Newsletter: Warmer and warmer

Hi divers

Weekend dive plans

Friday: Shore diving at Long Beach at 10.00 am

Saturday: Launching from False Bay Yacht Club at 7.00 am for a double tank dive

The days are getting longer and the daytime temperatures are slowly creeping upwards… Well, on some days. Saturday looks like a better bet for False Bay with Hout Bay being an option on Sunday. The water colour off Dungeons has improved slightly today.

Tomorrow I am shore diving students at Long Beach at 10.00 am. On Saturday we will do an early False Bay double tank dive at 7.00 am. Let me know if you’d like to get wet.

 

DAFF octopus fishing gear
DAFF octopus fishing gear

Here’s a little bit of reading on the octopus fishery in False Bay (courtesy of Yvette!). This NSRI blog post, and the comments, are also required reading.

Coming up

As part of First Thursdays, you can attend the opening of the Birdlife Oceans of Life photographic exhibition at the South African Museum on the evening of Thursday 6 October. There’s information here (facebook) – this year’s exhibition includes a retrospective of the last few years’ best images.

Diversnight is on Saturday 7 November, so start charging your torches!

regards

Tony Lindeque
076 817 1099
www.learntodivetoday.co.za
www.learntodivetoday.co.za/blog/

Diving is addictive!

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A visit to the Blue Planet aquarium in Copenhagen

On our last day in Denmark, after a week-long family visit between Christmas 2015 and new year 2016, we went to Den Blå Planet, Denmark’s national aquarium. (Actually we were wrong about it being our last day in Denmark, but that’s another story involving Turkish Airlines, who seem to innovate in the field of disappointment.) The aquarium is situated in Kastrup, Copenhagen, quite close to the airport, and overlooks the narrow sound called the Øresund, which separates Denmark from Sweden.

The Blue Planet after the mist cleared
The Blue Planet after the mist cleared

We visited on 1 January, after (eventually) sleeping through the sounds of Copenhagen’s residents letting off five hundred metric tons of fireworks, starting at 5.00 pm the day before. We bought tickets online (a small saving in Danish krone that amounted to eleventy million ZAR) and arrived at opening time. The building is surrounded by a reflection pool, and is built in a spiral form inspired by the shape of a vortex. In the larger halls the high ceilings give a tremendous sense of space; at 10,000 square metres, the building is very large. The halls are generally wide and I imagine it could accommodate a very large number of people before feeling crowded.

Layout of The Blue Planet
Layout of The Blue Planet

The aquarium is divided into three sections. The first is focused on the life found in the lakes and ocean of Denmark and northern Europe. I particularly enjoyed this first part of the aquarium. The animals are adapted to the cold water, so some of them were very similar what we find around Cape Town, and the displays were creative and interesting. There was also the obligatory “anchor with fish” tank, which was (as always) mesmerising. One of the pictures in the gallery below is of Tony checking it out.

Two sea otters live at the aquarium, having been rescued as infants and raised by hand. The male and female otters were found in Alaska when they were four months old with a broken jaw and wounds after a boat strike, and as a 1.5 kg abandoned one day old respectively. As usual, seeing such an intelligent animal in captivity stirs up all sorts of conflicting feelings. That said, you are a stronger person than I am if you could have left these two baby otters to their natural fate (that is, death). The otters spend a lot of time (up to six hours per day) grooming, and in between keep very busy, requiring a lot of enrichment from their four keepers. It was magical to see them.

Also in the northern seas and lakes section is the puffin exhibit, mimicking the cliffs of the Faroe Islands, a Danish territory. Here, also, we found a touch pool (which the Danes call a sensing-aquarium), and a terrifying ambulatory mascot.

The second section of the building is devoted to tropical lakes and rivers, with incredible freshwater exhibits. We saw piranhas, terrapins, frogs, little black rays the size of pancakes, with white polka-dots, and electric eels. The rainforest exhibit is kept at a temperature and humidity level that are impressive in the Scandinavian winter, and I can imagine that this part of the aquarium is popular with expats from warmer climates!

The third part of the aquarium is for the rest of the ocean, and although it’s a big ask to cover (or summarise) so much in the remaining space, it does a fabulous job. The Ocean tank holds four million litres of water, and is home to rays and hammerhead sharks, and other warm water fish. Amongst many other things, there are seahorses, leafy seadragons and coral reef fish to see.

Feeding time in the Ocean tank
Feeding time in the Ocean tank

We watched feeding time for a while, which was quite funny – the aquarists row out onto the water in a small inflatable boat, and administer the snacks from on board. Standing in the tunnel, we could see the boat from below, with the oars working frantically against what I imagine was a bit of surface current.

One of the things that Den Blå Planet does really well is to integrate multimedia, virtual reality and interactive technology into the aquarium experience. This reduces the number of animals required to be on display, and – for the most part – probably takes care of itself, requiring no cleaning and feeding. My favourite such exhibit was the bouncy plankton wall in the ocean section of the aquarium. The photo below is pretty terrible because the display moves all the time, but I put a video on instagram which shows how the plankton clear a space for you when you walk along the wall.

Plankton multimedia display
Plankton multimedia display

We finished off our visit with a flæskesteg sandwich at ØST, the restaurant at the back of the aquarium. It was still a bit misty, but the large windows looking out over the sound let in a lot of light. There is a play area outside, and despite the midwinter temperatures, children in snow suits were making the most of it.

The restaurant at the aquarium, ØST
The restaurant at the aquarium, ØST

I did not get the same strong conservation message from my visit to The Blue Planet that I think the Two Oceans Aquarium in Cape Town works so hard to propagate. This could be because of different cultural approaches to living a “green” lifestyle; in Scandinavia the government does a lot of the work for you, providing renewable energy, prioritising  pedestrian and bicycle traffic, and making it ridiculously easy to recycle, for example. In South Africa it is more of a conscious personal choice and effort to reduce one’s environmental footprint, and there is there is thus perhaps more of a requirement for direct conservation messaging.

Anyway, if you’re in Copenhagen, visit! Next time we’re in Denmark, we’ll check out the little Øresund Aquarium at Helsingor, which is entirely focused on local fauna.

Article(s): The Longform guide to sea creatures (some holiday reading!)

Here are some holiday reading recommendations – not too taxing, not entirely insubstantial – to enjoy while lounging under an umbrella by the pool or waiting for a flight to board. You will probably enjoy them because they’re about marine life, and I assume that if you didn’t have a passing interest in the ocean, you wouldn’t be reading this blog.

Octopus at Pyramid Rock
Octopus at Pyramid Rock

Longform is a website that provides reading recommendations – usually (as the name suggests) long form stories, not restricted to a particular range of topics. I am a subscriber to the Longform newsletter, and lately a user of their iPad app.

The Longform guide to sea creatures is a short list of juicy long articles whose common thread is that they focus on marine animals. I’ve shared some of them with you already – Killer in the Pool and Moby Duck being the most notable. Others are about giant squid, octopus, tuna, whales, and the Loch Ness monster. It’s a page worth bookmarking, should you anticipate requiring a couple of hours of thoughtful, fact-checked, well researched reading on the subject of marine life.

You can find the list of Longform sea creature articles here, and a mostly overlapping but slightly different version on Slate.com, here. (The advantage of the Slate list is that you can send the articles to your Kindle, to read later.)

 

Octopus at Doodles, Ponta do Ouro (southern Mozambique)

Octopus at Doodles
Octopus at Doodles

Here’s a very large octopus that we encountered a few minutes into the first dive we did of our recent Mozambique trip, to the ever-surprising reef called Doodles. He was standing about a metre out of a very small hole in the reef, looking scary. When he did withdraw into the reef, he couldn’t fit his whole body into the hole he’d chosen!

Bookshelf: The Story of Sushi

The Story of Sushi: An Unlikely Saga of Raw Fish and Rice – Trevor Corson

The Story of Sushi
The Story of Sushi

I didn’t really know what to expect from this book – I admit that I tried it out because it had a fish on the cover, and because I’d previously enjoyed Trevor Corson’s The Secret Life of Lobsters. I was pleasantly surprised. Showing the same narrative flair as he exhibits in his lobster book, Corson interweaves science and history with a present-day story with novel-like characteristics.

Formerly titled The Zen of FishThe Story of Sushi takes place at the California Sushi Academy, tracing a (real and) diverse group of students as they spend several months learning to be sushi chefs. The principal character, the weakest student in the class, is squeamish about handling raw fish, and scared of her sushi knives – one wonders if she had done any research about what being a sushi chef entails. Despite this drag on the overall mood of the classroom scenes (one can only read about someone being berated for their incompetence, or deliberately shirking tasks that they find unappealing, so many times) Corson manages to invest the reader in the lives of the chefs and students that he profiles. As the students learn about sushi, so do we.

The history parts of the book deal with the development of sushi as a cultural and culinary phenomenon, first in Japan and then spreading to the rest of the world. Corson also delves into food science, explaining why things taste the way they do, and the microbial processes that give us vinegar and other fermented foods (essential in the development and preparation of sushi), and marine biology. Make no mistake – bluefin tuna, abalone, urchins, eels and octopus play only bit parts in this book, and appear more frequently as sushi toppings than as vibrant life forms populating the world’s oceans. Corson talks about the biology of the animals only insofar as it enables development of his main – food related – themes.

I found this a surprisingly good read, and a helpful informer on the subject of an aspect of Japanese culture other than their well known penchant for whale hunting and general disingenuousness around ethical fishing practices. It has made me a more informed sushi consumer but not as regards what fish are best to eat (use SASSI for that). There is hardly a mention of whether one can ethically consume all sushi toppings with gay abandon, or whether the environmentally conscious consumer should think twice about eating certain seafoods. I do feel that I have more understanding of the construction and serving of sushi, and am able to watch the chefs at my local sushi bar with a bit more awareness.

There’s a New York Times review (and another book recommendation).

You can get a copy of the book here if you’re in South Africa, otherwise here or here.

Newsletter: The whales are coming

Hi divers

Weekend diving

Saturday: boat dives – 09.00 Atlantis / 11.30 Batsata Maze

Sunday: pool training with students

Dive conditions

So much bad weather for so long – too little diving and not enough sun. That’s my complaint for the week.

This weekend, Saturday is really the only option for diving. There is very little swell and not much wind, but it picks up in the afternoon. False Bay, however, has been hammered for the last few days by big swell, strong winds and lots of rain. The wind direction has been good for water clarity, but the swell stirs up everything and all the murky rain water ends up close to shore.

I drove the coast this morning to take a look. The Clan Stuart was a little murky from the swell, and Long Beach was clean, but from Ark Rock and down to Shark Alley the water was really dirty. A huge mudslide just north of Miller’s Point has also contributed to this. South of Millers towards the point the water looks clean and blue, so we will head off to Atlantis and Batsata Maze. If you are keen to dive, text me. We will meet at the Simon’s Town Jetty at 9.00 and 11.30.

The Clan Stuart this morning
The Clan Stuart this morning

There is a lot going on right now:

Whale entanglement

Yesterday I saw what I thought was a whale entangled in an octopus trap but lost sight of it after a while as the sea was extremely rough. Fortunately it was found again today and thanks to the the SA Whale Disentanglement Network it was freed. It has some serious cuts from the rope but they heal relatively quickly. There are octopus traps as well as whelk traps in False Bay between Glencairn and Kalk Bay, and in 2012 a 4.3 metre female white shark was caught in the ropes attached to the whelk traps and drowned.

We have been concerned about whale entanglement in these fisheries since they were announced; it appears our concerns were well founded. If you would like to ask some pertinent questions about the whelk and octopus fisheries, and raise an objection, I suggest you contact Dr C. J. Augustyn, Chief Directorate, Fisheries Research and Development at DAFF, by email at  JohannAU@daff.gov.za or by mail at 5th Floor, Foretrust Building, Cape Town, 8000.

Brain food

Orca and dolphin talk

Simon Elwen and Ryan Reisinger are giving a talk on the Marion Island Killer Whale Project (on facebook here) and the Namibian Dolphin Project and soon to be Sea Search Africa in False Bay in a single evening. The talk is on Monday 16 June (a public holiday), at Bertha’s in Simon’s Town, at (about) 7pm. There is a cover charge of R25. Please rsvp on facebook! All are welcome.

Shark conference

There is a major shark conference taking place in Durban, out of which a constant stream of incredibly interesting information comes all day long thanks to a number of scientists live-tweeting the talks as they happen. Follow the tweets here.

Shark talk

Victoria Vásquez, a shark scientist at the Ocean Research Foundation and the Pacific Shark Research Centre in the United States, is giving a talk on shark conservation at OMSAC in Pinelands next Thursday evening, 12 June, at 7pm. If you would like to attend, rsvp here. She has been attending the Sharks International Symposium in Durban this week, so it’s a great opportunity to hear about the very latest shark research.

Finally, if you want to know how our own Department of Environmental Affairs plans to manage our marine resources, check out the recently published white paper here.

See you all soon!

regards

Tony Lindeque
076 817 1099
www.learntodivetoday.co.za
www.learntodivetoday.co.za/blog/

Diving is addictive!

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Article: The Stranger on giant Pacific octopus

I think I prefer this article on octopus (the language is a bit less fruity, for one thing), but giant Pacific octopus are cool enough that even the most offensive writing about them can be interesting. A specimen has been weighed at 71 kilograms, but they usually weigh about 15 kilograms and can have arm spans of over four metres.

One octopus off San Juan Island grabbed a diver’s legs and held him underwater while he struggled, long enough that the diver used up most of the air in his tank and nearly died—as if the octopus knew that divers have only a certain amount of breathing time. Another octopus in Washington waters pounced on a diver, flaring its tentacles in a hunting gesture. The diver fended it off and swam away, but the octopus followed, crawling toward him on the ocean floor, and pounced again. Luckily, this octopus was small—but bizarrely aggressive for its size.

If you’re skeptical about the source of the above information, it’s from a Canadian Field-Naturalist journal article. An interview with Dr Roland Anderson, one of the authors of  the journal paper, sheds further light on the “cold intelligence” of cephalopods (when kept in aquaria, they are notorious escape-artists), and their depressing sex lives (have sex once at the age of 3-5 years, then go mad and die). Anderson says giant Pacific octopus are not as smart as dogs or cats, but they are smarter than the average pet bird.

The article concludes with a discussion on cooking octopus. Kind of hard to contemplate after pondering their intelligence and remarkable physiology…

Read the full article here.

Newsletter: Good mileage

Hi divers

Weekend launches

The weekend does not look all that rosy. A rather large swell is forecast and a little rain for tomorrow and Saturday, and then a fair amount of south easter for Sunday, but it blows later in the day so this is the plan:

Saturday 9.30 and 12.00, to Outer Photographer’s Reef and Maidstone Rock.

Sunday 8.00 and 10.30, to Spaniard Rock and the Brunswick / Caravan reef

Klipfish at Spaniard Rock
Klipfish at Spaniard Rock

All launches will be from False Bay Yacht Club. As usual, text me if you want to dive. We have Advanced students for Saturday and need to start early on Sunday as the wind picks up after lunch. These launches are subject to a final call early on the day as the swell may or may not affect us. It is always a sign of bad weather to come when big boats seek shelter in False Bay; at present two large ships have come into the bay, presumably to hide from the wind and swell.

Recent dives

Variable dorid at Pyramid Rock
Variable dorid at Pyramid Rock

We have had a good run of late and last weekend we were out on the boat on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday. The weather was not nearly as bad as the forecast so we had some good diving, as well as encountering a large number of extremely frisky whales. It was also good to see some new and old faces on the boat. The viz was not spectacular, but there was not too much wind or swell. Today we had 4-5 metre visibility at Long Beach.

Octopus at Pyramid Rock
Octopus at Pyramid Rock

We had really good mileage out of the white shark encounter two weeks ago and were fortunate to have the story run on a few local blogs, from which the Sunday Times got hold of it, and that led to a short radio interview on Cape Talk on Monday morning. That kind of exposure doesn’t come around very often, so thank you False Bay, Christo, Craig, the Russians and of course the shark. If you haven’t heard what happened, click here.

Two red sponge nudibranchs at Spaniard Rock
Two red sponge nudibranchs at Spaniard Rock

There are two red sponge nudibranchs in the photo above. See if you can see them: a bigger one just above the snail, and a smaller one to the right of the image. They are perfectly camouflaged!

Dates to diarise

The next ScubaPro Day is on Saturday 26 October. On that day we will be spending some time in airports on our way back from the Red Sea, so unfortunately our boat won’t be participating. If you’re keen to do some cheap boat dives and maybe try out some ScubaPro gear, however, diarise the date. More information will be provided in the next few weeks.

The next Cape Town Dive Festival is on 2-3 May 2014. More information on that will be revealed in the coming months, I imagine.

regards

Tony Lindeque
076 817 1099
www.learntodivetoday.co.za
www.learntodivetoday.co.za/blog/

Diving is addictive!

To subscribe to receive this newsletter by email, click here or use the form on this page!

Dive sites: Brunswick

Tony and students on the surface over the wreck of the Brunswick
Tony and students on the surface over the wreck of the Brunswick

The Brunswick is a historical wooden shipwreck that lies a few hundred metres off the northern end of Long Beach in Simon’s Town, directly opposite the northern end of the white apartment buildings overlooking the Main Road. Like HNMS Bato, she is infrequently dived. Having lain underwater since 1805, she is heavily overgrown and much of her decking and hull is covered by sand. She used to be a shore entry (with a precipitous climb over the railway line), but in recent years a large number of boulders have been added as a breakwater between the ocean and the railway line, and climbing over in dive gear is no longer possible. For this reason we do the dive from the boat. Close to shore and in shallow water, the Brunswick is an ideal site to get used to boat diving.

Extensive field of wooden decking
Extensive field of wooden decking

The Brunswick was a British East Indiaman, which means she carried men and goods between Britain and the East Indies – (south)east Asia and India. She was carrying a cargo of cotton and sandalwood from China back to Britain when she was captured by some French vessels off Sri Lanka, and brought to Simon’s Bay. In September 1805 her anchor rope parted, and she ran aground during a south easterly gale. Most of her cargo was salvaged, as she lies in shallow (less than six metres deep) water.

We found the dive site to be similar to HNMS Bato, which was also a sturdily built wooden ship of similar vintage. The Brunswick was 1,200 tons, and her wreckage is spread out quite extensively. There are many thick, wooden planks, laid out as they would have been to form her decks, as well as much evidence of the bronze bolts that secured parts of the ship together. There are also many copper bolts, rivets and what could be small amounts of rolled up copper sheathing in evidence on the site.

Anemone among feather stars and papery burnupena
Anemone among feather stars and papery burnupena

The highests parts of the wreck are covered with feather stars, anemones, sea cucumbers, and kelp. There are many octopus, and peering under the wreckage with a torch yielded a couple of very large pyjama catsharks. We were lucky to dive the site most recently on a day with lovely visibility, and the shallowness of the water means that there’s a lot of light penetration which improves things enormously.

The highest parts of the Brunswick wreck
The highest parts of the Brunswick wreck

Before diving this site, you should call the SA Navy Ops Room on 021 787 3818, to ask for permission and to tell them how long you’ll be. Same procedure as at Long Beach.

Dive date: 13 July 2013

Air temperature: 19 degrees

Water temperature: 15 degrees

Maximum depth: 5.4 metres

Visibility: 10 metres

Dive duration: 42 minutes

Mark helps Christo at the boat after the dive
Mark helps Christo at the boat after the dive

A few days in Knysna

Beaching the ferry in shallow water
Beaching the ferry in shallow water

We were very upset to hear that Lightley’s Houseboats, operating on the Knysna lagoon, went into liquidation last year. Fortunately the boats and licence to operate have been acquired by a lovely Dutch couple who are now operating under the name Knysna Houseboats. We took a short break in late April and spent four nights on a houseboat on the lagoon. The boats have been refurbished, standards have been raised, and the company has moved from the jetty at Belvidere to one in the Thesen Island harbour.

Entrance to the Knysna lagoon from the sea
Entrance to the Knysna lagoon from the sea

Houseboating is the most relaxing kind of holiday you can have; no unexpected visitors, no television (well, we don’t have one of those at home either), no computers (Tony forgot his and didn’t miss it at all), and nowhere particular to go. A skipper’s licence isn’t required to pilot the boats, but you have to go through a half hour course and write a short test before being issued with a temporary licence. The boats have a single 40 hp motor, and ours reached a roaring top speed of 10km/h heading downcurrent.

The last two occasions we’ve visited Knysna we dived in search of seahorses, beneath the Sanparks jetty on Thesen Island. The time to do this is half an hour before high tide, for a couple of reasons. One is that the tidal currents in the lagoon are something fierce; unless you want to do a drift dive out through the Heads, you have to dive near slack water. The other is that the rising tide brings clean seawater into the lagoon, increasing visibility. At low tide (we discovered last time we dived there) the visibility is so bad you can’t see a hand in front of your face. We found seahorses both times we dived in Knysna, but the second time (at low tide) more luck than skill was involved.

This time, high tide fell very early in the morning and in the evening. Because it’s close to winter, days are short, and we’d have had to have dived just before sunrise or just before sunset to coincide with the tide. This seemed like hard (and cold) work. We were on holiday, and lazy, so we left the dive gear at home this time. Hopefully next time we go to Knysna the tides will be in our favour, because I did miss seeing those little critters!

One thing we did do that caused us raucous enjoyment was to sit on the edge of our boat one evening as the tide was going out, with a torch and a plastic salad bowl. The most amazing creatures swam past on the outgoing tide, and with some judicious co-ordination of torch and bowl we were able to catch one or two of them, take their picture, ooh and aah, and then release them back into the lagoon. We saw flatworms, lots of baby sole, shrimps with incredible glowing eyes and almost transparent bodies, and even a small blue fish shaped like a needle that we weren’t quick enough to catch.

Seal beating an octopus

During the day we looked at birds, motored around the lagoon a little bit, read, napped (embarrassingly much), and enjoyed the view. On one occasion we beached the boat and Tony wandered up and down a sandbank, where we could hear the sounds of mudprawns and a host of other creatures living just under the mud exposed by the retreating tide.

Heron on a moored boat
Heron on a moored boat
Geese in formation
Geese in formation

There is currently no dive operator or shop in Knysna, but they seem to open and close frequently. There is an angling and diving club in Knysna, and they can probably refer you to a local diver who can guide you if you want to dive the wreck of the Paquita near the Heads, or one of the other reefs in the area outside the Heads.

Rowing boat on shore
Rowing boat on shore