Touch or don’t touch?

This blog post recently came to my attention – it’s by Burt Jones and Maurine Shimlock, and in it they talk about why touching marine life is a bad idea. I agree that, as a rule, it is a bad idea, but I don’t think it’s always totally out of the question.

When (I think) it’s ok


I must confess that when I see an upside down starfish, crab, or abalone, I turn them back over. Call it interfering with the natural order of things, but I can’t swim by and leave them. I know how uncomfortable I feel when I get stuck somewhere in an awkward position, and I just have to help!

Upside down abalone
Upside down abalone (I turned him over after taking his picture)

Assisting an injured or entangled animal

A creature that is entangled with fishing line, or has a fish hook in its mouth, for example, is dealing with something completely outside of what nature intended for it to experience. If the animal allows, I think it’s totally appropriate to assist. In the case of a whale, a shark, or a creature that could potentially hurt you (possibly just by virtue of its vast dimensions), this is best left to trained professionals.

Tony assisted with a moray eel that was tangled in fishing line on a dive on the Coopers Light wreck in Durban – he was the only diver in the party who had a knife, and while two others held the eel steady, he was able to cut it free so that it could swim away. When he speaks about this experience, it’s clear that it was pretty life changing for him. And for the eel.

When the animal initiates it

I’ve experienced this a few times, and every time it has ranked among the most incredible diving experiences I’ve had. I’ve had a klipfish swim right up to my face and bump my mask, and then make his way down my arm and glove – rubbing it the way I’ve seen them rub their bodies on the sand, at Long Beach. I’ve been nibbled more than once by fish in the aquariums in Durban and Cape Town. I’ve watched a ray swim so close over fellow divers’ heads that they had to lift up their hands to fend it off.  My view is that if the animal wants contact, and if the contact won’t harm me or the animal, it’s fine.

To discourage certain behaviour

I never thought this would really be an issue when diving, but last weekend we had a bit of a scary experience (well, I was scared – not sure about Tony!) with the sevengill cowsharks at Shark Alley. Tony and Tami both had to strike a very persistent shark to persuade it to stop gnawing on my first stage – more than once. This kind of situation is very unusual.

Obviously defending yourself is all right. If you deliberately expose yourself to danger, however, I’m inclined to think you must deal with the consequences!

When (I think) it’s not ok

Because it looks fun

I’d include poking jellyfish in this one! Though it may not seem that way, many sea creatures are more fragile than you’d think. They’re not toys, and interactions whose human to human equivalents would involve nose-pulling and cheek-pinching are not cool. They’re purely an opportunity for you to indulge a desire to break or annoy something. Go annoy your little brother instead!

When it could hurt you

Don’t be like the tourists who get mauled by lions in game parks because they get out of their cars to take photographs, or who stick their hands into animal enclosures because the tiger looks so fluffy, or whatever. Sharks are dangerous, whales are very large and probably not even aware of your presence, and many other marine creatures have stings, spines and poisonous body parts that could harm you. Don’t be silly.

When it could hurt the animal

This isn’t always obvious. Touching coral reefs, for example, is not a good idea. For one thing, coral structures may be very fragile, and your touch could break them. The effect of touch on the live organisms inside the hard framework is not well understood – it seems that light touches do not cause damage (after all, a multitude of creatures swim over and brush against the coral every day) but more aggressive contact can be harmful. The rule is, don’t touch at all, and control your fins and buoyancy!

Fish have a protective mucous layer on their skin. If you touch them with dry hands, you can damage the mucous layer – this leaves the fish vulnerable to parasites and infections. This isn’t likely to happen unless you’re a sport fisherman (ugh!) and you’ve caught the poor fellow in preparation for throwing him back so that he can go through it all again next weekend. Touching fish with a wet hand can also be harmful if you are wearing creams or other chemical products.

Many fish tank owners pet their fish – a friend had a big, aggressive fish (I can’t remember the type) who loved having his tummy scratched. As long as Duncan’s hands were clean, there was no risk posed by him putting a hand into the tank so that Oscar could get his weekly tickle.

When it will change the animal’s behaviour

Touching wild animals may alter their behaviour towards humans. It may make them more skittish and afraid, or it may do the reverse, and persuade them that people are not harmful. That’s a dangerous illusion to have. There’s no question in my mind that some of the marine life we encounter at Long Beach is so habituated to divers (on a busy weekend there can be more than 20 divers in the water at once) that one can get really close, and even make contact with the creatures. I’m not sure what the right thing to do here is – the damage (if you want to call it that) has been done already.

Final thoughts

There’s no question that as humans we have a powerful urge to interact with nature, and touch is one of those ways in which we can experience transcendence in the natural environment. We have to put aside ego, however, and think first of the wellbeing of the creature, and then of ourselves.

I would feel more optimistic about a bright future for man if he spent less time proving that he can outwit Nature and more time tasting her sweetness and respecting her seniority.

The Points of My Compass: Letters from the East, the West, the North, the South, E. B. White (1899 – 1985)

Newsletter: Halloween dive, wrecks and more

Hi everyone

Summer is closing in on us fast and the water is getting warmer, time to dust off your dive gear and get wet. The rays are back at Long Beach, whales are still around for a few weeks and the ocean is waiting for you to visit.

October has been a busy diving month. The trip to Sodwana was awesome and we are thinking about another trip early December or perhaps early January.

I have been lucky to have dived almost every day since the beginning of the month and congratulations to the following people on their certifications:

Open Water

Anna, Belinda, Richard, Gabby, Lorna, Kate


Gerard, Justin, Kate, Sophie, Tami

Deep Specialty


Students at Long Beach
Richard, Belinda, Anna, Kate and Corné at Long Beach

Kate is here from the UK doing the Zero to Hero program with me. She started on the 13th October and has done Open Water, Advanced, and is busy with Nitrox and Rescue. Next week she will start her Divemaster program.

On Saturday I will finish an Open Water course and continue with a Rescue course. Sunday the plan is to dive the sevengill cowsharks and Boulders, perhaps see a penguin underwater.

Saturday we are having a Halloween night dive.

These are the rules:

  • you must dive in a Halloween theme something or another… use your imagination
  • you must find treasure… I will hide several prizes during the day at the site we dive
  • to find them you must… use your imagination!
  • we will have an egg cracking contest… underwater… where you must crack and remove the shell of a raw egg gently, so the egg stays intact…
  • coffee and ( ) on the beach afterwards… plus you get to open the treasure you found…


I am going to run an Advanced open water course, a Wreck specialty, Night diver specialty, and a Deep diver specialty course during the month of November. Dates are 6th, 13th and 20th. The Deep specialty will qualify you to 40 metres and the Wreck specialty will include wreck penetration for those keen to explore the inside of a sunken ship. Night diver will give you great confidence is low visibility diving conditions.

The Deep and Wreck courses are dependent on boat scheduling and detailed dive planning so book early if you are interested.

Best regards

Learn to Dive Today logoTony Lindeque
076 817 1099
Diving is addictive!

Bookshelf: The World is Blue

The World Is Blue: How Our Fate and the Ocean’s Are One – Sylvia Earle

The World is Blue
The World is Blue - Sylvia Earle

Sylvia Earle is a legend (I’ve said so before), and this is a book that flowed out of a TED talk she gave about the need to take urgent action on ocean conservation. I gained a huge amount of understanding about why indiscriminate fishing is a problem for ecosystems (she compares it to removing bits from a computer that look useless, and then expecting it to work afterwards). She also explains the extent of our dependency on the ocean – for example, one kind of plankton provides about 20% of the oxygen we breathe, with other kinds making up a further 50%.

Earle has a long history of ocean exploration, and has been scuba diving and driving submersibles since the 1950s. Her anecdotes about things she has seen and people she has spoken to are fascinating. She was part of the very early days of ocean exploration and recreational scuba diving, and has spent thousands of hours underwater (for comparison, I think I’ve spent only 40 hours breathing compressed air!).

Earle is a strong advocate for Marine Protected Areas – proper ones, that don’t allow fishing. She likens a MPA that allows fishing to a game park – say Kruger – that allows hunting! She also supports the initiatives such as SASSI that classify fish species according to the sustainability of the catch process and their level of endangerment. (If you don’t have a SASSI card, you need to get one before your next seafood dinner!)

I was particularly struck by Earle’s account of her response to a question asked of her in the 1990s by the head of the Japanese delegation at the International Whaling Commission: “… What’s the difference between eating a steak from a cow and eating whale meat?”

I tried to respond seriously: Cows are herbivores and go to market in a year or two, have been cultivated by people for food for ages, and require care and an investment of some sort by farmers; while whales are free, wild beings that belong to no one, are typically taken after they have lived for decades, and are relatively few in numbers (or are not “restocked” like cows), leaving an irreversible tear in the ocean’s fabric of life when removed. There are billions of cows, but all whale species are greatly reduced in number, some bordering on extinction owing to whaling. Taking even a few increases the risk of depletion owing to other pressures – storms, disesase, pollution, and fluctuating food sources. The whales of today have ancestral roots 65 million years deep, and nothing in their survival strategies factored in the impact of humans as predators. What might we learn from them as living creatures, able to communicate with sound over long distances, develop close-knit societies, navigate over thousands of miles with no maps, and perform daily deep-diving feats that defy the capacity of even the most athletic humans? If only considering whales as  a priceless source of knowledge, we discover that their value alive far exceeds their worth as pounds of meat. In narrowly-defined economic terms, the growing business of whale-watching is lucrative and demonstrably sustainable, while commercial whaling is subsidised, with a consistent record of “management” failure.

The World is Blue, Sylvia A. Earle, National Geographic Press 2009, pp 38-39.

Buy the book here if you’re in South Africa, otherwise click here. If you want to read it on your Kindle, go here. I highly recommend it.

Newsletter: Bye for now…

Hi everyone,

Claremont Virgin Active
Claremont Virgin Active - note the scuba divers at the end of the pool!

We spent Friday in a 24 degree swimming pool with a bunch of kids aged 8 and up. We were conducting Bubblemaker programs, open to all kids 8 and older and it was amazing how quickly they took to scuba gear. A small 10 litre cylinder looks huge when strapped to an eight year old, but within minutes they had the concept, good buoyancy and were off to explore the pool.

Bubblemakers in the pool
Bubblemakers in the pool

The wind was not kind in False Bay this weekend but we managed to dive with Open Water students on Saturday and Sunday in a calm and pleasant Simon’s Town yacht basin. Saturday afternoon we braved the rough ocean for Rescue diver course and despite the rough surface conditions we had good viz and pleasant diving. Many divers, eager to get wet, braved the wind on Saturday and I reckon there were easily 50 divers in the water.

The Sodwana weekend is here and 10 of us are off for a taste of warmer water and a relaxing long weekend. We leave on Thursday and will be back on Tuesday 12th. Gerard, Tami, Justin and Sophie will return as Advanced divers and Clare will complete her Underwater Navigator speciality. I hope to be armed with lots of humorous stories and many, many incriminating photos. Did you know you can make a fortune selling your friends’ incriminating evidence of them misbehaving purely buy using this statement: “How much will you pay me to keep this photo OFF facebook…?” Hehehe… Very profitable…

I am starting a new Open Water course on Wednesday 13th so I will be in the water every day from Wednesday to Sunday.

I plan to book a boat again for Saturday 16th to visit another wreck in Smitswinkel Bay. We will also simulate a few rescue scenarios on the trip so it will be fun. The last dive we did there was pleasantly rewarded with whales right next to us as we surfaced.

I am keen for a night dive again on Saturday 16th, I have torches and cyalumes. Sunday the 17th we plan to dive at Boulders and see if we can coax a few penguins to pose for us for a photo shoot… Underwater that is…

Be good, have fun, and go diving.

Don’t forget to get your dive permit from a post office.

Learn to Dive Today logoTony Lindeque
076 817 1099
Diving is addictive!

Circle of life

Alison Kock, shark researcher at Save Our Seas reports on how the carcass of a Brydes (pronounced “broodahs” – didn’t know that!) whale was towed out to Seal Island by the SA Navy in order to prevent it from running aground just south of Miller’s Point. Over 30 different great whites showed up over a period of just over a week to munch on the carcass. The full article is here, on The Dive Site – fascinating reading.

Fish identification and conservation

Here are some useful web resources on identifying and conserving fish and marine life…

South Africa

Southern Underwater Research Group (SURG) – if you send them a picture of the creature you can’t identify, they will help! They have also published several books on identification of marine species.

The South African Saltwater and Offshore Fish Species List has a list of species, with information about some of them.


Census of Marine Life – this project occasionally makes the news with the discovery of new species.

FishBase – incredibly comprehensive database search of fish species.

World Register of Marine Species (WORMS) aims to be the most authoritative list of marine species’ names ever published.

Project GloBAL assesses the impact of fisheries’ bycatch on populations of long-lived marine species such as turtles, seabirds and ocean mammals such as dolphins.

The International Whaling Commission attempts to provide for the proper conservation of whale stocks.

The Southwest Fisheries Science Center has a list of the species they monitor, plus good information, on their Species page.

Newsletter: Diving

Hi everyone

SAS Transvaal in Smitswinkel Bay
The SAS Transvaal is a huge naval frigate

The weekend was a real humdinger and we started off with a early boat dive out of Miller’s Point, seven of us all together and we visited the wreck of the SAS Transvaal in Smitswinkel Bay. The wreck, 94 metres long, lies in 34 metres of water and the top of the deck is at about 29 metres. Once we were down we dispensed with the deep skills for the guys doing their Advanced course and then cruised down the length of the wreck to the stern before starting back up to the dive boat.

SAS Transvaal in Smitswinkel Bay
SAS Transvaal in Smitswinkel Bay

Besides the good viz of about 8–10 metres we were honored with three Southern Right whales waiting for us when we surfaced. There are more photos on the blog and Facebook of these huge whales and tiny divers less than 50 metres apart. The whales don’t know the 300 metres regulations and we were forced to back away from them as they were totally oblivious of us. Coming face to face with such a majestic creature, in its own environment, relaxed and content to have us gawking is one of the many reasons diving is so rewarding. We were treated to them fluking, blowing broad V-shaped water fountains and diving around us. I would guess they were around 12 – 16 metres long. That is a lot bigger than the 9 metre rubber duck we were on. The skipperwas quick to get everyone on board and back slowly away from them.

Southern Right whales and divers in Smitswinkel Bay
Southern Right whales and divers in Smitswinkel Bay

Fisherman’s Beach

Urchins at Fisherman's Beach
Urchins at Fisherman’s Beach

The day got even better and after lunch we dived and explored the site called Fisherman’s Beach or sometimes called Froggy Pond. Clean white sand, an easy entry and several clusters of rocky reef make this an amazing site. We found a crevice in a small swim through that is home to a huge octopus and and he was very wary of us as I was on the one side of the opening trying to get a picture and Justin was on the other side peeking in. We were also treated to a very amusing feeding frenzy by a school of Fransmadam. I picked up a piece of kelp root and broke it into little pieces and they went wild snatching pieces from each other.

Coraline algae and other life encrusting a kelp stem
Coraline algae and other life encrusting a kelp stem

Long Beach

Door in the floor at Long Beach
Door in the floor at Long Beach

Today we dived at Long Beach and were able to confirm the hiding place of the pyjama catsharks with a photo. They are primarily nocturnal but are sometimes seen in the day. Over the last few weeks I have seen them in a small hideout a few times, never really sure of what I was seeing as it is a small opening. Today I put my video light in the opening and and held my camera in the entrance and took a few photos. They were sleeping stacked on top of one another.

We saw quite a few sea jellies, of different varieties, and lots of fish. It seems to be breeding season, as I also spotted a teeming mass of about 30 warty pleurobranchs the size of my fingernail – perhaps they had just hatched.

We were joined by Alexandra who has recently moved to Cape Town and has done lots of warm water diving. So the chilly Cape waters came as a bit of a shock!

Alex checking out a box jellyfish
Alex checking out a box jellyfish

Diving this week

Tuesday: Peak Performance buoyancy,

Thursday: Seven gill cow sharks.

Friday: I want to explore the Kalk Bay Harbour wall.

I have students on Saturday and Sunday starting their Open Water course, but we will start after lunch so I am planning another wreck dive to one of the other wrecks in Smitswinkel Bay on Saturday morning. With boat dives I need confirmation by Wednesday night.

For the group joining me in Sodwana don’t forget the dinner on Tuesday for final planning.

Have a good week and try and get wet, it beats sitting behind a desk, tell your boss you need a day of aquatic therapy, then come and dive, you will feel better the next day!!!

Permits: All divers need a permit, so please get yours at a post office near you.


Learn to Dive Today logoTony Lindeque
076 817 1099
Diving is addictive!

Whale alert!

Tony took a group of divers on the boat yesterday, to dive the SAS Transvaal in Smitswinkel Bay. Two of them were advanced students who had to do their deep skills.

Deep skills
Justin and Gerard complete their deep slates with Tony

I was testing my new Sony Cybershot DSC-TX5 digital camera in its marine housing. The underwater shots are a mixed bag of quality so far – I was a bit over-ambitious trying to get grand sweeping shots, given that the visibility was only about 10 metres and the ship is nearly 94 metres long… But overall it was tremendously easy to use. More on the camera later, but I wanted to share these pictures taken on the surface. We’d seen whales on the way to the dive site, and when we surfaced they were very close. I took these photos from the boat while the others were still in the water.

Divers and whales
Divers and whales in Smitswinkel Bay – note the callosities on the whales’ heads
Divers and whales
Look at the size of those fins!
Divers and whales
Southern right whale frolicking in Smitswinkel Bay

The sound they make when they expel air (and mucous and nitrogen waste products, according to Wikipedia) from their blowholes is tremendously loud. I wanted to go to the airshow this weekend, not so much as to SEE the planes (though that is cool) but to HEAR them – I love the noise. However, after hearing a few of these whales snorting from less than 20 metres away, my desire for LOUD NOISES was satisfied.

Southern right whales
Southern right whales

The surface current was pushing the divers towards the whales, at which point the skipper got everyone back on the boat and carefully moved us away. Whales don’t always respect the 300 metre rule!

Bookshelf: Novels and children’s books

It’s never too early to introduce kids to the ocean and its wonders. Find a novel, a fish identification book, or a gripping account of scientific research in this list of books suitable for young people.

Books about marine life suitable for children and young adults:

Willard Price’s Hal and Roger Hunt adventure series:

A rare children’s offering from Arthur C Clarke:

Ocean-related novels:

If you have children (or nieces and nephews, or grandchildren) you should read:

Documentaries: By subject

Here’s a summary of the documentaries we’ve posted about, categorised loosely by subject.


Nature’s Great Events
South Pacific
The Blue Planet
Wreck Detectives


The End of the Line
March of the Penguins
Saving the Ocean

Discovery Channel

Underwater Universe

National Geographic

Blue Holes – Diving the Labyrinth

Reality shows

Deadliest Catch, Season 1
Deadliest Catch, Season 2
Deadliest Catch, Season 3
Deadliest Catch, Season 4
Deadliest Catch, Season 5
Deadliest Catch, Season 6
Deadliest Catch, Season 7
Deadliest Catch, Season 8
Deadliest Catch, Season 9
Deadliest Catch, Season 10

Deadliest Catch – Tuna Wranglers
Deadliest Catch – Lobster Wars

Trawlermen, Season 1

Whale Wars, Season 1
Whale Wars, Season 2
Whale Wars, Season 3
Whale Wars, Season 4


Air Jaws
Blue Water White Death
Shark Week featuring Mythbusters – Jaws Special
Shark Men, Season 1
Shark Men, Season 2
Shark Men, Season 3


Wreck Detectives
Treasure Quest
Treasure Quest – HMS Victory Special
Ghosts of the Abyss