Underwater Life

August 20 - Squid Mating .... it must be that time of year

Today we went to a dive site at Hamlet Oasis called "Cliff". We have been here several times, and the Dive Friends folks that run the very nice area to gear up in are always friendly and engaging. We always seem to miss finding that darn yellow sea horse that lives there.... well not today buck-a-roo.

Normally we are the only divers in the water here, occasionally there is another couple but really - very light traffic typically. Again... not today.

As we began gearing up, a group from Chicago was gearing up at their truck, another couple from Cincinnati were gearing up in the building area with us, and there was a couple already heading down to the water before I had my equipment assembled. Once we hit the water, I looked up the hill and noticed yet another trio of divers preparing to come down as well as the Chicago group. Busy day on the reef today.

Michele and I dive slow, so the Chicago group passed us. I was casually taking pictures of shrimp and corals, and other tiny things as we made our way to the sea horse location. As we found it, others began piling up around us apparently looking for the same thing I guess. We decided to head on down the reef. Before long, Michele gave our signal for squid and we headed that way.

Even at a distance we could tell right away this was mating behavior we were watching. As I have typically done, I shoot a couple of pictures just in case they are too timid and run off. These squid did not seem to care... odd.

Michele and I kept our distance, and the squid continued their back and forth in the current rocking. There was a lot of tentacle display and color changing going on. As we watched we noticed that one squid would go down into the corals eyes first, while the other remained above making color changes and tentacle displays- almost as if were being a distraction.

We were witnessing the female deposit her eggs in the corals and the male standing by as sentry and truly as the distraction!

Dr. Jennifer Mather, Department of Psychology and Neuroscience, University of Lethbridge wrote an article called "Mating Games Squid Play" that describes the behaviors we were witnessing.

As we watched, some of the other divers who were in the water glimpsed our direction, maybe noted the squid, and moved on. The Chicago group however approached while the squid were engaged and got a front row seat to everything happening. They did not realize that the female was laying her eggs, and that the squid could not leave this area unprotected, no matter how scared we might be making them. Michele and I chatted with them after the dive while we were all on the surface. We did not mention that both squid are likely dead at this point- as egg laying is exhausting work on them both- the female in particular.

As all the other divers were leaving, Michele and I stuck around shooting video and taking pictures. The squid continued on, and occasionally another male would come by as if issuing a challenge or attempting to get involved. He was shot down pretty quickly.

Our pair of squid would come together, make their contact, rock back and forth and at least 4 time we saw the male reach up and attach his spermatophores. I caught 2 of the transfers in photos, and 1 in video.

After the exchange, the two would stay in contact briefly, then make a series of tentacle and color displays, then swim away from each other. The female would then head back to the corals and hide the eggs. It was amazing to be in the right place at the right time for this.

As a parting shot, I really like the way this particular picture turned out, so I will just leave this here:

August 19 - How to Avoid Predators
Not eating, rather
being cleaned
As a diver we sometimes get used to seeing Trumpet Fish, Spanish Hog Fish, Bar Jacks, Graysby, and other fish as common. What we sometimes do not put together is that as a creature in the ocean- it seems there are a lot of predators out there that want to eat you - namely all of those above listed. The Trumpet Fish eat other small fish, the Spanish Hog Fish eats mollusks, brittle stars and urchin, Graysby eat small fish, and shrimp, Bar Jacks eat smaller fish as well as octopus and squid. You get the idea. Even with all of this being said - all of these fish will pass up a meal for a good cleaning. In the picture of the Graysby to the right, we actually watched the shrimp come back out after cleaning the teeth and insides of the much larger fish.

Group of predator fish
There are times however when as a diver we see groups of these fish together as a hodge-podge hunting party. This is a sign for us to pay attention because something is going on in that area.

Porcupine Fish being cleaned by
Pedersen Shrimp
As the hunted, rather then the hunter, the most often used defense is hiding and camouflage, coupled with speed for evasion. Sometimes fish have defenses, such as the quills of a porcupine fish.

Bi-Color Damsel a Two-Inch Terror
Sometimes a smaller fish is very aggressive and fights back, such as Damsel Fish (we have watched Damsel fish drive off Trumpet Fish, Eels, Bar Jacks, and even Turtles because they are so aggressive).

With the creative critters that hide, some little crabs will up the challenge and hide deep inside coral, and if they are clever it will be fire coral which does not affect them.

However, one of the more fun defense mechanisms of a fish is what the Tilefish does. This is a Tilefish hiding in a burrow of rocks:

So you are thinking -- ok there is a fish hiding in the rocks - so what? The so what part is how that rock pile is built. The Tilefish will pick up rocks and move them around with it's mouth. Sometimes those rocks weigh more than the fish does. It then assembles the pile into a defensive barrier it believes will give it protection, and also constructs a burrow to dive into headfirst in times of danger because there is room inside for it to turn around for a quick exit. Essentially, if an ideal hiding spot cannot be found, the Tilefish rearranges it's environment and creates one.
Build your own beachfront property - Tilefish Construction Co.
How's that for a cool fish?
August 8 - What can you see on a snorkel in Bonaire if friends are not SCUBA certified?
Barracuda spotted by snorkeler

There is a TON to see from just snorkeling. We had 3 friends come in from home to stay with us for a week, one was already certified and just needed a refresher and was good to go, one did her confined water and class work back home and her open water referral here to complete certification, and one was with us on a snorkel and no dive gear. We were initially concerned with what would actually be seen from the surface, but that quickly went away. Every picture I post in this section will be things that our snorkeling friend was able to see. I was on scuba gear, so I took the pictures, but some things she pointed out that I did nit see at first, such as the huge barracuda. We went back later and another diver lined up similar to the pose above and we are estimating that this was roughly a 4-5ft barracuda. It was big enough that I was quite hesitant to get too close - and I certainly turned off the flash.

While we were heading out on the dive, our snorkeler was hanging at the top. We barely dropped to 15ft before there was a flurry of bell ringing and pointing. Everyone saw this Spotted Eagle Ray come flying by - snorkeler included. 

Eel picture taken by snorkeler
If eels are more a thing you are looking for - how about this guy? Our snorkeler was on the surface of the water when we returned from the dive and asked if she could borrow my camera to try and take a picture of an eel. After a brief run down of the buttons and levers, etc, she scooted off with me directly under her. The eel in the picture here is the actual picture she took. So yep -- check, another thing to see while snorkeling. 

Octopus eye peeking out from a rock
We dove the site earlier with just divers and knew that a small octopus had been hiding out in the shallows. When we returned with our snorkeler we looked for it again.... sure enough we found  little eye sticking out. After finding it, we left for our dive while the snorkelers hung out at the surface and just waited. Sure enough she was rewarded with getting to watch an octopus. 

Occasionally a fish will get very curious and come to inspect a diver or a snorkeler. 

If all else fails, booking a trip with a professional snorkeling organization such as The Woodwind (mentioned in the Life on the Island Section of this Blog) is a fantastic way to see turtles, beautiful corals, blennies, and other sea life with a guide who is used to finding things for you. If you do not have a camera, part of the service they provide is a professional photographer who follows the snorkelers around and then provides a flash drive with several pictures from your trip.

Do not let a lack of certification for friends and family get in the way of a good dive trip.
August 5 - Hanging around you see the coolest stuff

We were waiting for a friend to finish her certification skills check, and decided to do a casual couple of dives off the house reef for Dive Friends at their Yellow Submarine location. As part of this we were in about 8ft of water, and I notice a little barracuda sitting still and just hanging out --- as is pretty typical. I noticed a lizardfish in the water between me and the barracuda, so I started to position for a picture and grab a shot.
Picture taken in 8ft of water,
with a snorkeler there watching also

Before I knew what happened the barracuda flashed forward with incredible speed, and struck the lizard fish throwing up a cloud of sand- stunning it; then went back to hanging very still in the water again. With two more quick bursts of speed and more clouds of sand in the water the barracuda gulped down half a lizard fish, and was swimming away with head to middle body in it's mouth. We could hardly believe what we just witnessed as it was over so fast. We composed our selves and went on for a good dive that included among other things, more squid and beautiful trumpet fish hanging out at Trumpet City.

Later we decided to do another dive as our friend was doing her final check out dive. On the same house reef, we elected to go North instead of the South reef we did earlier. As we were clearing the mooring blocks, Michele began making the sign we use for "turtle" underwater. I cast my eyes to the reef - nothing, then to the open water- nothing. Looking back at Michele she is pointing directly underneath me. Sure enough a small Hawksbill turtle is directly under me, munching away, completely uncaring that we were near.

Turtle that swam up
to our snorkeler friend
I took a position for the camera, snapped a few shots and stayed out of the way of the lunch line expecting a few minutes with the turtle before it swam away. It kept eating. After a while it decided to go up for air while Michele and I kept our position. Indeed it came right back to us.

It ate, went up for air, and came back -- several times. In all it was an hour and 20 minutes with the turtle completely that we were off in the distance. We figured it was time to head back as it was getting cold from being in the water for so long without moving - even though we still both had a half tank.

The moral of the story here - going slow - being casual- and just hanging out can sometimes bring you a great show when you least expect it.
July 29 - Sailfin Blenny

For those who wonder why I go lay in the sand and stare at rocks sometimes. This is why. Blennies are tiny little fish. As a general rule they are very shy. Occasionally they do things that are ridiculously funny. Sailfins in particular will jump out of their hiding hole and put on a display.

Find a rock or a piece of coral with a tiny little black head poking out. Find a place that does not disturb the corals around you and just wait. Here is a video where I cropped out the first 3 and a half minutes of waiting.

July 27 - Squid... Lots of squid!
We set out to do a dive right outside one of the Dive Friends locations yesterday while I truck was being picked up for a quick service during our dive. We thought, what the heck, there are a lot of people saying that there is good stuff right there in town off the dock, so why not. As we were putting our gear together and casually talking to people, we were told that not only was there a Batfish making it's way up and down the shore line recently, but a Frogfish nearby just off the mooring block and a few feet down. In addition we were told that there was a shoal of squid hanging out at the swim line still in the shallows. This certainly set itself up to be a cool dive. We had no idea.

Michele and I decided to go hang out with the squid for a bit first since they were certain to be the easy ones, and we love hanging with them. We would then do a casual kick up the coast looking for the Batfish, then see if we can find the Frogfish after that.

Sure enough there were squid hanging out at the swim through line underwater as if practicing their Peak Performance Buoyancy skills. They were quite good at it. Anyway I snapped a couple of shots at a distance so that I did not scare them away, then Michele and I swam out into the sand to watch them before they would certainly dart away and no longer be interested in us. Well, that didn't happen, these squid just happen to be pretty darn curious about us.

Mating display
We both sat still watching them for 5-10 minutes, and noted that there was a lot of curious behavior going on here. These squid were not just practicing dive skills on the ropes. They seem to be in some sort of a mating behavior. We had heard from Ned and Anna DeLoach last year in one of their classes that not a lot is know about squid mating, but just being still and patient we might get lucky to watch things unfold. It turns out that the big tentacle displays along with the bright color flashes are males showing off for the females.

I sat gleefully taking pictures, only occasionally changing my position to get a better angle on where the squid were and maybe catch a shot or two with Michele in it. She was staying totally still and just watching the squid all around her. Every now and then the squid would line up with her, almost as if she were their adoptive diver.

Color change- predators on the way in
As the shoal rocked back and forth in the gently current, they would frequently change positions, and the end sentry would rotate. The job of the sentry is to warn the others about danger. This was typically displayed by a very fast color change and a dramatic shift in position for the entire line.

Sure enough every time they did this maneuver I would check and see a large Tarpon or Bar Jack headed toward us. After a whiel when the shoal realized that Michele was not leaving her spot AND the predator fish were not approaching her, some would dive down into her legs as cover, changing themselves a very dark color, instead of the typical white to blend into the sand.

It seems we were safe places for them and they realized it. Although she was quickly becoming part of the shoal, they were unsure what to make of me still. I was OK, but not quite part of them. I was clearly not a threat, but did require more investigation.

Other divers were coming and going, but we remained there in 9ft of water watching and just being there. After a while I felt like I was cluing in a little more about the mating rituals and behavior for this group, and started taking preemptive shot to capture the actual act. Everything we read and heard said that things happened so fast that if you blink you miss it, so I was set to a fast shutter speed, and just for good measure had video rolling as well. My camera allows me to take stills even if there is video being recorded.

I came away with 436 stills and video clips from this encounter, as it turns out we stayed in this exact spot for and hour and fifteen minutes. When we did finally come up it was not due to being out of air since we were at 2200psi and 2500psi out of a 3000psi start; it was just that we were getting cold, and this had been such an enjoyable time - we decided to go.

But the big question, did I get the shot? Did I actually catch the squids mating?

Yes I did.
July 21 - Spotted Eagle Ray
Sometimes when you head out for a shallow dive in a populated area, you go with an intent to seek out small stuff. That was my plan. I have decided that I am for sure a sand crawler- I like to hover just over the sand and watch the tiny life of the reef. I was doing my thing in about 7ft of water taking pictures of Gobies hanging out on brain corals.

I got very interested in taking shots of a little Blenny that was showing off, and popping in and out of it's hole.

Since I now have the camera able to shoot these little guys I have taken to making an attempt every chance I get. My next goal is to find Medusa Blennies and see how I do with them.

As a puttered along the bottom of broken corals and rock at the site called Windsock, I noted that there were a lot of Pederson Shimp about so of course it made for a photo-op as well. I could not tell at the time I was shooting it but there is an odd red shape in the background of this one at the bottom of the Pederson's nest. There are antenna that look kind of like they belong to a Banded Coral Shrimp, but the body is just not right. I am pretty certain that this is not a Mantis Shrimp, as they do not play well with roommates.

With my head down in the sand shooting away, I was totally missing the action going on behind me. In the water it is silent, all you hear is your breathing typically. When taking photos, and focusing, you tend to even not hear that. I brought my head up as I was finishing a shot, and checked my gauges. I was still in 7ft of water, and it was about time to go. I turned around and was stunned.

Directly behind me in 7ft of water was a Spotted Eagle Ray rooting through the sand for a meal. This one was a very messy eater as the sand was thick as it flapped it's wings kicking up the entire area.

I started taking pictures. I am not entirely sure that I let off the rapid shooting as I have roughly 100 pictures of just this encounter.

The Ray seemed completely not interested in me and just carried on with it's meal, and just stayed face down in the sand eating the whole time I watched.

Eventually it finished what it was doing, raised up from the sand and began to slowly and casually fly away. This was unreal at how casual it was about everything. I had Eagle Rays fly through our group of divers before but generally at a pretty quick pace as they seemed to want to put distance between us quickly. Not this one. It was a meandering slow almost hover of a pace.

But even a slow creature with the speed and power of an Eagle Ray makes good time. We went from being less than 10 ft from each other to significantly further with just a few casual wing flaps.

It headed back to the open ocean over the corals, still in no hurry to get there.

I followed alongside it for a little while, still taking pictures, before letting my reality kick in that we were simply going to part ways here.

With a final departing shot it sailed off into the blue, and I kicked back to shore gripping the camera and grinning ear to ear.

July 19 -
Queen Angel Fish
It has been a while since updating here, so I figured it was about time. The diving has been great, and playing with the macro lens has been fun. Earlier post stated that I was going looking for Blennies and tiny things in the sand and coral. We found a patch of them at a site called The Lake in about 10ft of water. Many people just swim over the sand and don't bother looking for the things that hide from divers. There are plenty of large beautiful fish in the water, and it is a lot of fun to see them.

Doing a sand crawl and just spending 45minutes in one spot in 10ft of water lets the tiny stuff get used to you being part of the furniture. Many of the small community of fishes and critters come out.

Sailfin Blenny
Some of the Blennies in particular are still very shy and not willing to come out and show off, but if you are patient some might. Sailfins are small and extremely shy. On occasion one may pop out of it's hiding hole and wave the fin around in a showy display.

Spinyhead Blenny
A Spinyhead Blenny just hanging out on top of a rock, watching me almost laughing -- "silly human - you are going to run out of air at some point" or maybe a look of "go watch a bigger fish you fool".

And as I said, there are plenty of large colorful and beautiful fish to be seen. I was unable to capture the moment in a picture where this fish (I think it is a Pudding Wife- dumbest name for a fish ever)... grabbed a crab and smashed it into the rocks repeatedly to eat it.

I personally enjoy looking under the rocks in the shallows, waiting to see what sticks it's head out.

Sometimes the sand it's self is the place to look. Small holes in the sand with Yellowheaded Jawfish popping up into the water column occasionally dancing around make a great display for the patient.

Yellowheaded Jawfish
But our favorite things to search out are the really rare and hard to keep track of critters and behavior.

I had always wondered what a Blenny looked like out of it's hole. Today that patience paid off and I believe I got the shot here.

I will be verifying with Anna DeLoach that this is truly what I have a picture of as she is absolutely fantastic and runs a blog site called Blenny Watcher. She and her husband Ned are true pro's and are just great people.

As a parting thought, for anyone not familiar with the True Facts series of YouTube videos I highly recommend the one on the Mantis Shrimp.  It is an overview of what the Mantis Shrimp is and why it is so special in a light-hearted humorous way. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F5FEj9U-CJM)

I have seen exactly 2 in my entire diving career to date. The first picture I took was so bad it is embarrassing to even try to show people and explain what the blob thing in the dark is.

Today Michele and I were fortunate to see another and get at least a passing shot at it. Still on my bucket list for a truly good shot, but this one will do.

Mantis Shrimp in the hole
July 15 - The Big and the Small

Most of the times when out in the water we focus on the fish and the corals that are around. Some sites have items in the water as well, such as the statue that is a site marker at ChaChaCha Beach. We will be visiting more sites with things that are sunk, or that the ocean has claimed as the trip goes on. It is great to swim sites, and tour the variety of life that is out and about both big and small.

To the south of the island is a site called Invisibles that is famous for their Garden Eels. It is a long flat sandy swim from the shore to the buoy at this site, and there is a big patch of eels immediately at the marker. We decided that this was going to just be a long flat sand crawl as we were in no hurry, and we wanted to take pictures along the way.

Field of Garden Eels
When first approaching the eels it looks like a lot of sticks just projection out of the sand in the distance. Slowing down to watch them, you can see that they are in fact eels that like in the holes of the sand here. When you get too close for their comfort, the eels retreat into their holes backwards so that they cannot be seen and wait for you to go away.
Garden Eel just hanging out

If you are patient they will come back up and hang out- but as soon as you move to fast or look too threatening they are gone again. When I look at them I can't help but think they just need a little hat to look like the worm from Richard Scarry's Busytown worm, Lowly.

Juvenile Trunk Fish
There are plenty more small things out to be seen in the small world, such as Juvenile Trunk fish which look like spastic little gumballs bouncing around in the water.

Antennae for me to research
Or if you are out swimming along a sandy flat bottom and see a
random pair of antennae sticking up what do you do? Stop and watch, then take a picture of course there will be time to research what that is later after watching to see what behavior is does if anything. These just stayed put and felt around at the water a bit but nothing ever came out of the hole.

Spiny Lobster
In the bigger wold of things to see are what many of us quickly recognize, but are still pleasantly surprised to find.

We decided we wanted to hit a night dive to see what was out, and as this would be Amanda's first night dive ever, a nice easy to navigate and easy depth site at Buddy's Reef was chosen. Our dive plan was to go out from the pier and hang to the left where we have previously seen octopus and other very cool things. Additionally staying at the top of the reef and near the sand would give us opportunity to pay better attention to our depth. I did not take my camera so that if there was an issue with panic or spooked by the blackness of the ocean at night, I would able to help keep things calm.

Tarpon- We see them in daylight sometimes
but mostly they are night hunters
One of the coolest things we saw was the Tarpon using our lights as hunting beacons. When we shone our lights on some fish, it really made them glow, and called the tarpon in for quick strikes. One gulp and it was gone. I took a couple of pictures earlier today - but really the ones on the night dives are so close you could reach out and touch them with no effort. Sometimes they gt a little too close and will bump divers. The tarpon we saw were between 4-5feet long, putting their estimated weight around 60-100lbs per fish resource sites we looked up.

The fun part at night is that the tarpon will come out of the black where you never even saw them and usually eat a fish right in front of your face. From there - you control the fate of which little fish lives or dies. Oh yeah - did I mention that the tarpon typically hunt in packs? Well they do... We had 5-6 swimming with us today, each zipping through out lights- literally so close we could touch them.

Big or small - night or day the reef is active. Doing a dive where we start in the daylight then it gets dark while we are in the water is fantastic. This is when the day fish go to bed, and the evening fish wake up and take over the reef. The other side of that coin is to do a really early morning dive. We call those Jimmi Hendrix Dives due to the lyrics from "Are you Experienced"

"If you can just get your mind together
then come across to me
We'll hold hands an' then we'll watch the sun rise
from the bottom of the sea
But first

Are You Experienced?
Ah! Have you ever been experienced?
Well, I have"

That being said - time to turn in... the sun rises early here.
July 13 - Lionfish
I think by this point everyone knows that Lionfish are a problem when it comes to the Caribbean. They are a beautiful fish, but unfortunately an invasive species in the area. They are native to the South Pacific and Indian Oceans, however there are no natural predators to the Lionfish in the Atlantic or the Caribbean. According to NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association) the female Lionfish is active year round and can produce roughly 2million eggs in a year. Estimates and research says that roughly every 4 days the female Lionfish can lay roughly 25,000 eggs.

As Lionfish are top tier predators also - they eat indiscriminately on the reef and will consume any fish that it wants. This includes Parrotfish which cleans the algae off the reef and other fish that are helpful to the ecosystem.

There is some thought that the Brown Chromis are moving in to eat the eggs of the Lionfish, but really that does not seem to be the case at this point. There is certainly a large population of them here.

There is a policy that calls out "Let's Eat them to Beat Them" that many people are embracing. This is great for increasing the hunting idea of the Lionfish here. The locals and residents are able to get a licence to hunt these pests. I have heard a few folks saying that they are not interested in the smaller fish and they want only the big ones. This unintended consequence is having some locals not take the ecological approach but rather wait on the the fish to grow up. By then who knows how many more would have been spawned.

I am not sure what the right answer is, but certainly some efforts need to be stepped up to help keep these guys in check.
July 10 - Knowing what to look for and where

The purple splotch on the rock is the eggs
I was listening to some other divers talk about "The fish that look like Sgt. Majors but are blue and really aggressive". Sgt Majors are normally a yellow and black tiger striped fish that is pretty passive. During their spawning season (now) and once there is a batch of eggs down - the Sgt. Major gets very protective, and will change it's color to blue with black stripes so it looks different. It will active try to shoo away any other fish, or diver that approaches it's eggs. Just relaxing and finding a good hover spot will calm the fish so it will even revert to it's normal colors if there is no threat perceived.

Banded Butterfly Fish
Sometimes while hanging out you just get a good perspective on fish and an opportunity to line up shots. Banded Butterfly fish are pretty common and you do not have to work very hard to find them, but still a very pretty little fish.

Tiny Balloonfish
Likewise the little balloon fish that hide out in the corals are not particularly tough to find- but being so small and shy they are often difficult to catch in good photos.

Flamingo Tongue

Sometimes looking on the corals themselves will wield a nudibranch of some kind or maybe another critter.

Not everything will be obvious at first, in fact most of it will not be

Harlequin Shrimp
Sometimes the fish will do something that says "WATCH ME" ...

and sometimes things just lay around and let coral grow on them.
Sea Cucumber with growth

July 7 - First Turtle this trip
It is turtle hatching season here on Bonaire. There are signs up at the beaches to watch for eggs and by all means be careful. We will be volunteering our time to help with conservation efforts while here. One of the crew at Dive Friends where we are getting our tanks said that we just missed a nest of Loggerheads that hatched just before we got here!!! Very sorry we missed that - but super glad that it happened.

This morning Hannah and I dove the site known as Cha-Cha-Cha beach. It is not on the maps, but if anyone goes to the town pier where the cargo ships come in ... it is right there in front of one of the Dive Friends shop. As we were ending our dive she got really excited and started pointing and making our sign for turtle. Off in the distance I saw the shape approaching us. There was a lot of water between us so I was unsure how the shot would turn out.

Luck was with us and it swam very near, it was a little Green Sea Turtle.

As we were already pretty shallow and over a sandy bottom, it did not stick around and left as quickly as it came. We were totally in the right place at the right time for this one.

It was a good dive up to that point as it was. There was no current or chop as we entered, sandy bottom from the beach- which we accessed via a nicely sloped ramp. Once we entered there is an easy to follow large rope on the ocean floor that goes from the dock to a big mooring block, then to a fallen statue that is underwater. We were greeted by an eel right away, and saw these teeny-tiny Drum Fish just as we were headed back so I had to include them here as well.

Nice site - it is on the go back to list...
July 6 - Eeels
Green Moray striking a puffer -
25ft at Salt Pier (2013)
Today I want to talk about eels in Bonaire. There are lots. It seems that most dives there is an eel hiding out in a rock, or occasionally free-swimming. Two years ago when I was just starting to shoot underwater photography and was vacationing here, Michele and I did a night dive at the Salt Pier where I shot one of the pictures I have been happiest for a long time.

It was me and Michele with another couple (Shannon and Sharon) that we met and dove with a few times here, and a guide because it was required at the time for a Salt Pier dive. The surge that night was crazy rough- and we just wanted to get away from shore. The guide quickly headed to the pier so that we could catch the shadows as the sun was going down and eventually faded everything to black. We got to about 25ft down under the pier before the surge stopped throwing us around- it was pitch black and we could not see anything that our lights didn't touch first. As we cleared the legs of the pier, my eye caught a glimpse in the edges of my light - a puffer fish not blown up yet. Shannon saw the eel and illuminated it. The two fish must have seen each other at the same time because just as I got my camera up to take a shot the eel was latching on. When the eel came into the open struggling with the now inflated fish it appeared to be roughly 5ft long. It would drag the puffer into the corals to try and pin it to eat - but as the eels grip tired and would let go, the puffer would float away like a beach-ball. This went on for roughly 10 minutes (says the video Shannon shot) before the eel gave up and the puffer floated away.

Golden Moray in the open
Since then I have been mindful of the speed and tenacity of eels and enjoy watching them hunt. Sometimes when they are in the open and moving along it is fun to try and anticipate where they are headed for a good shot. Needless to say they are quick and very agile.

Sharp Tooth Eel
When we showed Hannah her first Sharp Tooth eel - her question later was "What the heck was that snake?" -- And that is a fair question. When Michele and I first saw it we thought it was a sea krate (but there are no krates in Bonaire). These eels stay down on the sandy bottoms and hunt out small fish that hide in corals and rocks. They seem to particularly like hunting in the deep little hidey holes of the bottoms. These eels also move very similar to snakes in that they will swim with a "slither" look about them, and will often back out of holes rear end first as a snake does when it is pulling back. Many other predatory fish will follow along over top of these eels waiting to snag any fish that the eel scares out. The poor little hider fish are doomed to an eel if they stay, and doomed to a larger predator fish if they go.

Pair of Golden Morays in same hole
Something I had not seen until this trip was two eels hanging out together. Typically I have seen them as solitary hunters, but as we were exiting a dive here, the darker Golden Moray popped it's head out of a hole. I paused for a pic because something didn't seem quite right. As my strobe went off, the second eel pooped out of the hole as if to just see what was going on. The two just stayed close together for 5 minutes or so posing and alternately backing into and coming out of their hole.

With as cute and fun as these little guys are, it is important to keep in mind that they are still predators and do have sharp teeth as well. I do not advise getting too close to them, and certainly don't waggle your fingers at them playfully. There are still plenty of needle sharp teeth inside those cut little mouths of theirs and it could end poorly.
Watch for the teeth
July 4 Sea Horses and Drum Fish
Sea Horse at 35ft - Cliff Dive Site
Been a day or two since I posted anything new here. So what have we been up to? Uh... Diving. It's Bonaire - it's what you do. Anyway ... We managed to get out to the dive site known as Cliff - which is actually on the property of Hamlet Oasis. We heard tale of there being sea horses and drum fish and all kinds of other stuff. We heard right. This one was hanging out in some dead coral branches doing it's best to not give me a clear shot. When it finally dropped into an open hole I had to shift around and hang off a small rock with fins straight up so as to not disturb the other soft corals around. Once it realized I could get there for a shot - it of course had to move again.

It went back up into the corals and played peek-a-boo guessing I would tire of the game. Nope I had plenty of air and don't tire easily.

After a few more minutes of this sea horse working me for angles and such, I figured it was time for me to take a parting shot and go.

Another movement into another odd tricky angle- another weird contortion for me- and final shot made.

We are told that this is just one of the family that is here so we will likely dive this site pretty regular when we want our sea horse fix. There is also a yellow one that is at this same site, but we struck out trying to find it. Next time yellow.....

Adult Drum Fish - Cliff Dive Site
Tiny Juvenile Drum - Windsock Site
We were on our quest for Drum Fish also as those are Michele's favorite. The adults and juveniles do not look much like each other - it is the little ones she likes best. The juveniles when they are very young look like eyelashes with googly-eyes slapped onto them - they are ridiculously small. To make things worse they can't control their own tails so they just kind of cycle and spin all the time.   You can imagine hearing "WHEEEE...." like a kid on a bar stool.

Juvenile Drum - Cliff Dive Site
We have been to a lot of sites here and the drums seem to be pretty regular customers everywhere. They are fairly territorial so if you find one in a location - go back again and it is likely to be in the same basic area. This is not to say it will be in the EXACT spot, but somewhere in the neighborhood.

While we were out and I had my macro brain in gear - I did have a chance to play hang out with a Banded Coral Shrimp while it was sunbathing. These are neat little critters and anytime you see a pair of antennae sticking out from under a rock it is likely to be one of these guys.

Banded Coral Shrimp

July 2 - Macro World
Reef Octopus in 8ft of Water - Buddy Reef
I spent some time getting to know the microcosm that is scuba diving in Bonaire. Trust me when I say there is a lot to see. Many divers go out with the intent or interest in seeing the big stuff like sharks, eagle rays, turtles, and octopus. Those are certainly out there and they are certainly great to see. In fact sometimes they are hard to miss - such as the octopus shown here that was hiding out in an old tire at Buddy Reef in 8 feet of water. But this was not my goal for this dive. I had a date with a Blenny.

Blennies are tiny. When I say tiny I mean "dude what are you looking at it's just a piece of coral" kind of tiny. They can grow up to be a whole 2.8cm on the Spiny Heads that are common to Buddy reef and those were the ones that have frustrated my underwater photography since the day I started.

Spiny Head Blenny
These guys are small, fast, shy, hide in coral bumps, and holes -- plus to make things worse, they like shallow water where the surge and chop will toss photographers around. But not today - today I finally got a few shots.

Now I have a real camera and housing - it was time to get down into the other little stuff that I had never been able to photograph before too.

Arrow Crab on Anemone
Things like teeny-tiny Arrow Crabs on anemone. Draw a line with a Sharpie, and that is the thickness of these little critters. Again you can see the waving of the anemone to tell that there is a bit of a current here too.

Speaking of small and fast moving... Michele and I were down about 35ft when I saw a juvenile drum fish. Knowing that this was her favorite I turned to signal her- then promptly lost it.
Harlequin Pipefish

As I cast my gaze around looking for it, I saw out of the corner of my eye what I thought was just a piece of stripped yarn. Then it moved. It moved fast. Trying to anticipate where it would come out, I took a position and waited. Sure enough there it was roughly earthworm sized. UPDATE: We did not know what this little guy was but have since found out that this is called a Harlequin Pipefish. This is in fact not an eel at all.

Gobies on Brain Coral

For divers who slow down and take in the micro world on the corals, there are gobies. LOTS of them. Being an inch and smaller- plus quick and fidgety again they are tough shots.

What I feel is my final win for the day was due to following the words of Ned Deloach when we met and dove with him in Bonaire 2014. He essentially said don't ignore the sandy bottoms of our dives. Too many people get into a rush and miss all of the things that are there in the sand.

This dive has taught me to slow down even more and be sure that I overweight myself when I am going to shoot in the shallows as it helps lock me into position better. As I grow more comfortable with the new camera - it is sure to help pull out better shots.

June 30 - Squids a-Plenty

Underwater in Bonaire is a new and exciting thing every time you go under. We did two dives today as we were just going about things very casually and getting Hannah (our 14yr old) comfortable in the water again. She is a certified diver so this was not her first time out.

I elected to not take the camera over to the Yellow Submarine dive point - but I will be heading back there with it ... why you ask? Well - there is a bright orange frog fish that has decided to set up house directly on the marker blocks in 12ft of water. Usually these guys are masters of disguise but this one was not even trying. Also the Sgt. Majors are spawning and spraying their eggs all over everthing in the area. As a welcome back to the water- Hannah was treated to both of these cool underwater experiences.

In all however I am electing to call today Squid Day. Michele and I wanted to go do another dive after lunch and Hannah elected to stay back and relax in the hammock. When we got to the dive site called The Lake and started in, it was the typical choppy water over slipper rocks we expected. This was also my fist dive with the new camera setup.

For the camera geeks- I am shooting a Nikon d7100 with a 40mm macro lens in an Ikelite housing and a single strobe with TTL.

About 30minutes into the dive Michele gets really excited and starts pointing
frantically- what she does not realize was that I had just signaled her that my mask was fogged and I was taking it off to clear underwater. I thought she was encouraging me to hurry up. I put my mask back on and followed Michele for a few strong kicks then look to where she is staring to find a squid staring at me.

I snapped a shot through my foggy mask. I then take a moment to survey around me in fuller detail and realize that this squid is not alone- logically I know that they seldom travel alone.

Across the soft corals are two more, then two more behind me.. then off in the distance is the lone sentry watching for barracuda or other predators. I mean come on -- who doesn't love calamari. Even though we have take a vow to not eat the things we want to see in the water, the barracuda and bar-jacks do not share our world view.

We watch the squid for a while and sure enough in perfect synchronicity, they all rocket to the seafloor and change their color to a stark white to blend in with the sand just as a barracuda comes rushing through the area trying to snag one. The sentry was doing it's job after all everyone survived.

Shortly the squid come back up to the soft corals and a few begin playing with Michele in some weird Cthullu-Come-Hither games. With back lit to an electric blue and tentacles wavering it seems fascinated with Michele- maybe it was the reflection of themselves in her mask, or maybe it just has good taste.

The squid all rocked back and forth in the current, and played wistfully with elevation mostly in unison. They signaled each other with flashes of light and color changes. It almost seemed that they were glad to have us as part of their pod. Maybe it just needed to convert us, so taking the best Chtullu pose it could muster - we locked one more hypnotic gaze,... all of us at it at each other before we decided it was time to call it and head for the exit ending a fantastic dive.

No comments:

Post a Comment