Australian Bonito (Sarda australis)
Blotched Bigeye (Heteropriacanthus carolinus)
Yellow Moon Wrasse
My diving buddy, Matt, was keen to get in the water today, and despite rising swell arriving from a cyclone out east in Tonga, we foolishly braved the elements, together with a surprising number of other divers. Poor visibility, plenty of surge made for an interesting dive but there were, as there often are, a few gems to be found. Plenty of Moorish Idols can be found patrolling the reef, moon wrasse, including adult yellow moon wrasse, and “packs” of hunting bonito were patrolling the edge of the huge shoals of baitfish.
The highlight was a blotched glasseye – I’ve only ever seen one before, maybe it was even the same one!
Juvenile Dolphinfish (Coryphaena hippurus) hiding under Bluebottle (Bluebottle fish in foreground)
Whilst not the best shot it was really quite exciting to find a bluebottle floating in the bay with freshly caught prey hanging in its tentacles, and two resident species of fish sheltering under the float, a bluebottle fish and a juvenile dolphin fish (aka Mahi Mahi). Choppy conditions made it a bit precarious getting close but well worth the stings incurred!
This week in particular, but throughout summer noreasterly winds prevail on the east coast of Australia. With it they bring the scourge of swimmers, the bluebottle, aka portuguese man-o-war. These stinging jellyfish dangle metre long (sometimes more) threads from beneath their float, covered in stinging nematocysts that deliver a painful blow to any unsuspecting swimmer, or fish that it preys upon.
Whilst most people loathe them they do attract attention from elsewhere. Three different species of nudibranch feed on the bluebottles, clinging to the surface of the ocean following them with the wind. Their bodies turn blue as they ingest the nematocysts, which in turn provide protection for the nudibranch. These beautiful creatures look like aliens from another planet with their elaborate bodies.
Nudibranch in Courtship dance
Purple dragon nudibranch
The warm waters have truly descended upon Sydney, and the Eastern Australian Current (EAC) made famous by the movie Finding Nemo, continues to push warm water into the harbour, bringing with it an abundance of tropical visitors. The EAC has been pushing water down the coast at 3-4 knots at times. The reserve now has Cauliflower corals growing in easily accessible places for snorkellers to enjoy. A barred soapfish arrived and was spotted by my dive buddy Matt, the last one I saw here was 20 years ago. This fish is at it’s southernmost limit of its range. Even a painted sweetlips has showed up in the harbour. A variety of butterflyfish were spotted, resident dusky butterflyfish and eastern talma, but also some tropical ones.
The resident Sydney Cardinalfish males are busy brooding their offspring in their mouths. Periodically they spit out the egg mass to clean it before carefully concealing it again inside their wide gape.
Summer has arrived underwater and the next few months promise to bring many more surprises and new species into the aquatic reserve.
There’s a cave near the Bower that is often frequented by a very large Banded Wobbegong. Today it lay there with a halo of silver fish above it’s head presenting an irresistible photo opportunity.
Grey Nurse Shark (Carcharias taurus)
Eastern Australian Salmon (Arripis trutta)
Dusky Whaler in the shallows
Whilst you can’t fail to see the hordes of Port Jackson and Crested Horn sharks around at the moment in the midst of their breeding season, and the ubiquitous Spotted and Ornate Wobbegong sharks, there are a few other shy visitors at the moment. There a few Dusky Whalers cruising around the bay, but in addition to this there have been three shy Grey Nurse Sharks too.
I snapped a shot today of one as it cruised passed me!
As well as the sharks there was action at the surface as large shoals of feeding salmon streamed past in their hundreds, like the sharks looking for a feed on the huge amounts of Yellowtail Scad present at Fairy Bower.
A male weedy seadragon with eggs
Close-up of a Port Jackson Shark’s mouth
The wind has been everywhere recently, Westerlies, Southerlies and Northerlies. Cabbage Tree Bay has been fairly sheltered and after spotting a large Grey Nurse Shark last weekend I was keen to get in again.
Some interesting behaviour witnessed today was the Eastern Maori Wrasse eating the eggs held on the tail of the male Weedy Seadragon. The eggs are very nutritious for predators and watching the hungry wrasse out-manoeuvre the poor Seadragon for an easy meal was fascinating, as time and time again they darted in for a feed. I only paused to take a couple of photos so as not to cause further stress.
There are so many Port Jackson sharks now, predominantly male, cruising across the reefs looking for love.
Even in wintry conditions there is plenty to see. Today I was surprised to find a Clown Toby hiding amongst the seaweed and a large shoal of stripey catfish sheltering by the reef to avoid the swell.