue alpha male.bluehead-wrasse-fowl-cay-mr-abaco

Credits & Sources: Melinda Riger; Adam Rees; James St John; Oregon State edu / Pinterest; Wiki images; self; Oceana; IUCN; magpie pickings

A bluehead wrasse passes the time of day with a gruntbluehead-wrasse-grunt-adam-rees

WONDERS OF THE DEEP: FROM SUBLIME TO… THE OTHER THING


Seahorse (Adam Rees / Scuba Works)

WONDERS OF THE DEEP: FROM SUBLIME TO… THE OTHER THING

Seahorse by Alex Konahin

It’s a statistically proven fact (and not, in any way, a ‘post-truth’ proposition) that no one has ever had a bad thing to say about seahorses. Indeed, some love them too much and consume them – see HERE for threats to seahorse populations in some areas of the world. 

Seahorse (Adam Rees / Scuba Works)

Sometimes they are easy to see. The header image shows an orange seahorse curling its tail round green weed on pink coral – hard to miss. Yet sometimes it may be quite difficult to see the little creatures against their chosen background.

Seahorse (Adam Rees / Scuba Works)

These guys are, I think, for their size among the most sublime of all underwater creatures. I use the word in the strict historical sense “of very great excellence or beauty, exalted, awe-inspiring, majestic, magnificent, glorious.” Not just to mean “nice”. 

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In contrast, there are some undersea creatures that inspire… not awe exactly, but maybe an amused respect that so wonderful and bizarre a creature can exist in our oceans, in some cases only a few feet below the surface. Here are two examples of what I mean.

Batfish (Adam Rees / Scuba Works)

This is a BATFISH. It was an early shoo-in for my “WTF? (What’s that Fish?)” series, and you can read all about them and their ways HERE. Of all the creatures I have featured on this blog, this is by some distance the oddest…

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…except for its companion in oddness, the FROGFISH. This was next in the WTF? series, and the creature is, if anything, even stranger. You can read all about these critters HERE, where you will learn inter alia about their superpowers – any one of which you might like to have yourself. There are plenty of photos, and videos too.

FROGFISH SUPERPOWERS

  • Invisibility Cloak
  • Irresistible (and, to their prey, Fatal) Attraction
  • Buoyancy Control
  • Shapeshifting

Frogfish (Adam Rees / Scuba Works) 

I do not court controversy, recognising that people following this site, or maybe stumbling across it by mistake and lingering, reach their views on natural history from different directions. But these strange and fascinating species exist and thrive in their own particular and ingenious ways – it doesn’t really matter how or why they are as they are. The bats and the frogs are high in the list of the least conventional of undersea creatures, and if they are not exactly sublime in a seahorse sense, can we just agree that they are awesome?

Frogfish (Adam Rees / Scuba Works) 

Photo Credits: Adam Rees / Scuba Works; Melinda Riger; Alex Konahin (seahorse gif)

Seahorse (Bahamas) 4 ©Melinda Riger @G B Scuba Long-nosed Batfish Wiki Frogfish Hunting (Adam Rees : Scuba Works)

WATCHING NURSE SHARKS: BE PATIENT…


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WATCHING NURSE SHARKS: BE PATIENT…

I last took a look at nurse sharks nearly 3 years ago HERE. Time to revisit these creatures. Indeed, time for a close-up look. If you want to know more about this fascinating species, just click the link above.

The two strange items hanging down from the upper lip are sensory barbels
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This side-view shows the shark’s relatively small mouth (for a shark anyway)nurse-shark-a-melinda-riger-gb-scuba

Admire the extraordinary texture of the the skin; and the tiny evil eye. Click or – better – double click on the image and you will see that the skin is in fact tessellated, made up of a mosaic of tiny squares and near-squares**nurse-shark-close-up-melinda-riger-g-b-scuba

This one is a baby nurse sharknurse-shark-baby-melinda-riger-gb-scuba

A juvenile nurse shark with a couple of grunts. Note the youngster’s paddle-like finnurse-shark-juv-melinda-riger-g-b-scuba

Head, mouth, jaws and teeth

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SO, THEY ARE SHARKS – ARE THESE GUYS DANGEROUS?

Not really, no. They aren’t looking to pick a fight; and they are not as territorially aggressive as the ‘bitey’ sharks are (or can be).  These slow-moving bottom-dwellers are generally harmless to humans. However, they can be huge—up to 4 metres —and have very strong jaws filled with thousands of tiny, serrated teeth. They will bite defensively if stepped on or bothered by divers who assume they’re docile. [As I said previously, “there are recorded instances of injuries caused to divers who have tried to pull nurse sharks by the tail. And serve them right, I say. Treat them with patience and respect!”] 

Nurse Shark ©Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba copy

**FUN FACT

M.C. ESCHER (the inspiration for Mr Hammer) was the master of tessellation in art. Click the link to explore the dedicated website. Maybe, sensationally, one day a shark will be found with skin like this… (Alert reader: “Actually, I think it most unlikely…”)

Escher fish

Credits: field photos by Melinda Riger, Grand Bahama Scuba; Wiki for the 4 mouth images & the Escher 

Nurse Shark ©Melinda Riger @ Grand Bahama Scuba

CHRISTMAS TREE WORMS: FABULOUSLY FESTIVE


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CHRISTMAS TREE WORMS: FABULOUSLY FESTIVE

music-notes-clip-art-png-music“Deck the Reefs with Worms Like Christmas Trees… Fal-La-La-etc-etc ” is a traditional Carol familiar to all. Well, most. Ok, some, then. Oh right – maybe with different words. Anyway, now is as good time as any to take a look at these remarkable plants creatures and subsurface symbols of good cheer.

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10 CHRISTMAS TREE WORM FACTS TO PONDER

  • The 2 colourful spirals are not the worm, but complex structures for feeding & respiration
  • The spirals act as specialised mouth extensions for ‘filter-feeding’
  • Prey is trapped by the feathery tentacles & guided by cilia (microscopic hairs) to the mouth
  • The tentacle things are radioles and act as gills for breathing as well as prey traps
  • It is not believed that prey slide down the spiral to their doom, like on a helter-skelter

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  • The actual worm lives in a sort of segmented tube, with extremely limited mobility skills
  • It contains digestive, circulatory & nervous systems – and a brain in the middle of it all
  • The worm also has a tiny drainage tube (I think I have this right) for excretion etc
  • They embed themselves into heads of coral such as brain coral. And stay there
  • And yes, the Christmas trees are retractable…

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HOW DO THE WORMS… YOU KNOW…  ER… REPRODUCE?

This is a delicate area. They don’t tend to talk about it much, but as far as I can make out they eject gametes from their what-I-said-above. There are mummy and daddy CTWs, and their respective gametes (eggs and spermatozoa) drift in the current and presumably into each other to complete the union. The fertilised eggs develop into larvae, which settle onto coral and burrow into it, build their protective tubes and the process begins again.

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LOOK, YOU DON’T REALLY UNDERSTAND THESE CREATURES, DO YOU?

I won’t lie. I found it hard to work out how the CTWs function in practice. There are plenty of resources showing them in their full glory, but that only takes one so far. Then I came across a short video that shows it all brilliantly simply (except for the reproduction part). So maybe I should have just posted this first and saved you (and me) some trouble…

The worm, invisible in its coral burrow, hoists its pair of trees. You can easily see small particles – possibly zooplankton – drifting in the water, and the radioles swaying to catch potential food. Bingo. It all makes sense! Next: the New Year Worm

Credits: Melinda Riger (G B Scuba); Adam Rees (Scuba Works); Nick Hobgood; Betty Wills; Absolutely Wild Visuals; MarineBio; Wikibits & Magpie Pickings

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WTF? (WHAT’S THAT FISH?) 12: THE TRUMPETFISH


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WTF? (WHAT’S THAT FISH?) 12: THE TRUMPETFISH

It’s been a while since the previous post in the WTF? series, dedicated to the unusual or downright weird marine creatures that, when you see them swim into in the frame of your mask, prompt the involuntary exclamation “WTF?” (What’s That Fish?). Now, in all its glory meet… The Trumpetfish. These long piscine pipes are in no way related to the President-Elect and his tank of pet fish, but perhaps more explicably to seahorses and seadragons.

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Trumpetfishes Aulostomus maculatus are as happy to swim upright as more conventionally, which helps them to blend in with vertical corals and sponges on the reefs in the tropical waters of the western Atlantic. Adults may grow to 3 foot long or more. These creatures come in a variety of colours – shades of red, orange, brown, green and yellow.

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At the end of the fish’s long snout – see how far back the eyes are set – is a small mouth. Here’s how a trumpetfish goes about catching its prey (mostly small fishes):

  • Slowly swimming or drifting to a target from behind, and sucking it into its mouth
  • Staying suspended in the water, motionless, and waiting like a malevolent stick for a passing wrasse or similar to get too close
  • Swimming alongside larger fishes, which camouflages its presence and enables it to ambush small fish as they pass 
  • More generally, the trumpetfish has some ability to change its colour to blend with its surroundings – both a defensive as well as an attacking advantage

Trumpetfish (Adam Rees / Scuba Works)

The very excellent Peppermint Narwhal recently produced a series of posters in appreciation of particular species – and trumpetfishes and their kin in the Order syngnathidae were honoured. The PN’s cheerful website is well worth checking out for the sheer diversity of their ideas.

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MUSICAL NOTES

We are beginning to collect the makings of a decent orchestra here. The trumpetfish has a relative, the cornetfish, elsewhere in the world. The remarkable GUITARFISH has already featured in the WTF? series, as has a species of BASS, the Harlequin. And – hey! – what about the spotted DRUMFISH to lay down the beat? Maybe I need to compose a little jingle featuring these one day…

Credits: Melinda Riger (Grand Bahama Scuba); Adam Rees (Scuba Works)

FAIRY BASSLET (‘MIND YOUR GRAMMA’): BAHAMAS REEF FISH (33)


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FAIRY BASSLET (‘MIND YOUR GRAMMA’): BAHAMAS REEF FISH (33)

The Fairy Basslet is a tiny brightly-coloured fish with a pretentious alternative name. It is otherwise known as the Royal Gramma (Gramma loreto). These fish are found  in the coral reefs of the (sub)tropical western Atlantic. They are also found in aquariums anywhere you like, being small, bright, placid and generally good-natured.

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Conveniently, the basslet is unlikely to be confused with any other species. Its striking two-tone colour scheme of purple and yellow is hard to miss. The purple front half (which is presumably where the ‘royal’ comes from, being a regal or imperial colour) may also be violet or even blue in some fish and / or in some light conditions. Another identification pointer is a black spot on the dorsal fin. 

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You’ll notice that the basslet above appears to be upside down. Which is because it is – this isn’t an inadvertent photo-flip. These little fish tend to orientate themselves to be parallel with the closest surface. This leads to them happily swimming upside down, or aligning vertically. As one article I read says severely, “this behaviour is not to be mistaken for illness”.

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Fairy basslets / royal grammas are also CLEANER FISH. They pick parasites and dead skin off larger fish that visit so-called cleaning stations to be attended to by tiny fish and cleaner shrimps, and in some instances to have their gills and even their teeth cleaned. The deal is that, in return, the large fish do not eat the cleaners. Even snack-sized ones rootling around inside their mouths.

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 WHAT ABOUT BREEDING?
I really can’t improve on this rather touching description from Wiki: “The male will build the nest among rocks using pieces of algae. The male will then lead the female to the nest, where she will deposit 20-100 eggs in the nest. During the breeding period, this behaviour is repeated almost every day for a month or longer (my italics). The eggs are equipped with small protuberances over the surface with tiny threads extending from them which hold onto the algae of the nest and keep the eggs in place. The eggs will hatch in five to seven days, normally in the evening…”

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HOW COME THE NAME ‘GRAMMA LORETO’?

This official name became a brainworm with me after I started this post. I had to check it out. The ‘Gramma’ part is unrelated to the fond name for a grandmother; rather, it simple denotes a member of the genus of fishes in the family Grammatidae.

The Loreto part is more mysterious. It is an an ancient town in Italy; and the name of several British schools, including – almost too good to be true – a school called Loreto Grammar. In a nutshell, the link between the town and places of education is that the Sisters of Loreto, founded in the c17 and named for a shrine in the Italian village, are dedicated to education in their Ministry.

How that ties in with a tiny Caribbean reef fish, I have yet to find out. I probably never will… Here’s a short video to alleviate the disappointment.

I failed to be able to resist finding out whether any country of the world has a purple and yellow flag. The answer is, no. However I am delighted to be able to report that the flag of the Independent Party of Uruguay is basslet-coloured.

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Credits: all fantastic photos by Melinda Riger of Grand Bahama Scuba; magpie pickings of an unacademic sort for facts and speculation