SHARKS! APEX PREDATORS IN THE BAHAMAS


Sharks in the Bahamas (Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba)

SHARKS! APEX PREDATORS IN THE BAHAMAS

Immersion in current affairs these days brings inevitable acquaintance with sharks of various kinds, and all best avoided. Let’s have a look the real thing, the apex marine predators that in the Bahamas are all around you once you leave the safety of the shore. I haven’t featured them for ages, and it’s always a pleasure – a slight thrill, even.

Sharks in the Bahamas (Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba)Sharks in the Bahamas (Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba)

I don’t do scuba, indeed my swimming would easily be outclassed by a competent four-year old. But I see these creatures when I’m out fishing; or as they hang in the breaking waves off the Delphi beach, watching intently for a meal.

Sharks in the Bahamas (Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba)

We watch them (and stingrays) from the balcony as they lazily make their way round the margins of the wide bay, from little ‘uns to (recently) a huge bull shark. We watch as, when someone is in the water, they change course slightly to pass by them. So far, anyway…

Feeding sharksSharks feeding in the Bahamas (Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba)

The one that got away… (a sad sight)Sharks in the Bahamas (Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba)

I once took a rather primitive underwater camera with me while snorkelling in Fowl Cays National Park. This was several years ago, when I believed a cheap 2mb camera might turn me into one of the Blue Planet team. I was wrong. The shark I saw, apparently some 20 miles away (when I examined the image) – well, that’s its tail, top left…

Sharks in the Bahamas (Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba)Sharks in the Bahamas (Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba)

Just to look at these images is to understand that when you are in the sea, you are in the sharks’ environment. They are the masters of it. They have their rules, and they are not much interested in you… unless you break them. Or so the theory goes.

Sharks in the Bahamas (Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba)Sharks in the Bahamas (Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba)

This fine shark below exemplifies the power and the menace of the shark. A creature to be admired, but also to be respected.

Sharks in the Bahamas (Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba)

All fantastic photos: Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba

BAHAMAS REEF FISH (39): YELLOWTAIL DAMSELFISH


Yellowtail Damselfish (©Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba)

BAHAMAS REEF FISH (39): YELLOWTAIL DAMSELFISH

Yellowtails are just one of several damselfish species in Bahamas waters. These small fish are conspicuous not just for the bright tails that give them their name. More striking if anything – especially if seen underwater in sunlight against the coral – are the electric blue spots visible in both adults and juveniles.

Yellowtail Damselfish (©Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba)

The body of adults is dark blue to brownish to almost black 

The body of juveniles is blue

Yellowtails are a common and widespread variety of damselfish. They have a limited ability to change colour according to their surroundings, but with their bright tails and luminous blue flecks, it’s hard to see how they can look, to a predator, anything other than a tasty snack.

I have enjoyed seeing these little fish at Fowl Cay Marine Preserve, Abaco. The reef there makes for easy and rewarding snorkelling, with a wide variety of small and medium-size reef fishes to be seen. It’s an expedition I would definitely recommend to anyone wanting to see a healthy and active reef in a completely natural protected area.

I found that a video I took with a tiny camera was sadly of use only to myself. No one else would be able to make anything out due to the marked camera shake. Novices, huh? You are spared that: here’s a brief example of yellowtails swimming instead, showing the difference between juveniles and adults.

Credits: all photos, Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba; video from Desert Diving

BLUE TANG AS REEF FILM STAR


Blue Tang, Bahamas (Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba)

BLUE TANG AS REEF FILM STAR

Last summer, the big motion picture sensation for the bird world was, of course, Pixar’s ineffably adorable creation, Piper – the ultimate ‘Chick Flick’. This little ball of cartoon fluff was not, as some thought, based on a piping plover but on a sanderling – a type of sandpiper (clue in name). This 6 minute ‘short’ preceded the main event, the hugely popular Finding Dory. You can read all about the film Piper and the birding aspects of the film HERE

Blue Tang, Bahamas (Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba)

Finding Dory is not about a fish of the dory species, of course. Voiced by Ellen DeGeneres, Dory is in fact a species of surgeonfish Paracanthurus, the familiar blue tang found on the reefs of the Bahamas. To see these fish in Abaco waters, Fowl Cays National Park is always a good bet.

Blue Tang, Bahamas (Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba)

Dory can be identified as a maturing juvenile: blue, with a yellow tail. In due course – in time for the sequel film – she will become blue all over, with perhaps the odd flash of yellow (see photos above).

In real life, a baby blue tang is in fact entirely yellow, except for blue rings around the eyes. In Pixarland, however, Dory is just an adorbs miniature version of her youthful self.

Blue Tang juvenile, Bahamas (Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba)

Blue Tang are lovely to watch as they cruise round the reefs, sometimes in large groups. Their colouring ranges from pale to dark blue. However, these are fish that are best looked at and not touched – their caudal spines are very sharp. When the fish feels in threatened, the spine is raised and can cause deep cuts, with a risk of infection.  

Still from a crummy video taken at Fowl Cays some years back to illustrate a group of blue tangBlue Tangs, Fowl Cays Nature Park, Abaco Bahamas (KS)

Blue tangs are inedible, they apparently smell unpleasant, and they can cause ciguatera. However they are popular in the aquarium trade. This is a distinct downside of highly successful films such as Finding Nemo and Finding Dory. In defiance of the well-meant and broadly ecological message of both films, the trade in clown fish and to a lesser extent blue tang was boosted by their on-screen portrayal as adorbs creatures desirable for the entertainment of mankind… ‘Nuff said.

Blue Tang, Bahamas (Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba)

Credits: All excellent photos by Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba; one pathetically bad still from a low res video, me; cartoons purloined from an online aquarium somewhere or other

SILVERSIDES: BAHAMAS REEF FISH (32)


silversides-school-melinda-riger-g-b-scuba

SILVERSIDES: BAHAMAS REEF FISH (32)

I have no idea if there is a collective noun for a large group of silversides. ‘Frenzy’ would cover it, but that is reminiscent of ‘feeding freezing’ which has a specialist meaning – and anyway, silversides are crazy even when they aren’t feeding. 24/7/12/365 as far as I can make out. I think ‘a panic of silversides’ might be the answer. They are just… all over the place at high speed. Sometimes swirling around pointlessly, other times moving in unison and suddenly all changing direction simultaneously, like a single creature made of tiny shards of silver.

silversides-school-melinda-riger-g-b-scuba-copyfish-frenzy-melinda-riger-gbs

There are quite a few silverside species around the world. The ones in the Bahamas are Atlantic silversides (Menidia menidia), also known in the north east of the United States as ‘spearing’. They seem to exist for two purposes. The main one is to be breakfast, lunch or dinner for larger fish, sea birds and shore birds. The other is for their usefulness in scientific research because of their sensitivity to environmental changes. 

silversides-melinda-riger-g-b-scuba-copy-2silversides-school-melinda-riger-gb-scuba

In one sense they are easy prey for predators. A determined fish will always manage a snack by swimming into the middle of a panic and (probably) simply by opening its mouth wide. On the other hand, their sheer numbers coupled with the speed and randomness of movement mean that a single may find a degree of safety in numbers. It’s hard for a predator to target any individual fish in the general melee and confusion. Silversides also favour seagrass beds, which give some shelter and protection – and a reasonably safe place to spawn. Or, as some of these photos show, they will hang around wrecks or squeeze into rocky spaces in the reef.

silversides-melinda-riger-g-b-scuba-copysilversides-melinda-riger-g-b-scuba

A panic of silversides apparently pouring like a waterfall down through a gap in the reefsilversides-waterfall-abaco-kay-politano

WHAT DOES A STATIONARY ATLANTIC SILVERSIDE LOOK LIKE?

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Some time ago we used to go to the reef at Fowl Cay Marine Preserve with Kay Politano, and I would snorkel with a small and very basic lo-res underwater camera. I was hampered by being a disgracefully feeble swimmer; by not having snorkelled for a length of time calculable in decades; and by being a complete novice at underwater photography.  Despite these not inconsiderable disadvantages I managed to cobble together a few short movies on my computer (I was new to that too). Here’s one that nearly works, in that it gives an idea of what happens if you ‘swim with silversides’. I know you scuba guys all swim with sharks, but cut me some slack here please…

Photo Credits: Main photos Melinda Riger of Grand Bahama Scuba; Silverside Waterfall by Kay Politano; motionless silversides by FISHBASE.ORGMusic: Goldon Giltrap, ‘Fast Approaching’

BLUE CHROMIS: BAHAMAS REEF FISH (29)


Blue Chromis & Coral ©Melinda Riger @ GB Scuba

BLUE CHROMIS: BAHAMAS REEF FISH (29)

The little blue chromis Chromis cyanea will be instantly familiar to any snorkeler or scuba diver on the coral reefs of the Bahamas. These ever-present small fish – 6 inches long at most – are remarkable for their iridescent deep blue colour that flashes as they dart in and out of the coral and anemones of the reef.

Blue Chromis ©Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba

Although at first sight  this chromis species – one of many – looks blue all over, adults have a black dorsal stripe and black edging to their fins. They make colourful additions to aquariums, though to my mind they look far more attractive nosing about the reefs foraging for the zooplankton upon which they feed (see header image for details…)

Blue Chromis ©Melinda Riger @ GB Scuba

The blue chromis was the second fish species I encountered on my first ever reef dive, at Fowl Cay Marine Preserve with Kay Politano. The first fish was the endearingly inquisitive sergeant major with its smart black and yellow stripes which came right up to my googles to eyeball me. I loved that, even though my pitiful swimming technique meant that I had plenty of other distractions, not least remembering to breathe. Air, that is, rather than water.

Blue Chromis ©Melinda Riger @ GB Scuba

Chromis_cyanea_(blue_chromis)_(San_Salvador_Island,_Bahamas)

SO JUST HOW BIG ARE THESE FISH, COMPARED, SAY, TO A BLUE TANG?

Blue Tang with blue chromis in its wakeBlue Tang with Blue Chromis © Melinda Riger @GB Scuba copy

All photos Melinda Riger of Grand Bahama Scube, except the penultimate by James St John, taken in San Salvador

 

THE TANG OF THE BAHAMIAN SEAS… BLUE TANG, IN FACT


Blue Tang School ©Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba copy

THE TANG OF THE BAHAMIAN SEAS… BLUE TANG, IN FACT 

The Blue Tang Acanthurus coeruleus is a species of Atlantic surgeonfish mostly found on coral reefs. They are known as surgeonfish because they can slice you with their sharp, spiny caudal fins. Adults are blue, ranging from a deep blue or even purplish to much paler blue.fish28Blue Tang ©Melinda Riga @ G B ScubaBlue Tang ©Melinda Riger @ GB Scuba

Surprisingly, as juveniles, Blue Tang are bright yellow.Blue Tang (juv) © Melinda Riger @ Grand Bahama Scuba Blue Tang (juv yellow form) © Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba

As they grow, they become blue, with the tail being the last part to lose the yellow.Blue Tang (Juvenile) ©Melinda Riger@ G B Scuba Blue Tang (juv, changing colour) © Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba

Blue Tang are herbivores, cruising constantly round reefs feeding on algae. They also act as cleaners of other fish species, removing parasites. They themselves may be cleaned by gobies by visiting so-called ‘cleaning stations’. These piscine beauty parlours have a medicinal purpose as well, since cleaning helps to cure minor wounds.

These fish often move around reefs in large schools, as shown in the header image. Apart from having some value as an aquarium fish, they are not generally of use to humans. Their spiny caudal fins can cause a nasty wound. They have an unpleasant smell. Their flesh supposedly contains toxins, and they carrying a risk of the disease CIGUATERA. I can’t even find a recipe for them online – now, that is a bad sign, there are some people who will try anything. I guess best to boil them for an hour or two, drain the water, allow to cool, and throw away the fish.

FUN FACT In the Disney/Pixar film Finding Nemo, the character Dory (voiced by Ellen DeGeneres) is a blue tang.

Blue Tang, Abaco fish22

BLUE TANG: THE MOVIE [RE-RELEASE]

“RECIPE Take one incompetent swimmer who hasn’t snorkelled in, oh, nearly 40 years. Place him over a coral reef for his first time ever. Add a small underwater camera totally alien to him. Immerse for 30 minutes in warm briny water. Lessons have been learnt for next time. Mainly, don’t keep waving the camera about; let the fish move round you rather than vice versa; and most important of all, remember to keep breathing or else…

Here is BLUE TANG: THE MOVIE (music by Adrian Legg), 45 secs of advanced camera-shake with some beautiful fish more or less in shot for most of the time. If you are prone to sea-sickness, do not enlarge the video. If you are allergic to poor photography… well, thanks for visiting.”

[vimeo https://vimeo.com/44794952]

Credits: Good pictures, Melinda; bad pictures and execrable movie, not Melinda

SOUTHERN STINGRAYS: KEEPING AN EYE ON YOU


Stingray Eye ©Melinda Riger @GBS

SOUTHERN STINGRAYS: KEEPING AN EYE ON YOU

The SOUTHERN STINGRAY Dasyatis americana is a ‘whiptail stingray’ found in the Western Atlantic Ocean. Their habitat and personal habits – feeding and mating – are similar to those of the YELLOW STINGRAY. They live on the seabed, where they feed on small crustaceans, molluscs and fish. They expose their prey by flapping their ‘wings’ (= pectoral fins) to disturb the sand

Southern Stingray ©Melinda Riger @ GB Scuba

You want to avoid treading on one of these if possible. Their tails have a serrated barb covered in venomous mucous, used for self-defence. These spines are not fatal to humans, but if you step on one it may be an experience in extreme pain to tell your grandchildren about. Southern Stingray

Luckily they are likely to see you long before you notice them, and to swim away from your approachSouthern Stingray ©Melinda Riga @ GB Scuba

IUCN LISTING: ‘DATA DEFICIENT’

Surprisingly, the ‘at risk’ status of the Southern Stingray is not known. However, as with other marine species that humans like to befriend in the wild for the perceived benefit of both parties, there are parts of the Caribbean where stingray swims involve rather more than merely swimming with and enjoying the rays in their own environment. There is organised hand-feeding with cut-up fish, even general fondling and cuddling, that can make these wild creatures seem ‘tame’. There is growing concern that such close dependent interactions with humans is not a good thing, at least for the stingrays. 

A diver admiring a ray while keeping a respectful distanceSouthern Stingray 2

If you watch out for them… they’ll keep an eye out for youSouthern Stingray copy

Credits: Melinda Riger of Grand Bahama Scuba; Wiki for thumbs /  material; selected online trawlings

My incompetent first ever underwater video at Fowl Cay Marine Preserve, Abaco. I hadn’t snorkelled for X decades, and frankly had some breathing-and-swimming-simultaneously issues, let alone trying to hold a tiny camera steady. Still, here it is (with a proper diver’s video below)
                                            Dasyatis americana .jpg

Music credit on my vid to the fairly litigious Joe Satriani – see JS v Coldplay ‘If I could Fly’ / ‘Viva La Vida’ plagiarism case (settled, to no one’s great advantage). Hey, Joe, what you doin’ with that writ in your hand? For anyone the slightest bit interested in the alleged similarities, here is a mash-up reward for reading about stingrays. Or penalty.