HAWKSBILL TURTLES: DIVERS VIEWS…


Hawksbill Turtle (Adam Rees / Scuba Works)

HAWKSBILL TURTLES: DIVERS VIEWS…

Daydream for a moment. Imagine that you had a different occupation. And your new one involved daily contact with spectacular wildlife underwater (this assumes you can swim – debatable in my case). And access to some upmarket camera equipment. And the ability to use it effectively. Oh, and use of a reliable boat. And some sea.

Hawksbill Turtle (Adam Rees / Scuba Works)

Say, for example, you joined a dive operation. Then the chances are very high that these wonderful creatures would be a part of your daily 9-to-5. 

Hawksbill Turtle (Adam Rees / Scuba Works)

You wake up with a start. Oh no! Half an hour gone, and that crucial email still half-written… Where did the time go?

Hawksbill Turtle (Adam Rees / Scuba Works)

All gorgeous turtles taken by Adam Rees of Scuba Works (slogan: “Land is so overrated”) in the course of his everyday working life. Some people, eh?

Hawksbill Turtle (Adam Rees / Scuba Works)

AN ‘EXHILARATION’ OF ABACO DOLPHINS


Bottlenose Dolphins, Abaco Bahamas (BMMRO)

AN ‘EXHILARATION’ OF ABACO DOLPHINS

Bottlenose dolphins! Tursiops truncatus! These engagingly playful show-offs of the inshore waters round Abaco are 99.99% adorable**. It’s been a harrowing few weeks in the western Atlantic, and everyone is hoping that the 2017 hurricane season has had enough of causing death and destruction over vast swathes of vulnerable islands and on the US mainland. Some cheer is needed.

Bottlenose Dolphins, Abaco Bahamas (BMMRO)

Dolphins are good for the soul. And if you are out on a boat watching them – and especially tracking them for a whole day – every encounter reinforces the impression that all the leaping, bow-wave riding, boat under-swimming, and general sociability and interaction is often as much for sheer enjoyment as anything else. 

Bottlenose Dolphins, Abaco Bahamas (BMMRO)

Abaco is fortunate in having the HQ of the Bahamas Mammals Research Organisation (BMMRO) based at Sandy Point. That just happens to be an excellent area for bottlenose dolphin spotting in the turquoise shallows. Many sightings are made within clear sight of land. Further south, where the bright blue gives way to darker and deeper water, live the equally frolicsome Atlantic spotted dolphins. The 3 photos above were all taken on the margins of where the colour of the sea changes from light to dark.

Bottlenose Dolphins, Abaco Bahamas (BMMRO)

I’m a bit of a collector of collective nouns. For dolphins, apart from the matter-of-fact ‘group’ or ‘pod’, there is no exotic word to describe a number of them when they are having fun. No equivalent of ‘exaltation’ (larks), ‘charm’ (goldfinches) or ‘parliament’ (owls). So I’m nominating an ‘exhilaration’ as a candidate to fill the gap…

The photo above shows clearly how individual dolphins can be identified by researchers. All tend to have scars or tears to their dorsal fins that enable them to be distinguished. The closest has distinctive scars near the tip. The furthest has a W-shaped nick at the back. In fact, it could even be Rocky, a well-known dolphin on Abaco that has been sighted over many years. There are regular reports annually. I saw him myself once, in 2012, playing about in Hopetown harbour. 

STOP PRESS To demonstrate how the ID methods work, I’ve now cross-checked with the BMMRO photo ID archive. Here is Rocky’s original dorsal fin ID image (“Tt15”) from October 2010. There’s a W-shaped nick, sure, but my speculation above was wrong because overall the two fins are clearly different…

Rocky the Dolphin Tt15, from BMMRO ID photo archive

** The 0.01%? Dolphins may, rarely, be alarming for divers in circumstances I won’t repeat here (hint: to do with over-friendliness, ok? Yes, the thing that dogs do)

Credits: all photos BMMRO – and taken in the last 2 months

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

CLEANING UP IN THE BAHAMAS: PEDERSON SHRIMPS


Pederson's Cleaning Shrimp, Bahamas (Melinda Riger, GB Scuba)

CLEANING UP IN THE BAHAMAS: PEDERSON SHRIMPS 

Pederson’s Shrimps Ancylomenes pedersoni (also known locally as Peterson’s shrimps), are one of several species of cleaner shrimp found in The Bahamas and more generally in the Caribbean seas. The species was named in 1958 by a multifaceted medico-oceanologist-zoologist Fenner A. Chace. He seems to have specialised in shrimps, finding distinct and differing species and naming them (not unreasonably) after himself (chacei);or colleagues and people he knew / admired; and in one case his wife. Mr Pederson was among them.

Pederson's Cleaning Shrimp, Bahamas (Melinda Riger, GB Scuba)

This tiny transparent creature with its vivid blue / purple markings and straggling pale antennae is unmistakeable, and helpfully cannot be confused with any other locally found shrimp species. Here’s an idea of its size, compared with a human finger and a blue parrotfish.

Pederson's Cleaning Shrimp, Bahamas (Melinda Riger, GB Scuba)

WHERE DO THESE SHRIMPS LIVE?

Their preferred home is… and it’s certainly a left field choice among sea creatures… in amongst the stinging tentacles of certain sea anemones. Not only do they not get stung, but of course they are well-protected by the defensive pain that their hosts can inflict. They are usually found singly or in pairs, but sometimes a whole colony may inhabit the same anemone.

SO EXPLAIN HOW THEY DON’T GET STUNG

Ok. The shrimps gradually build up a kind of resistance by pressing their bodies and antennae against the tentacles of the host anemone for increasing lengths of time, until they become immune. It’s like one of those kids’ electric buzzer / rheostat machines. Or a TENS machine (for those who know about backache).

 IS THERE A DOWNSIDE TO ALL THIS?

Yes indeed. If a shrimp moves away from its host for a few days, it has to start the process of immunisation all over again. So presumably they tend to stay home-lovin’.

Home sweet home for the Pederson shrimpsPederson's Cleaning Shrimp, Bahamas (Melinda Riger, GB Scuba)

SOMETHING ABOUT THE CLEANING, PLEASE

These shrimps offer ‘cleaning services’ to passing fish. When on duty, as it were, they wave their antennae vigorously to attract attention. A fish being cleaned will remain stationary and passive while external parasites and dead skin are removed. Many fish will open their mouths and gill covers for internal cleaning, with the tacit agreement that the cleaner will not become a snack. Shrimps often work in conjunction with small cleaner fish such as some species of goby and wrasse – see the links below for more on this topic, with copious images…

Pederson's Cleaning Shrimp, Bahamas (Melinda Riger, GB Scuba)

RELATED POSTS

CLEANING STATIONS

CLEANER FISH

Credits: all photos by Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba

EYES ON STALKS: CONCH WATCH ON ABACO


Conch Man-o-War Cay, Abaco, Bahamas (Charmaine Albury)

EYES ON STALKS: CONCH WATCH ON ABACO

This is not so much about you looking at, and admiring (without salivating too much, I trust) conchs in their natural element. More about them watching you watching them – and focusing on their rather remarkable stalk-based eyes. Take a look at these examples of the ‘watcher in the shallows‘ (to misquote a well-known book title).

Conch and their eyes, Bahamas (Melinda Riger)Conch and their eyes, Bahamas (Melinda Riger)

HALF A DOZEN CONCH EYE FACTS TO PONDER

  • The eyestalks are attached to an extendable ‘snout’
  • The two eyestalks (ommatophores) are retractable within the shell
  • Their purpose is to provide a wider field of vision around the shell
  • The eyes at the tip of each eyestalk have ‘proper’ lenses, pupils and irises 
  • Amazingly, amputated eyes normally regenerate completely
  • The small projection below the eye is a ‘sensory tentacle’ or feeler

Conch and their eyes, Bahamas (Melinda Riger)Conch and their eyes, Bahamas (Melinda Riger)

CAUTIONARY WARNING

For a rather depressing view of the current state of conch populations, check out this recent article in the MIAMI HERALD. Not a great deal to be optimistic about…

I’M WATCHING YOU…

CREDITS: All remarkable ‘conch watching’ photos by Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba – except for the wonderful header image by Charmaine Albury (contributor the The Birds of Abaco), taken on Man-o-War Cay; Cindy James Pinder for the heads-up for the Miami Herald article

DOLPHINS DISPORTING IN THE BAHAMAS


Atlantic Spotted Dolphin, Bahamas (BMMRO)

DOLPHINS DISPORTING IN THE BAHAMAS

‘Disporting’. Not a word I’ve used very often. Or possibly ever. It looks a bit like ‘unsporting’, which is emphatically what dolphins are not. Basically, it just describes what dolphins are doing when you see them on the surface: amusing themselves, frolicking around in the waves, and simply enjoying themselves.Bottlenose Dolphin, Bahamas (BMMRO)

True, they are probably keeping an eye out for food… But when you have a group sociably following alongside the boat your are in, moving in front, dropping behind, diving under, and generally playing around, it’s quite hard to believe that these are completely wild creatures. They seem to be performing just for you, simply because they want to. You don’t even have to throw fish at them to earn this free display.

Atlantic Spotted Dolphin, Bahamas (BMMRO)Atlantic Spotted Dolphin, Bahamas (BMMRO) Atlantic Spotted Dolphin, Bahamas (BMMRO)

As is well-known, the BAHAMAS MARINE MAMMAL RESEARCH ORGANISATION (BMMRO) is the custodian for the welfare of these beautiful creatures for the entire Bahamas. However, being based on Abaco and carrying out the majority of the research from the HQ at Sandy Point means that many of the great images that get taken are from Abaco waters. Indeed some are taken within swimming distance (not mine) of the shore.  Bottlenose Dolphin, Bahamas (BMMRO)Bottlenose Dolphin, Bahamas (BMMRO)Bottlenose Dolphin, Bahamas (BMMRO)Bottlenose Dolphin, Bahamas (BMMRO)

The photographs featured here were taken during the last few weeks. Some are of the familiar bottlenose dolphins. The others – with speckled undersides clearly visible in the header image & below – are of Atlantic spotted dolphins. There’s even one of my own taken from the research vessel. Atlantic Spotted Dolphin, Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)Atlantic Spotted Dolphin, Bahamas (BMMRO)

For the researchers, the most important part of an individual dolphin is its dorsal fin. Unique patterns of cuts and scars mean that each dolphin sighted can be logged and their profiles built up. Some have been found in the same area for many years. They are not usually given jocular names – ‘Davy Jones’, ‘Finny Phil’ or whatever. The first time we went out on the research vessel we were slightly surprised by the practical, scientific calls during a sighting of a dolphin group: “there’s B4 again” and “over there – D5 is back”. All said fondly however – many of the dolphins are old friends.

This dolphin has a notable notch on the dorsal fin with a nick below, & a scar line – with a prominent white scar on the lower front edge Bottlenose Dolphin, Bahamas - Dorsal Fin Damage (BMMRO)

Notice how these 3 dolphins all have quite different fin profiles.  The nearest one’s fin looks unblemished, but has a paler tip. Powerful binoculars and a serious camera can pick out small  differences at a distance that the eye could notBottlenose Dolphin, Bahamas - Dorsal Fin Damage (BMMRO)

Coming soon: Manatees & Man in the Bahamas

All photos (bar one by me) BMMRO, with thanks to Diane & Charlotte, and a tip of the hat to the current interns involved in the research projects (Hi, UK Thomas!)

ROCK BEAUTY: BAHAMAS REEF FISH (37)


Rock Beauty, Bahamas (Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba)

 ROCK BEAUTY: BAHAMAS REEF FISH (37)

The Rock Beauty Holacanthus tricolor is a small species of Angelfish. Seen swimming around the reefs they are unmistakeable, not least because of their bright yellow hi-viz jackets, remarkable blue eyeliner and blue-black lippy. They featured near the start of this series HERE, and a recent online search (for something else completely, as is often the way) reminded me to give them another swim round Rolling Harbour.

Rock Beauty, Bahamas (Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba)

In addition to the hi-viz-and-eyeliner combo, the Beauty above has chosen a fetchingly cheeky pair of matching ISOPODS (crustacean parasites) to adorn its face –  possibly the piscine equivalent of a tat…

Rock Beauty, Bahamas (Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba)

Rock Beauties look like prime candidates for anyone’s aquarium, but their dietary requirements and tendency for aggression make them unsuitable. They are highly specialised feeders, needing marine sponge in their daily diet. They are also prone to chase their tank-mates and nip them. On balance, they look more fetching nosing about the coral anyway.

WHAT DO JUVENILES LOOK LIKE?

Juvenile rock beauties are cute mini-versions of the adults, only more yellow (including the lips). In some development stages, they have a smart blue circle in the middle of the dark patch on their sides (bottom image).


Rock Beauty (Juvenile)

NOTE Rock Beauties have no known relationship to Chrissie, Debbie, Lita, Stevie, Joanna, Madge and the rest of the accredited ‘Rock Beauties aka Chicks’.  

NOT A TRUE ‘ROCK BEAUTY’ (no offence, Lita)

A TRUE ROCK BEAUTY
800px-Holacanthus_tricolor_1

Credits: Melinda Riger, Grand Bahama Scuba,Wiki