The Dusky Whaler sharks are back

It is long overdue but with a change in conditions this week, that has seen visibility increase to as good as it gets, the dusky whalers are back in numbers. Some have reported up to 40 sharks patrolling the bay, and today I witnessed possibly a dozen. Unfortunately quite a few had hooks in their mouths, one was trailing over a metre of line with a swivel attached.

Snorkellers and divers were out in force too enjoying the spectacle and providing a few alternative photo opportunities. Large shoals of fish were everywhere, yellow tail scad and mullet were being circled by tailor, leaping bonito and kingfish, even a cormorant swam past for a closer look.

Reluctantly I surfaced after three hours of diving, hoping that next time will be even better……..

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Shellfish and Wrasse

There are always plenty of different wrasse in the reserve but today I encountered a mixture of different ones. The visibility has improved so much in the last few days that it was easy to spot things for the first time in two months. Resident Comb and Eastern King Wrasse were patrolling the reef, as were a couple of Yellow Moon Wrasse and a juvenile Diamond Wrasse. A very friendly Eastern Talma posed for a photo, but today’s highlight was finding a secretive Cowrie in a rock crevice, with it’s mantle partly exposed.

Spotlight on Cardinalfish

An Anzac Day dive brought cooler water (as low as 19 degrees at times), but murkiness too, and lots of it. When it’s murky you have to look harder and everywhere today were Cardinalfish. These small fish are often overlooked hiding close to rocks and overhangs. They are brilliant parents, brooding eggs in their mouths until they hatch.

Juveniles of two species of parrotfish were working their way through the seaweed – is anyone able to identify these?

A  group of Blue-spotted Flathead also provided a bit of variety from the usual Dusky flathead found across the bay.

It was interesting to find Mados being cleaned by clingfish as Mados themselves often clean larger fish. I also observed a juvenile Old Wife cleaning the sides of a Blackfish and when I approached it headed straight for me, possibly looking for a new cleaning job.

Comb Jelly feeding frenzy!

An aggregation of ctenophore (comb jellyfish) has arrived in the bay following the recent calmer conditions, providing a plentiful feeding opportunity for the large shoals of blackfish. There are many fish shoals around the reef areas, silver batfish, eastern hulafish,  one spot puller, and sergeant major damselfish.

Eagle rays abound on the sandy sections close to the reef and a highlight today was finding a small juvenile weedy sea dragon. These fish stress easily as they are less able to swim away so I only stopped to take a few photos then watched it “disappear” into a nearby clump of seaweed. The appendages on the body provide ideal camouflage.

Water temperatures are cooling again, with lows recorded at 20 degrees today

A deceptive dive

Although the seas have been rough the water at Fairy Bower was calm, and looked a little murky. Keen to get in with my buddy Matt Parsons we were surprised to find the conditions underwater were not so friendly, with strong eddies and currents washing us around the bay. Nevertheless we persevered and found a handful of butterflyfish, stars and stripes pufferfish, a very happy three bar porcupine fish, and my highlight was the Gold-spotted Sweetlips that was too big for my macro set-up. I have only seen this species twice before here and this individual was not fazed by my proximity as it grazed its way along the sandy bottom.

A cleaning station provided some entertainment too with a large cleaner wrasse inspecting the inside of a goatfishes mouth, whilst other species queued up for their turn.

The chart shows the EAC has diminished and waters are starting to cool down again, though 22 degrees was quite comfortable still today.

Trigger Warning….guaranteed fish content!

Yes Triggerfish everywhere, hiding in every rock crevice around the bay. Three species today, the Wedge-tail, Half Moon and Bridled triggerfish, the latter often mistaken for the Half-Moon, but on close inspection you can see uneven lines on the lower part of the body. A few of the tropical that have been around for a while are quite large now, in particular a solitary Orange Basslet and a Half and Half Puller. I was circled at one point by the Weeping Toadfish, trying to avoid it’s picture being taken. Another ploy to avoid a photo is camouflage, employed by the painted stinkfish. It glides across the bottom then “freezes” making it hard to spot against the sand.

23 degrees and a little murky

Surprisingly the EAC is pushing warm water south still and water temperatures in the aquatic reserve remain around 23 degrees. Warm enough for tropical fish but this year there haven’t been as prolific numbers as in previous years. Only 4 or 5 species of butterflyfish have appeared this year when normally there would be as many as 7 species. A good sized shoal of big-eye trevally are cruising around the bay at the moment and a few Moorish idols have appeared. The latter are typically late arrivals and indicators that winter is around the corner. Surgeon fish species are abundant, but I’m hoping the rough weather will bring some interesting visitors to the shores before the water temperature drops below 20 degrees again.