My fascination with the ocean

This information could possibly used to certify me insane, but I will risk it.

Very little research has been done about this but I (as have many others) have always believed that different creatures begin to warm to divers. There are many stories of specific ocean creatures being named, recognised and often visited by many divers.

Octopus

Several octopus at Long Beach for example live in holes on the pipeline and no matter what if you go by in the day they will be there.

Octopus on the pipeline at Long Beach
Octopus on the pipeline at Long Beach

Often, on night dives,there is no one home as they are off feeding, probably close by, but due to the darkness we don’t see them. This is how they move around at night.

Brindle and potato bass

Sodwana Bay had a brindle bass, seen by many divers year after year at the same dive site. This huge creature was very friendly and enjoyed interacting with divers. Many creatures in the ocean are fiercely territorial and once you have found them and discovered their territory it is easy to spot them as they seldom go far.

Tickle me please
Tickle me please

Whilst working in Mozambique I too visited the same reef sometimes four or five times a day on a busy weekend, showing different groups of divers the same ”locals” on the reef.

This video shows a huge potato bass that I believed was always waiting for us to drop in. This potato bass is easily recognizable by the fact that she has only one eye. You could not just swim past without giving her a tickle as doing so would result in her following the group all down the reef. Ascending to the safety stop you would see her race back to the start of the reef where she knew the next group would be dropped.

I am convinced of this as on the odd occasion that the weather would present us with a reverse current, we would drop down on the opposite end of the reef and there she would be.

Moray eels

“They bite” is what any diver will tell you. Well they do, however I believe this particular black cheeked eel warmed to me. I visited her every day for about six months. The first few weeks I just looked, then the next few weeks I offered my hand, it got bitten, severely several times and the resulting injuries required a few weeks of looking only. From this video clip, heavily edited, its clear the aggression shown in the first few weeks waned, became less severe, and eventually slowed right down to a nibble without breaking the skin… Was she warming, becoming more friendly or just getting so tired of my annoying hand in her face that she didn’t want to bother? You decide.

A  rather large honeycomb moray also fond of a chin tickle:

Moray getting a chin tickle
Moray getting a chin tickle

Peanut & Butter

The reason for the preceding information is to justify my fondness for two little fellas I met at Long Beach while Kate was doing her Zero to Hero course. They are called Peanut (a juvenile double sash butterflyfish) and Butter (a juvenile jutjaw).

Peanut the double sash butterflyfish
Peanut the double sash butteflyfish

I first spotted them a couple of months back and every time I go by on a dive I take a peek to see if they are still there. Being as small as they are there is a real risk they may end up as lunch for someone, but for now we will monitor their progress and watch them grow.

Dive sites: North Lion’s Paw

Happy divers on the boat
Happy divers on the boat

On Thursday seven of us decided to do a fun dive from the boat. We dived at a site called North Paw. It’s a short boat ride from the Oceana Powerboat Club launch site close to Camps Bay and Clifton, and despite the howling south easter the site is sheltered. The sea was calm, very little current or surge and the visibility was amazing, 15 – 20 metres. The outstanding visibility always has a catch: the water was cold. At 25 metres the temperature was 4 degrees celsius.

Coral at North Paw
Coral at North Paw

The skipper had mentioned this dive site was anchor paradise and so it seemed, I saw 3 anchors lost at sea. Cecil decided to take one home so he followed the trailing rope, lifted the anchor and discovered just how heavy it was. We attached Bernita’s SMB to the anchor and sent it to the surface.

Cecil's anchor on the way up
Cecil’s anchor on the way up

I was really happy to find a juvenile manefish (Caristius groenlandicus), not much bigger than a five rand coin. Initially I was really excited believing it was a batfish, but the books proved me wrong and a manefish it is.

Manefish (Caristius groenlandicus)
Manefish (Caristius groenlandicus)

On the way back to the slipway, we saw a seal beating a large octopus to death on the surface of the water. After it had finished eating its tasty snack (one tentacle at a time), it delicately wiped its mouth with its flippers.

Seal whipping an octopus around
Seal whipping an octopus around

Update on the artificial reef: 10 days

Kate and I visiting the reef after ten days
Kate and I visiting the reef after ten days

Ten days after installing our artificial reef at Long Beach, we paid it a visit to see how it had held up. The southeaster had been blowing very strongly since we put it in the water, so we were concerned about its effects on the reef.

Visiting the reef
Visiting the reef

There was no need to worry. Gobies, starfish, and perhaps even an octopus (check out the shells and other debris at the entrance to the white pot) have moved in.

Starfish on the reef
Starfish on the reef

Feather stars have started to attach themselves. Because of the reef’s triangular shape, several pieces of kelp and sea lettuce got caught inside the triangle, providing shelter to small fish.

Sponges, starfish and a goby
Sponges, starfish and a goby

The five sponges have lost their colour (except for the green one), and plant life and algae is already colonising the PVC pipes that make up the superstructure. The sea doesn’t waste any time!

Algae on the PVC pipe
Algae on the PVC pipe
Something's growing...
Something's growing...

Building a small artificial reef

I spend more time diving at Long Beach in Simon’s Town than any other dive site. Considered by many as a training site only it is seldom explored. The Wikivoyage site written by Peter Southwood lists some of the many interesting features of Long Beach.

The northern side of Long Beach is considered ”barren” as it has less to explore than the southern side, but each and every item on the sea bed has been colonised and turned into home for something.

There are several octopus holes there, some of them huge and these creatures seem keen to add odd items to the entrance of their holes. I believe it is an effort to draw other marine life to the spot whilst the octopus waits to devour any tasty bits. I have seen glass bottles, sunglasses, beer cans and golf balls lining their homes.

We decided to build something to see what would be drawn to this spot.

Transporting the components of the artificial reef
Transporting the components of the artificial reef

We secured three 2 metre lengths of PVC pipe, a piece of chain and a few wooden bits. Attached to this was a glass coffee jar, a plant pot and a few smaller containers.

Setting up the reef
Setting up the reef

We had attached five different coloured sponges and a coffee tin as well as some plastic bottles secured on a length of wood. We also added an ice tray to see how much silt would collect in the tray, and from which direction.

The reef, set up with a request to divers not to disturb it
The reef, set up with a request to divers not to disturb it

Update on what we found ten days later in a future post!

Bookshelf: Underwater Adventure

Underwater Adventure – Willard Price

Underwater Adventure
Underwater Adventure

I’m on a Willard Price binge at the moment – he’s an author of children’s fiction who wrote a series about a pair of adventurous brothers, Hal and Roger Hunt, travelling the world to capture animals for their father’s zoo. I read the series as a child and am revisiting it now.

Mr Price’s knowledge of diving improved slightly between Cannibal Adventure and this effort, but is still quite amusing.

The boys are moored in Truk lagoon, capturing (with incredible ease) creatures for aquariums around the world. They are also hunting for a shipwreck. While using an underwater sled to search for the wreck, Roger undergoes depth and pressure changes so widely varied (hundreds of feet – I kid you not) as to cause a serious case of the bends and/or nitrogen narcosis in any normal human being.

The wreck penetration episodes (yes, they find it) are curious indeed. There is no mention of  a reel at any point, and the boys climb stairs, and stand in various rooms as if they’re on land. A marine archaeologist reading this would have a conniption – they loot a three hundred year old wreck with crowbars and scant regard for its value as a relic in situ. The figurehead and other carvings are prised off the superstructure of the wreck to be taken to a museum in America.

All marine creatures are the enemy, sinister and malevolent with intent to kill. A giant octopus is described as a “brute” (favourite word of Mr Price) and a “monster”, and attempts to bite Roger’s head off with its vicious beak. The sharks they encounter are without fail desperate man-eaters, determined to get a taste of flesh at any cost. (The quote on the cover of the book – “never trust sharks” – conveys the extent to which evil intent is ascribed to these creatures in the book.)

The lagoon is depicted as a hostile environment filled with hungry marine life just waiting to maim or kill the human visitors. This isn’t my experience of the ocean, and despite the damage done by Jaws and its ilk, anyone who has spent time in the sea and interacting with its creatures will agree with me.

Get the book here if you’re in South Africa, otherwise go here. It’s an entertaining read, despite my complaints! If you read it with your kids, be sure to explain how the reality is different from what Willard Price depicts.

Newsletter: Interesting diving, octopus, butterfly fish, pyjama sharks

Hi everyone

Diving has been good. We did a night dive last night and found this octopus, he was very kind and gave us a full demonstration of how to glide across the sand as well as a demonstration of how to walk. I was able to get a good video clip of it and will put it up on the blog in a day or two.

Octopus at Long Beach on a night dive
Octopus at Long Beach on a night dive

We also found these three pyjama cat sharks huddled together under the fishing boat stern. This is the second time we have found them stacked on top of one another and apparently this is how they sleep.

Sleeping pyjama catsharks at Long Beach
Sleeping pyjama catsharks at Long Beach

I found two juveniles hiding out some time ago, a jutjaw and a double sash butterfly fish. I have been watching them and have seen them both several times in the same spot over the last few weeks. On the night dive we found these two butterfly fish in a different spot, far apart so I believe there are at least three of these little beauties at Long Beach right now.

Two double sash butterfly fish under a wreck at Long Beach
Two double sash butterfly fish under a wreck at Long Beach

On the ferro-cement wreck close to the harbour mooring buoy we found a tasseled scorpion fish, master of disguise. If it had not moved I would not have seen it.

We have also had several rays on the dives and recently saw a horse fish to the north of the barge wreck.

Artificial reef

We started a small project almost two weeks ago at Long Beach. We are building a small artificial reef to monitor how quickly the ocean adapts to new things. It is small at present but we plan to add items over time. The most interesting so far is that an octopus has moved into a clay pot we attached to a pipe frame. We did not see the the octopus but the signs of dinner – shells, crab body parts etc – are all evident. Several starfish have also moved in and there are small signs of plant growth. I will post some pictures of the project on the blog soon.

The summer season is here, diving is good and the water is warming. We have had the odd 17 -18 degrees days but last night the temperature was 16.

I have several courses running and will dive every diveable day this season. If you want to dive, give me a call as I don’t need an excuse to try a new spot, a popular spot or anything else. We are planning to dive the cowsharks, the Aster wreck, Hout Bay harbour and Kalk Bay harbour soon so if any of these interest you let me know.

I will also run a “buy one get one free” Discover Scuba Diving series of days where every second person dives for free. A good time to get your friends and family in the water.

Regards

Learn to Dive Today logoTony Lindeque
076 817 1099
www.learntodivetoday.co.za
www.learntodivetoday.co.za/blog
Diving is addictive!

Night dive at Long Beach (2010.06.05)

Here’s a video clip from a night dive we did in June this year at Long Beach. Look out for the box jelly with one tentacle, a klipfish, the beaked sandfish digging themselves into the sand, two warty pleurobranchs, an octopus hiding under a piece of plywood, a cuttlefish under the wreck, a two tone fingerfin, and a little jutjaw (we think).

This is an early night effort taken on my Sea&Sea camera with torches instead of a strobe. The resulting hotspots are eliminated when using the Bonica Snapper, provided the light is positioned appropriately.

Dive at Long Beach (2010.09.12)

Here’s a rough edit of a lovely dive we did at Long Beach last year (Clare twisted my arm to put this up – I’m not happy with the state of polish of the final version), in 14 degree water with 7 metre visibility. The surface conditions were choppy, as you can see at the end of the video, but under the surface it was lovely.

There’s lots to see. Early on, look out for the common sandprawn (the large, white shrimpy thing). We see lots of their discarded carapaces at Long Beach but this is the only one we’ve seen with a sandprawn inside to date.

There’s also a huge cloud of fry – not sure which fish species, but clearly the imminent onset of spring was encouraging breeding! There’s a very brief shot of a chubby clingfish – the small orange chap clinging onto some sea lettuce, of which there is plenty. Watch out for the Cape topshell on the kelp, and a nudibranch egg ribbon on some green seaweed.

There’s an octopus, a super klipfish, a surprisingly tame puffadder shyshark and his relative the dark shyshark, and a fat longsnout pipefish. We saw a box sea jelly and a night light sea jelly, a peacock fanworm, and my favourite warty pleurobranch. And, of course, there are barehead gobies…

The video concludes with a shot of the inside of the barge wreck at Long Beach.

Sea life: Octopus

Octopus are among my favourite creatures. I love the way they move, their colour changes, and how smart they are. We find lots of them at Long Beach – many of them live in holes on the pipeline, and others we can spot by the shells surrounding their burrows in the sand. Some of these structures are quite elaborate, with the walls of the hole lined with clam and mussel shells.

Octopus at Long Beach
Octopus in his hole at Long Beach. The reddish brown is an angry colour.

We usually see the eyes of the octopus first, watching us as we approach his lair.  If they feel threatened, they extrude little spiny protrusions on their heads, and can change colour rapidly.

Octopus on the pipeline
Tony took this picture of an octopus on the pipeline

This past week Tony and Kate met one at Long Beach who was all tangled up in kelp, and clearly thought he was sufficiently well camouflaged that even when the ball of kelp was resting on Tony’s glove, his disguise was safe.

Octopus hiding in the pipeline at Long Beach
Octopus hiding in the pipeline at Long Beach

We don’t often spot them in the open water, but on one dive at A Frame (no cameras handy unfortunately) we saw a huge octopus spread out like a dinner plate on a rock. His tentacles were arranged curling around his head. Probably eating something! He was totally unfazed by us – we touched the edge of his suckers, which were holding on tight, and he even let me stroke his skin, which felt much softer than I expected.

Octopus are ridiculously intelligent and can fit through the smallest spaces. I never get tired of them, and when we are lucky enough to see one swimming around, I am always amazed by their graceful way of moving. In Sodwana, Tami spotted a large blue one “walking” along the reef – so they’re not just limited to swimming!