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 (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…”

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)

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

QUEEN TRIGGERFISH AND GOOD RIDDANCE TO MARIA


Queen Triggerfish Bahamas (Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba)

QUEEN TRIGGERFISH AND GOOD RIDDANCE TO MARIA

I can think of no sensible connection between the colourful yet undoubtedly strange and grumpy-looking looking queen triggerfish Balistes vetula, and a hurricane. However, Hurricanes Irma and Maria have been rightly dominating the news and everyone’s thoughts for nearly 3 weeks now. And most of the recent posts from Rolling Harbour, for that matter. It’s not been a great time for looking at the birds, beasts and fishes. So, as Maria drifts eastwards and away from the Bahamas into the open ocean, it’s time for a splash of colour – and a fish I have not featured before. 

Hurricane Maria tracking at 11.00 EST on Sept 22

Queen Triggerfish Bahamas (Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba)Queen Triggerfish Bahamas (Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba)

The queen triggerfish, sometimes known as an Old Wife, is an Atlantic reef fish. This species is sometime fished for as game, and I know that a few have been taken from off the rocks at the south end of Delphi beach over the years – though perhaps not exactly on purpose.

Queen Triggerfish Bahamas (Mark Peter, Wiki)Queen Triggerfish Bahamas (Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba)

This fish typically is coloured with shades of  blue, purple, turquoise and green with a yellowish throat, with pale blue lines fins on head and fins. It’s minor superpower is to be able to change its coloration to some extent to match its reef surroundings and assist camouflage. Its favourite food is the sea urchin.

Queen Triggerfish Bahamas (Clark Anderson / Aqua-images)

Let’s hope this is the last post to feature anything about hurricanes for a good long time, as we think of all those still struggling to make sense of the terrible destruction they have recently experienced – in some places, twice over.

Credits: Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba; Mark Peter, Wiki; Clark Anderson / Aqua-images

BAHAMAS REEF FISH (38): SPOTFIN BUTTERFLYFISH


Spotfin Butterflyfish, Bahamas (Melinda Riger / G B Scuba)

BAHAMAS REEF FISH (38): SPOTFIN BUTTERFLYFISH

Butterflyfishes are a large family of mainly colourful small fish somewhat like mini-angelfish. The spotfin butterflyfish (Chaetodon ocellatus) is one of several types of butterflyfish found in the western Atlantic Ocean; and one of half a dozen or so you are likely to see nosing around the coral reefs of the Bahamas.

Spotfin Butterflyfish, Bahamas (Melinda Riger / G B Scuba)

The name ‘spotfin’ derives from the dark spot on the dorsal fin. At the front end, there is a distinctive black vertical stripe that passes right through the eye. Combined with the vivid colouring, predators are in theory confused or warned off.  The spotfin’s superpower (on a modest scale) is that at night, a change of appearance occurs in adults. The dark patch on the dorsal fin increases in size, and dark bands appear on the body. This seems to be in order to provide further protection during the darker hours.

Spotfin Butterflyfish, Bahamas (Melinda Riger / G B Scuba)

The spotfin above has an isopod attached to it, a type of crustacean with a segmented body. Primitive fossils of these creatures have been dated back some 3m years. Want to know want this one is up to? These things “are mostly external parasites of fish or crustaceans and feed on blood, having piercing and sucking mouthparts and clawed limbs adapted for clinging onto their hosts”.

Soldierfish photobombs a spotfin. Or maybe it’s vice versa?Parasitic species are mostly external parasites of fish or crustaceans and feed on blood. The larvae of the Gnathiidae family and adult cymothoidids have piercing and sucking mouthparts and clawed limbs adapted for clinging onto their hosts.

Reading about this particular species of  butterfly fish, I discovered that the spotfin “is very common and very hard to maintain in a tank” –  as if the two facts are somehow connected. So might they be coarse or vulgar, and thus unsuitable companions for better bred and perhaps sensitive aquarium fish? As it turns out, it may be because they are vulnerable to predation, and so can coexist only with peaceable tank friends. 

Spotfins are perfectly happy swimming upside down; and their party trick apparently is to rise to the surface and squirt a jet of water in the air. Sadly, I couldn’t come up with a photo of this…

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Credits: All fab photos by Melinda Riger / Grand Bahamas Scuba

REDSPOTTED HAWKFISH: BAHAMAS REEF FISH (35)


Redspotted Hawkfish, Bahamas (Melinda Riger)

REDSPOTTED HAWKFISH: BAHAMAS REEF FISH (35)

The redspotted hawkfish (Amblycirrhitus pinos) is one of a number of species of hawkfishes found worldwide. This one is found on the sub-tropical and tropical reefs of the Western Atlantic, and is therefore a fish you might see when out snorkelling or (more likely) scuba-ing in the Bahamas. These are small creatures – adults are unlikely to exceed 4 inches in length.

Redspotted Hawkfish, Bahamas (Melinda Riger)

There’s not a whole lot else to report about them. They have no medicinal superpowers, for example, nor wickedly toxic spines. A quick scroll through the highways and byways of the interweb reveals that redspotted hawkfish are considered (rightly, I think) to be attractive, tend to be shy, enjoy perching on coral ledges, and are generally benign, except to smaller fishes to which they may show aggression or – worse – an appetite. 

Redspotted Hawkfish, Bahamas (Melinda Riger)

As you might predict, these pretty little fish are popular in the aquarium trade, where on any view they should be kept safe from predators. But maybe captivity is a little limited in opportunities for travel and exploration. They can be bought for (I just checked) $29.99. Or else left alone on a reef to take their chances.

Photo Credits: Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba, with thanks as per…